Sonia Pastecchia

Sonia Pastecchia made the short film’ La Salade Liègeoise’ for VPRO Backlight. ‘It’s a film that observes young children and their struggle with constructing their identity’. Something she had to deal with also, when she was young.

Sonia Pastecchia grew up in Liège, Belgium, as a child of two Italian immigrants. Her parents moved to Wallonia to work in the coalmines. At that time this was one of the most flourishing businesses. At a young age she was struggling with her identity: ‘I grew up in a community of Italians and logically at home I spoke Italian, but at school I spoke French. The problem for me was that I felt that I didn’t belong to any group and that was difficult sometimes.’ This struggle for identity is a central theme in ‘La Salade Liègeoise’.

After High school Sonia went to the National Institute of Arts in Brussels to study drama. After this she acted in different productions, but this was not enough. ‘I always travelled a lot and I wanted to combine this with my love for creativity’. One of the countries she visited was Cuba. ‘I went to Cuba and I asked myself: what does freedom mean here? This resulted in my first project. It started as the multimedia project called "Cuba positivo-negativo", where I combined theatre, acting, photography and performance. After this project I used the material to make the film “Isla (2001)”.’ For this film she mostly used static images, except from the dancer you see at the end of the film. By showing the pictures fast after each other it looks like if everything is moving. ‘In this film different generations of people are speaking about freedom and their search for happiness.’

After “Isla ” she made her next film “Campo Santo (2007)” about the universal theme identity. She went back to the place where her parents grew up in Italy, and wanted to see the “new” people that are living there nowadays. ‘They’re immigrants from all over the world. From Argentina, Cuba and Ukraine. When you move to another country you start to be a part of that country; you’re no longer an inhabitant of your home country. At the same time you’re not completely a part of the new county you’re living in. This was the same for me: in Italy I was a Belgian and in Belgium I was an Italian. I tried to work this out.’

In ‘La Salade Liègeoise’ Sonia went to her own hometown. In this film she follows a group of young children. ‘I wanted to see how the children of my friends from my childhood are living there now. I asked them different questions: “Who are you? Where do you live? Where do you come from? What will you be when you’re a grown up?” By asking them these questions I wanted to look if they are just as much struggling with their identity as I did when I was young.’ Sonia explains that it was not easy to ask the children about their identity ‘because they’re not very conscious of themselves yet. They only know their home and their city. For example they’re living in Wallonia, but do not have a clue of how big it is, and that it’s a part of Belgium where they also speak two different languages. Just like me, they have never met a Fleming.’ Sonia realized for the first time that there were living a lot of different people in Belgium when she was reading the text on a pack of sugar when she was young. The city where the sugar came from was written in two different languages. ‘I realized that there were not only different languages, but also different names for cities in my country. Now, 30 years later I am trying to think again about how to live in one nation and I wanted to see how the children are experiencing this.’

On the question if it’s more difficult to be young in Wallonia these days she answers: ‘‘The children that are now living in Wallonia are even more a mix of different communities. For example the little girl Lena has Arabic, Italian and Belgian roots. That could be more difficult, but it can also enrich you.’ But Sonia explains that Lena is too young to realize she has so many roots. She only realizes that she is living in Liège and in her own house. ‘She has no clue about the bigger world.’

This is another story with the black boy who comes in the picture halfway the film. He is sixteen years old and gives a different view on identity. ‘For him it is more difficult because he’s more conscious of himself and is really trying to understand who he is. This boy is half African and half Belgian and it is difficult for him to adapt to the situation because in Belgium they see him as a black African boy and in Africa they see him as a Belgian boy. You build your identity yourself. Identity is a construction and you’re not someone because you belong to some community, but he is thinking that and he’s struggling with it.’

Nowadays it’s completely different to be young in Wallonia than years ago according to Sonia: ‘It is a different time and the little children are even more mixed than I was when I was young. But at the same time I can feel what the boy is feeling, because we had to deal with the same dilemma. I can understand what he tells.’