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At the age of 8, Boris Acosta produced and directed his first film, based on a comic book. Over the years, he has earned a high reputation from Dantists around the world for making films that are truly Dante‘s way, something that nobody has been able to do since 1911. He is well respected in Hollywood for his convictions, passion and a man of one word. He is internationally known as a producer and director of the second best Christian story ever told, The Divine Comedy – Dante’s Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. His ‘Inferno by Dante’ recieved a spectacular response in its World Premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 2018.
Graduated from the University of California with a Degree in Applied Mathematics (Scientific Programming), Boris taught Mathematics for several years and wrote a book on solving Calculus problems as well as another one on Server Side Includes, a technology to manage large websites in a timely manner. Boris Acosta studied The Divine Comedy and all minor works written by Dante Alighieri in primitive Italian (Volgare Italiano). He also studied other major Italian works and obtained a degree in Italian Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
In 2008, Boris Acosta petitioned to Italian Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, at the time, to put a motion to pardon Dante Alighieri from his 700 years of exile. The motion passed 8 to 2 and Dante Alighieri was pardoned. This was an accomplishment that filled his heart like few things have in his life.
Interestingly, Boris was an encouraging influence in Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder‘s success as a singer. He told Eddie, on two different occasions, that he would “make it”, when they used to hang around in San Diego, at a time when Eddie was completely unknown in the music industry at large.
As a philanthropist, Boris Acosta donates a big percentage of the revenues from the sales of Dante’s Inferno 72-piece art collection to several charity organizations that fight cancer, AIDS and help humankind in many possible forms.
Please read below Boris Acosta’s exclusive interview with our Managing Editor Antaripa Dev Parashar for Advaitam Speaks Literary to know more about his journey into Inferno…
- What, in your opinion is the most important quality in a film director ?
To give freedom to actors to express themselves before the director gives any directions at all.
- What was your drive behind making films ? What roadblock did you face when you were starting out ?
Fate, I never thought about making films, it all happened naturally, even at 8 years old when I produced my first film. At the beginning, as an adult, it was money since financing is the greatest obstacle for any filmmaker.
- Which film has inspired you the most ? Which filmmaker has inspired you the most ?
There isn’t one film, but two that inspired me. “L’Inferno” (1911), which was the first Italian feature film and the first one based in Dante’s Divine Comedy. In fact, I restored it and used several clips in two of my documentaries. The other film that inspired me was “The Wall”, based on Pink Floyd’s opera. It is the story of everyone of us, same as The Divine Comedy. The filmmaker that inspired me the most was Stanley Kubrick, I loved his audacity to do things different.
- What is the most significant role of a film director as an artist for you? A devil’s advocate or a prophet of moral values ?
Both! It is a thin line for me.
- We hardly come across a film director across the world who has worked on Dante in films so extensively as you. What are the reasons behind such an endeavour which is more aesthetic and serious than commercial?
I studied all Dante’s literary works at UCLA in depth and it would be quite a lack of respect not to do things his way instead of mine or anybody else’s. As a student I had a hard time visualising passages in The Divine Comedy since they escape the real world, so it is crucial for me to make the best I can to help others understand Dante’s poem the best possible way. Being commercial for me is secondary, making a difference in life is far more important to me.
- Dino Di Durante’s visual illustration of Dante has been a constant and major source of intellectual capital behind your films. Why Durante , not Dali nor Dore ?
I used Dore’s lithographs as a visual guide when I was a student, but I realised that he made too many mistakes, which confused me back then. Even though, I selectively used some of Dore’s lithographs in both of my documentaries based on Inferno. I’m a big fan of Dali’s paintings and sculptures and he did an incredible work of 100 paintings based on The Divine Comedy, however, his style was abstract, which is not possible to use in film. Dino’s paintings were directed by me, it was a work for hire, which were based on Sandro Boticelli’s accurate interpretation of The Divine Comedy. I didn’t want to use Botticelli’s work either, because they are mainly drawings and not good to use in film either. So, I decided to start from scratch and do something intended to use in film in the first place. At the beginning we made lots of mistakes while trying to rush, but then thanks to the truthfulness of a friend, Riccardo Pratesi, who opened my eyes, we took a few steps back. Riccardo is a Florentine expert in The Divine Comedy, who can even recite it by heart, but mainly he stops at every single detail to interpret it correctly. So, I paid close attention to his candid advice and Dino re-painted everything we had done up until that time.
Later on, I decided to write a thesis, which I titled “Dante’s Inferno Decoded”, where I explained my discovery that Dante had actually wrote about the possible real existence of Inferno. After many years of being submerged in The Divine Comedy, thinking about some things that on the surface sounded childish, I realised that Dante had written a lot using allegories or metaphors. In some passages, it is obvious and is explained in school or at the bottom of books of The Divine Comedy, but others are left as poetic writing or style. For instance, when Dante says in Inferno that he saw in the distance towers with burning fire on top, I thought “who feeds the fire?”. Same as when he mentioned tombs in the 6th circle, I thought “who made them and where does the fire in them come from?”. Another example, in the 7th circle Dante wrote about the Phlegethon as a river of boiling blood, so “who’s blood and what boils it constantly”?. And on and on. So, this and other things made me investigate deeply and talk to my friend/professor Massimo Ciavolella (UCLA), who inspired me to say what nobody had until now: “Inferno is a volcanic development”. I also think that having watched “Journey to the Center of the Earth” film when I was a kid, based on Jules Verne novel, was a big influence in my thinking.
