Creativity Is the Freest Form of Self-Expression: An Interview with Illustrator Marianna Gefen

Illustration by Marianna Gefen

Marianna Gefen is a multi-dimensional artist and illustrator whose works employ different mediums such as watercolour, collage, ink, vintage paper, various textures and layers. Her subject matters range from psychology to fashion, and I find that her singular mixed media art subtly yet thoroughly captures the complexity of our present-day world in a celebration of beauty diversity and human form. But, even more importantly, her illustrations are charged with emotion and energy, with the craftsmanship promise of the classic and the intriguing appeal of the modern, and with that inherent quality of a timeless piece of art: it moves you without requiring or demanding an explanation.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Marianna Gefen is currently based in Berlin, having previously lived in Madrid and different cities of Germany, and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Architectural Review, Felony & Mayhem Press and Psychologie Heute, among many others. In my interview with the illustrator, we are talking about the inspiration and process behind her art, how to foster creativity in children, about why new is not necessarily better and about the German silent cinema.


Illustration experiments by Marianna Gefen


”The fact that you can never fully
control the outcome inspires me a lot.”

What is your earliest drawing memory?

My earliest memory is my first “St. Petersburg White Nights” watercolor palette box, which I used as a child to replicate the old Masters’ works and paint fruit arrangements. In fact, I still have it around somewhere for old time’s sake.

Speaking of childhood drawing, what do you think is the biggest mistake parents are prone to making when it comes to the creativity of their children?

I think it’s important to stimulate creativity in children without pushing too much. Parents should present their children with a wide variety of choices, but in the end, it’s the kids who will decide what they want to do. This way they naturally explore what they are passionate about. Creativity is the freest form of self-expression.

Illustration in general is a beautiful art form that grabs the subject matter entirely differently than photography. Do you also see it as a much needed response to this age of overly digitized photography? And what qualities separate illustration from photography?

I’ve always preferred analog to digital photography. For me, there is some kind of magic and mystery behind it. When I come across a good illustration inside a magazine or newspaper next to several photographs, it always stands out and feels like a breath of fresh air. I find that they serve the same purpose while using a different approach. Normally, illustration attempts to explain a topic or an article to the reader in a couple of seconds. Photography, on the other hand, captures the moment.

I see your illustration as intuitive and eclectic in the use of different mediums. Is there a specific medium you prefer, and why?

I always love to combine watercolor and ink as a basis for my illustrations. The fact that you can never fully control the outcome inspires me a lot. You need to embrace the results together with inherent mistakes. With watercolor, mistakes are natural. I also collage various elements and experiment with layers as well as pieces of vintage paper which I get from flea markets or online auctions. I really enjoy to bring all these pieces together to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a bit like building a puzzle or solving a riddle. My favorite part of the process!

Illustration by Marianna Gefen


”If you pay attention to things around you,
you can actually find inspiration in almost anything.”

How would you describe your illustration style? Has anyone in particular influenced it and how did you develop your style?

I would describe my style as colourful mixed media art which includes watercolor, collage, ink, various textures and layers. I love to use watercolor with ink on old yellowed paper or transparent paper. Usually I combine realistic-looking elements with abstract pieces. I was influenced by the bold look of vintage fashion illustrations and analog documentary photography. My style has been shaped through trial and error and has gotten more complex over the years as I try to evolve and add new things.

Where do you seek out inspiration?

I collect vintage books, documents, magazines and get inspired by their patterns, colours or designs which I sometimes include in my illustrations. I have archives of decades-old paper and photos as well as brightly coloured transparent paper. Also, I enjoy contemporary fashion photography, movies and theatre. If you pay attention to things around you, you can actually find inspiration in almost anything.

You have lived and worked in different parts of the world. Has your multicultural background left a mark on your illustrations?

Definitely. I regularly buy old books, documents and patterned pieces of paper from the parts of the world I live in or visit. I then scan these and incorporate into my art one way or the other. Moreover, I keep a journal. I make notes about my impressions when I get acquainted with new cultures and their art scenes. Different places leave a different mark on my illustrations as I adapt myself quite fast.

How big a part does hand- and digital-drawing, respectively, play in your work? Would you ever consider traditional drawing exclusively?

All elements of my illustrations are handmade, just like the textures. To speed up the workflow, I collage and finalize some works digitally. For my personal projects, I prefer to paint and collage exclusively the traditional way. Having said this, I am interested in new technologies and new ways of doing art. For example, I have been experimenting with time-lapse videos and will be exploring this direction further with great interest.

You have illustrated a few book covers for L.R. Wright’s novels, for Felony & Mayhem Press. What makes a good book cover design in your opinion?

