Forty years ago, self-starter Bruno (as he's known to all, first-name friendly) opened a fledgling restaurant, or osteria, in the wooded region near Treviso, Italy. The way he tells it, the decision was improvisatory: After buying several pounds of sausage links and a few jugs of wine, he set up a grill in the shade of a tree and awaited his first customers. “I wanted to see if we would sell something or if people would come,” he says, throwing glances at the camera.
It’s one of many poignant scenes from “Ai Pioppi,” a new short film about the eponymous camping grounds in northern Italy created by the now 76-year-old inventor. In addition to the open-air restaurant—people did come, it now seats 500—the camera glimpses the whimsical amusement park rides, all hand-built by Bruno, that are Ai Pioppi’s main draw. The 11-minute short, produced by Coleman Guyon and Luiz Romero for Fabrica, takes an atmospheric tour of the Ai Pioppi carnival.
A giant, impossibly angled iron slide rises above the leaves and disappears into the foliage. Elsewhere, a roller coaster complete with basket-like carts wends its way around trees and shoots down sloped tracks. Another contraption houses the rider inside a grated steel box at the center of a rotating wheel that whooshes through the air.
Bruno constructed the rides over several decades. Scattered amid poplars (the source of the camp’s name), the fun fair has a hallucinatory feel about it, an effect heightened in the film by the gently roving photography.
Much like everything else handmade in those woods, Bruno built the rides on a whim. Propelled by a local blacksmith, he took up metalworking and started applying his new skills around the camp yard. The first rides were meant to draw visitors to the restaurant. Since then, 1969, he’s been gradually expanding the repertoire of Ai Pioppi’s amusements.
"He's clearly a unique character," says Romero, noting how the film's focus shifted from the park's contents to Bruno himself. After meeting the man, it was apparent to the filmmakers that their story had switched subjects. "In the end, the documentary talks more about the person than the place, and how one feeds the other. It’s a risky choice if you think about how incredible the place is, but for us that was the right thing to do."
The idiosyncratic designs of the amusement rides, then, take a backseat to Bruno's magnanimous spirit. The film is essentially about a different kind of "making," one which, in an age of rapid prototyping and Makerbot, seems positively atavistic. "It’s this guy inside his dusty workshop, listening to Italian radio, cutting, welding and painting incredible rides," Romero says. "We wanted to explore and register his thoughts, his process while working, how he dealt with success and failure."
By the film’s end, when Bruno reaffirms his passion to continue his life project, he acknowledges that the future of the park is up in the air and essentially out of his hands. "I wish it could keep running like this," he says. "But I can't impose my ideas on my successors ... I would leave that choice to them."
Make sure you have a look at the film above.