Home News Sunny Side Science pitch: Unconventional Gardeners by Alessandro Bernard and Paolo Ceretto

Sunny Side Science pitch: Unconventional Gardeners by Alessandro Bernard and Paolo Ceretto

Unconventional Gardeners by Alessandro Bernard and Paolo Ceretto

BDE takes a closer look at one of the buzziest projects pitched in the Science section of Sunny Side of the Doc 2024 as seasoned producer Massimo Arvat unpacks the core themes and features of his new project Unconventional Gardeners, helmed by Alessandro Bernard and Paolo Ceretto. The feature is being produced by Italy’s Zenit Arti Audiovisive and Germany’s Dirk Manthey Film with backing from Italy’s Ministry of Culture, the Piemonte Doc Film Fund and the Trentino Film Commission.

Since 2006, Bernard has been involved in the making of doc projects aimed to hit international markets. Between 2022 and 2023, he penned and helmed Questo spazio può essere tuo, a movie revolving around controversial Andrea Villa, billed as ‘Turin’s Banksy.’ He’s been also working on podcasts aired on Radio Rai 3 and Rai Play.

Ceretto studied in Italy and France and for over 20 years, he’s been working on documentaries, crossmedia projects, TV formats and commercials. Since 2019, he has taught scriptwriting and directing at Turin’s Istituto Europeo di Design.

Together, Ceretto and Bernard penned and directed docs focusing on “characters overshadowed by history who end up dealing with great matters of their times,” often bound to science and its impact on society. 

The duo’s body of work includes Space Hackers (2007, co-produced by Zenit, Studio International, Arte France in association with RSI, SBS, RTBF, VPRO, UR and Planete), P101 – The Machine that Changed the World (2011, produced by Zenit in association with Fox, Ur and YLE) and Wastemandala (2012, produced by Zenit in association with RAI).

Arvat turns to his Unconventional Gardeners. “Our first protagonist is Alessandro Chiolerio, who kicks off an unconventional computing experiment in a forest. He aims to hack the communication codes of plants and wants to make technology able to communicate with nature,” he says, zooming in on the picture’s protags. He bills Chiolerio’s ambition as an “avant-garde idea” which saw encouraging first results in the lab and is now being tested for the first time in a real environment. Chiolerio earned his PhD at the Polytechnic University of Turin and now serves as a professor of Electronics and Condensed Matter Physics. He worked for several prestigious institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Max Planck Institute and Bristol’s University of the West of England.

“The second protagonist is Monica Gagliano who, over the course of her brilliant scientific career in the field of botany and evolutionary ecology, has met and worked with Andean shamans. She’s looking for new ways to make science dialogue with traditional knowledge.” Born in Turin and based in Sydney, Gagliano is the head of the Biological Intelligence Lab. Through her studies, the scientist proved that plants are able to communicate and develop mnemonic skills.

“The film follows Gagliano and Chiolerio’s two-year research journey, [including] their trials, their failures and their first results. Last but not least, [we witness] the unforeseen events caused by a mysterious element that creeps in among the trunks and branches of the experiment: an insect that threatens to destroy the entire forest, the community that inhabits it and the very idea of anthropocentric science,” Arvat continues.

Elaborating on the team’s decision to focus on this science doc, Arvat says: “We think of science as something clear, linear and rational. But behind a scientific result there’re often intricate paths where different visions and hypotheses cross over, insights and assumptions mix with personal attitudes and beliefs. Scientists – including our scientists – are just unconventional human beings driven by this ‘daimon’ of exploring the unknown. And this is this is the living matter of which this film is made.”

Arvat reveals that the team embarked on the project three years ago, when they heard of Alessandro Chiolerio’s visionary idea of installing his ‘cybertree’ in a rather unusual place.

“The cybertree consists of a system able to collect a huge amount of data from the trees and to analyse it to find patterns and behaviours. This is the scientific ground of the film. It’s like having invented an antenna and to point it at a forest. Then you start receiving the signals. With the help of Monica Gagliano, who made brilliant discoveries about plant behaviours, they start brainstorming, doing tests and fighting each other a little bit… And while doing this, they realise that this ‘entity’ that they are ‘observing’ is slowly disappearing because it is being devoured by this weird insect. Or maybe it’s just a different message that is coming from the ecosystem. Maybe you need to change perspective and try to answer to bigger questions.”

“This process of living science is the core of the film,” Arvat underscores. Delving into the current state of the project, he discloses: “We wrapped filming in December, so we know the [main] ‘steps’ of the story and its narrative arc, which ends with the cutting of the cybertrees, killed by the bostrico [the aforementioned bug, known in English as the European spruce bark beetle].”

“We’re ready to enter editing and post-production but we need to cover the financing gap. So we’re looking for co-producers who might be involved at this stage, and, of course, we are desperately looking for broadcasters, platforms, sales agents and distributors who can help us to complete this work and bring it to the widest possible audience.”