Behind the Scenes of The Venice Carnival Documentary.

By Ellis Gardiner.

It all started at a Dinner Party, where I first met Matthew John.  Matthew had been involved in several period drama films, television series and commercials.  The Dinner Party was hosted via my Mother, who had recently taken up a new hobby and interest in making exquisite costumes. Knowing that Matthew was going to Venice Mask Carnival to host various events, my Mother and myself were interested in this unknown theatrical world. The videos and photos that were features as examples were stunning; almost ‘out of this world.’  

The entire Carnival was fascinating, and whilst seated at the dinner table, my mind fizzed with ideas… Although I did not, at any point, imagine that only two months later, I would actually be there in the centre of it all. Even though I had heard various stories of extraordinary people, characters and events, nothing prepared me for those two weeks (which now almost seem like a surreal dream). 

There had been very little preparation time prior to the festival and it was rather awkward trying to converse with Italian people whom I was not familiar with. Especially with many appearing to be so extreme in their skills, style and personality. Except for the logistics, Venice was incredible.  Due to the fact Venice has no road or cars, there are limited transportation options. You can really only walk or take a water taxi, unless you are super rich and can afford a boat everywhere.  

I met the Spanish camera-crew at Venice airport, with whom I instantly hit it off.  Our personalities blended perfectly together, which boosted my confidence tremendously. The Documentary Presenter had been confirmed just 24 hours before we began shooting and he couldn’t have been more of an eccentric team player. To the uninitiated, we could have been conceived to be a professional team who had worked together for years, but that was the magic of the team dynamic.

As an outside spectator, I had only seen the Venetian events, costumes and performers putting on their final show, without realising the amount of money, talent and expertise involved.  How much energy and time had gone into everything. From making fantastical costumes, to learning the heritage and even becoming a classical Opera Singer. 

Initially, people were reluctant to agree to interviews with us and were quite dismissive, this was because we didn’t have any previous work to show. However, the film crew and I stayed up one whole night to created a promotional video of what we had already shot in Venice over 48 hours, which we placed on social media.  Then everything came together; offers and interviews came flooding in. 

Our days were long and non-stop – from sunrise to sunset – with constantly changing diaries.  Finding time to eat was difficult, made less simple due to the ambitious daily schedule and the diet restrictions in Italy for our ‘gluten free’ Presenter.  Like all performers, he required healthy food and rest, but the film shoot reduced this considerably. Without our amazing Film Runners – Declan and Callum – who were working constantly, I genuinely do not know what we would have done.  

Short Promo Video


The first day was spent collecting cutaways at an easy pace and on our second, we had the great pleasure of interviewing one of the best Venetian Tour Guides, who kindly provided a fascinating history of one of the world’s most infamous lovers… Casanova. Gina deserved an Oscar for negotiating the narrow streets and bridges of Venice in one take, whilst being extremely comfortable in front of the camera.  Everything became vivid in the stories of our interviewees, who brought out true passion and love for the city, through their words – which were the best way to describe the real Venice. 

Our second interview of day two could not have given me personally, as a Director, more joy. For Venice breathes life to the people and in turn, the people breathe life in to Venice. One person who couldn’t encapsulate this more was the superb Opera Singer, Anna Sanachina.  Anna lives and works in the heart of the city all year; a Jewel of Venice. When we met with Anna, she took us on secret hidden journey through the historical back streets – down hidden coupled passages to the Ca’ Sagredo to film a music video, which she was making to help promote a Palace Event. The interview went extremely well, due to Anna’s natural charisma and ability to incite passion, historical appreciation and joy when describing this most magical city – one that she is deeply in love with.  Walking into the Ca Sagredo Hotel was like walking into a fairy-tale Palace.  We felt privileged to film our music video there, which was like a surreal dream. The working relationship between British, Spanish and Italian people and crew was amazing, even at this early stage.

Amongst all the heavenly times we enjoyed, there was also the downs, due to exhaustion, pressure and a lot of aching feet. Part of the exhaustion was self-inflicted I must admit, due to the plethora of dazzling parties being held day and night. This fatigue, combined with cramped living conditions, led to some teething problems, keenly felt on the 4th day of shooting – so it wasn’t all plain sailing. But soon after the dramas things happily started falling back into place. Our body clocks and minds had recalibrated to the task in hand, used to the lack of sleep and acclimatised to our intense schedules. Everyone was ok.