It was a really fun commission to illustrate 10 book covers for L.R. Wright’s series of mystery novels. From the publisher I only received short descriptions and the titles. So I didn’t actually read the books. In that project, the key for a good cover was to give a hint at the content without revealing too much. The concept was supposed to be not too complicated while the colours had to pop. A good book cover stands out from the competition on the shelf.

How challenging is for an artist to do commissioned work? How does it relate to your personal, freelance work?

It’s important to keep a balance between commissioned work and personal projects. You need the latter as a playground for art experiments and an opportunity to improve your style. Commissioned work can be quite challenging as the client always has the last say. The freedom you have in your personal projects is very exciting and can in fact influence your commissioned work, so that it doesn’t get repetitive.

Illustrations by Marianna Gefen


”New isn’t always better.”

One thing you can not start the day without:

Where would we find you when not working?

In restaurants, cafés, cinemas, attending exhibitions, antique stores… always around dogs.

What do you wish people appreciated more in this day and age?

The significance and value of art, craft and design. There are so many brilliant artists with small businesses who offer beautiful items. It is important to support them.
I am also a big admirer of vintage architecture and furniture which I like to collect. It has a particular charm generated by its history. New isn’t always better. Surrounding yourself with unique things instead of mass-produced design creates a special vibe.

What is one favourite thing to do in Berlin and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?

Berlin has some of the best art-house cinemas in Europe. Many of them are really petite with fascinating architecture and interiors. There’s nothing better than watching a silent classic accompanied by a live organ in one of these places.

The Germans had an impressive silent cinema. Any favourites?

Recently I’ve watched Diary of a Lost Girl by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and was really impressed. I must also mention The Adventures of Prince Achmed, by Lotte Reiniger, which is the oldest surviving animated feature. It’s made of silhouette animation. I liked it to the extent that right after watching it, I put a framed picture of Lotte Reiniger in my studio.

Illustration by Marianna Gefen | Instagram: @marianna_gefen


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The Culture Trip: December Newsletter


A regular round-up of the latest talks, films, music, books,
interviews and cultural news that have caught my attention
and have myself experienced in one way or another. Stay cultured!

Our December newsletter doubles as both a conscience call and inspiration for the holidays. You can not have one without the other at the end of a year and especially not at the end of a decade.

We are often asked by many parents why we we don’t take our four year old son to the cinema to watch the latest Disney film. But we are never asked what our son’s favourite book is, or how come he is already inventing his own stories. I will leave you do the logic. The stories we like to read and tell this time of year are mainly winter-themed, but my favourite addition to our collection is The Rabbits, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. This rich and haunting allegory for all ages and all cultures is not only superbly illustrated – the power of images and illustration goes deeper than words – but also a tale of colliding worlds, technology and nature, “a story about a deep environmental crisis, a crisis of conscience, and a costly failure of communication”, as illustrator Shaun Tan describes it. The book was first published in 1998 and it is unfortunately more current than ever. If you find it hard to initiate a conversation with your children about the environment, nature and humankind, this book is a great place to start.

Greta Thunberg is Time’s person of the year. It was about time.

Following up on the subject of children’s books, did you know that a child from a poor family hears three times fewer words than other more fortunate children, than your child, for example? And that in books there are three times more words than in a usual conversation? Pay it forward with a book this holiday season and whenever you can.

Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt have met up to discuss, among other things, the beauty of embracing our mistakes.

Esquire Classic is the stunning archive where every issue from the entire 85-year history of Esquire magazine lives. Esquire’s first issue was published in the autumn of 1933 featuring a dispatch from Cuba by Ernest Hemingway. That story was the first of Hemingway’s many contributions to Esquire. Other writers, as in James Baldwin, Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Scott F. Fitzgerald, were regular contributors to the magazine as well, and you can find all their writing pieces, for free, here.

“When there’s no censor to fight against, dart around, and poke fun at, where’s the tension in the contemporary screwball comedy? […] It’s fair to say that since the golden age of the screwball, there have been admirable attempts and misfires and also-rans, with a few rare gems here or there. But generally speaking: screwball belongs to the thirties and forties; to Preston Sturges, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor. Why try to improve on perfection?” Here is why they don’t make screwball comedies, the most intractably specific to its era, the most impossible to recreate, of all Hollywood genres, like they used to.

Fred Kaplan writes up a list of his favourite jazz albums of 2019 and Joe Pesci’s Still Singing is among them. Yes, the best actor in Martin Scorsese’s recently released The Irishman, sings, too, and jazz no less.

What happens to the stuff you donate? Adam Minter’s book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, due for release in February, follows the multi-billion dollar industry of reuse, from the thrift stores of the American Southwest, to the vintage shops in Tokyo, the flea markets in Southeast Asia and the used-goods enterprises in Africa. “A history of the stuff we’ve used and a contemplation of why we keep buying more, it also reveals the marketing practices, design failures, and racial prejudices that push used items into landfills instead of new homes. Secondhand shows us that it doesn’t have to be this way, and what really needs to change to build a sustainable future free of excess stuff,” reads the description of the book. The author has talked about it with Terry Gross.