So, after all this, Dino re-painted once again around 45 paintings out of the 72 collection and added 3 more to reflect my thesis. So, now we are planning on publishing a 2nd edition of Dino’s book of paintings with some shocking surprises not outlined here. All in all, I had the freedom in Dino’s paintings to express my own interpretation of Inferno, without stepping on Dante’s toes.
Inferno: The Art Collection on Amazon :
- If you got the opportunity to go back in time and change something in Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece, ‘The Divine Comedy’, then what changes will you opt for ?
There is nothing one can change in a “masterpiece”, particularly The Divine Comedy, which to me was written by God’s whispering in Dante’s ears.
- You were born to an Italian-Portuguese family. You have lived most of your life as a citizen of the United States of America. In what ways have your experiences as a migrant influenced your treatment of Dante in films ?
None whatsoever. I could have done the same work living in India. Also, I came to the US as a transfer student from a university in Argentina, so migration for me was not the reason to come to the US, it was higher education. Although later on, I became a US citizen.
- Is the idea of Hell a poetic co-incidence or a critical subject in your films ? Tell us briefly.
Hell or Inferno to me is simply the first part of The Divine Comedy. I have already filmed most of the two sequels, Purgatory and Paradise. There are no coincidences in life to me. Nevertheless, the entire Divine Comedy is a poem about each one of us, and Inferno is just our darkest part.
- Please share your views on the interconnections among Art, Hell and Philanthropy.
I don’t see any interconnections. Art is an expression of one’s feelings regardless of theme. Hell, is just the first and worst part of The Divine Comedy. Philanthropy is a form of helping others in many possible ways.
- What is the greatest moment in your film career according to you ?
It is difficult to say. I remember that I was extremely happy when I got written permission from RAI Teche to use Vittorio Gassman’s archive audio recordings of his recitation of The Divine Comedy in my Italian animation. Also, when I screened my first documentary in Cannes, there were a lot of people lining up outside the theater door without tickets hoping they could get in. I was happy to be able to accommodate everybody and later had a great party at a superb mansion nearby. Another one is when Eric Roberts came on board and thanked me hugged me five times for giving life to Dante’s voice in English through him.
- Have you ever visited India? What is your perception of India? Do you have plans of making your films available in major Indian languages?
No, I haven’t visited India, but I would love to. It was a company in India that helped me at the beginning with the animation clips. India to me is a very spiritual place on Earth, which one day I expect to visit, particularly Auroville, where they have a theater called Paradiso and already want my films. It’ll be great to have any and all of my films available in many of the Indian languages, same as Dino Di Durante’s art books, which are already available in at least 3 Indian languages. I love languages and I speak four fluently, however, India is the richest country in this respect.
Inferno: The Art Collection (Hindi Edition) on Amazon :
- Please tell us briefly about your upcoming projects.
There is one small, yet incredibly important to me. It is a short documentary titled “Dante’s Glorious Return”, which is about moving Dante’s remains from the city of Ravenna to Florence, a fact that has been waiting for almost 700 years. It was also Dante’s own last wishes, which he expressed literally in Paradiso XXV. ( “Dante’s Glorious Return”: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10848200 )
The other one is a TV series consisting of 100 episodes divided in 3 seasons, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. They are recited in primitive Italian and Dante’s own poetic words with both, English and modern Italian explanations. ( TV series consisting of 100 episodes: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10521010/ )
Finish production of the documentary sequels Purgatory by Dante and Paradise by Dante, which are almost fully filmed.
These projects are on the horizon, but there are others much bigger as well.
- Do you have any advice for young film makers out there ?
Yes, think big, follow your dream and don’t listen to the ones that say “it is not possible”. Put your heart into what you believe in, and do not look back. God will do the rest for you!
Links to Boris Acosta Films on Amazon :
About The Interviewer :
The questionnaire is prepared by Antaripa Dev Parashar for Advaitam Speaks Literary. Antaripa is a mass communication & journalism postgraduate, art & culture enthusiast as well as fashion & food connoisseur based in New Delhi. She has worked as a Sub-editor for prestigious Assamese newspapers /publications like Amar Asom, Maya & Dapun. She has worked as a PR Executive for the popular Hindi daily of North-east India Pratah Khabar and has done projects with All India Radio & News Time Assam. She has participated in various literary & cultural events like Miss Maya North-east 2017-18, Poorvottar Natya Samaroh 2014, Maya Media Awards 2017, Art Exhibitions of Jorhat Fine Arts Society as well as numerous Book Launch events. She has been an active member of Sattriya Kala Bharati Dance School, Jorhat, Assam. She is currently pursuing a Management Course from Gauhati University. She is the Managing Editor of Advaitam Speaks Literary.