It couldn’t have been more fitting that soon after the early drama, that we interviewed and filmed Pirates… The Lagoon Pirates! A talented group of artists who dance and chant through the streets of Venice to entertain the public. Never for money, but for their love of performance. The love of art. This got me thinking that truly successful Artists or Directors first priority must be their art. If a group of excellent unpaid performers can spend all day doing physically challenging work, with no money, in one of the most costly cities in the world, then we as a team had a duty to honour and support their hard work. 

Thereon we were fortunate to film interviews with captivating Costumiers, Mask Makers, Photographers, Art Curators, Witches, Cos Players, Event Co-ordinators, Glass Blowers, Gondoliers and so forth.

A personal highlight of these interviews was when my Mother and her partner arrived, with her own striking costume – one that she had spent months making by hand. By this time, our team were embedded into the very fabric of the Festival and its participants. Thanks to being given press badges, I had a much bigger knowledge of dozens of activities, one of which was a daily Mask and Costume contest in St Marco Square, which I had managed to get the last few tickets to gain access onto the stage. It was wonderful to see my Mother parade in her costume, which she had put her heart and soul into. Unfortunately she didn’t win, which was a bit gutting, but the joy of being part of such a creative community of visitors, who had also been insane enough to make their exquisite costumes, was brilliant. 

Near the end of the Festival the parties were getting more and more grand. One of the events we had tickets to was The Glass Slipper Masquerade Ball on the island of Murano.  Most of us got in after dawn, at about 7.00 am because the party was so much fun. Thankfully, no interviews were happening that day. The Venetian Masquerade Balls are a MUST DO for everyone. From the extravagant costumes, music and decadent performers to the splendour of setting, there is much fun to be had.  The beautiful sights are simply out of this world. No words can truly explain the eccentric grandeur of these theatrical events. 

After 10 days, the parties were coming to an end. Nearly all our film interviews had been completed, the intensity of the schedules reduced and the heftiness of crowds in the city were dying down. With more time on our hands, our crew were able to fit in interviews on the other islands of Venice lagoon.  One being on the island of Guidecca, with France Bourret, who runs the cultural arts organisation which works with many of the artisans on the many different islands. We met an Artist who specialised in paper moulding on his latest project and observed Italian fishermen and sailors working on the outskirts of the city, away from the tourist hustle and bustle in Venice centre. 

We’d been in Venice now for nearly two weeks and had begun to lose the feeling in our feet. Venice is pure pleasure and pure pain, at the same time.  Days and nights had merged and we’d forgotten what day it was. Worse, all of us had run out of clean clothes. Yet we were so proud to have accomplished so much in such a small space of time.  We may have three documentary films in the can. Not only had we managed to film a vast array of fascinating, fantastic people – all of whom had been so gracious to give us their precious time and knowledge of this exquisite city – but we also found time to make strong friendships, whether within our base, crew or locals.  We truly felt that we had become part of a Venetian family… Which was the best part of this trip. 

But the journey is not over. As our Producer, Matthew John and Anna Sanachina (the Opera Singer) waved myself and our film crew off as we departed on the bus to the airport, I knew this was just the beginning.  And now the editing, score and post production process is my new mountain to climb. I have also been given some additional stress, as the Producer has plans to enter our documentary and films into the Venice Film Festival this Summer, so I have a pressing deadline. 

What has been most magical about this documentary is the dedicated team involved, which was tripling as each day went by. What had started out with me and a simple idea at a table, had now turned into an exhilarating project with ten crew members, sponsors and dozens of people whom we interviewed in Venice. Knowing what a massive feat we have ahead of us is quite nerve-wracking, but the anticipation and excitement of Carnival – who else I will meet on this thrilling journey – is what motivates, urging me along. What started out an idea, has now taken on a life of its own… Which is very enjoyable to be a part of and watch it grow. 

We hope to see everyone soon, back at the sensational Venice Film Festival and Carnival next year. 

Written by Ellis Gardiner


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