The Eloquent Screen, written by Gilberto Perez and published this year, is a closely studied collection of film moments. It is the work of a film lover, not a film critic, and every story is imbued with the author’s personal feelings. Again, it’s about a passion for movies, and it is an invaluable read.

Illustration by Shaun Tan from the book “The Rabbits”, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

One of the most valuable independent writer-director-producers in Hollywood, Samuel Fuller, made 29 films in his career spanning four decades, from 1949 to 1989. Starting out as a war journalist, Sam Fuller began to write screenplays for the big Hollywood names of the 1930’s. His films usually employ subjects that involve social aspects, capturing the truth of war, racism and human frailties. Maybe classics such as Pickup on South Street (1953) or Forty Guns (1957) are the first that come to the public’s mind, but one of his films that has impressed me the most was White Dog (1982). An uncompromising film that conveys a racial tolerance message through events that unfold in the eyes of a dog that was destroyed by a crippeled, twisted society when he was a puppy, having been trained to attack black people. Using a dog’s behaviour to emphasize the real human cruelty is the movie’s target and accomplishment. This may as well be the most original movie on American racism ever made. In his book, Samuel Fuller tells his story of writing, fighting and filmmaking.

Is there any more pleasant winter evening indoor activity than playing board games? Now that our son is four and a half, we have finally embraced playing board games as a family and we are happy to have something to alternate our puzzle games with. Our favourites right now are Jeu de l’oie – Goose Game and The Big Book of Christmas Games (only available in Italian at the publisher, but you can look for the English version at your usual book provider or, even better, in your favourite bookshop – because, in the age of e-commerce, it feels good to put a little thought and a little time into scouting an actual store and buying a beautiful gift).

Adrian Curry of MUBI picks the best film posters of the decade. But many of my personal favourites, among which Your Were Never Really Here and Ford v Ferrari, bear the signature of my favourite contemporary poster illustrator, Tony Stella.

A hearty conversation revolving around food that is bound to get you in the mood for Christmas.

This David Bowie box set of 7’’ singles vinyls had me at first sight. It feels more special even than a vinyl album – taking the time to put on and listen to every single song separately keeps you in the moment and immersed into the experience. And it makes a great gift for those who value the good things in life, not only good music.

My complete round-up of the best films of the year will be published next week and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is one of them. It is currently available on Netflix (but if you were able to catch it at the cinema, which I relentlessly support, good for you) and you can also listen to Alec Baldwin’s interview with the director here.

I am a fervent proponent of sports as a key element in the education and health of children – a running joke in our family whenever we hear about someone’s children’s science and maths accomplishments (and don’t get me wrong, I loved math) is: But can he/she run? Let’s foster an interest in sport to last a lifetime: winter is as good a time as any other to start. Let’s hope for many a powder days this winter!

Illustration by Shaun Tan from the book “The Rabbits”, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan


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Production Designer François Audouy Takes Us Behind the Scenes of Ford v Ferrari

Christian Bale as Ken Miles in ”Ford v Ferrari”, 2019 | Twentieth Century Fox

In Ford v Ferrari, based on a true story, Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby is first seen tearing up the track as he wins the 1959 Le Mans. But a heart condition is forcing him to retire and he channels all his energy and passion towards designing cars. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is an English mechanic living in America and he might be the best driver Shelby has ever seen. The project that brings the two together, the GT40 programme, is an initiative by Ford Motors to design a car that would beat Ferrari at the world’s preeminent sports car race, the endurance 24 Hours of Le Mans.

More than an action car film, Ford v Ferrari (titled Le Mans ‘66 in some territories) is a character-driven drama, un underdog story that evokes the heyday of motorsport cars. A subject that is neither sequel, nor superhero blockbuster, but a good old-school, entertaining Hollywood movie grounded by a great piece of storytelling, something very rare these days. It feels liberating. With the car racing scenes shot in close-up and realistically, using hard-mounted cameras where the camera is actually vibrating in the car, the film conveys the sense of the race, the danger and passion that go into the sport, never losing sight of the human aspect.

Maverick driver Ken Miles and pioneering automotive designer Carroll Shelby (both Bale and Damon give the film spectacular horsepower) don’t share just a passion for cars, but a passion about something they want to do with their lives. When you see Christian Bale’s Ken Miles in a race car, he is emotionally connected to it – he is not into it for the thrill of winning, but for the thrill of cars and racing and because he wants to achieve something for himself, and that’s what makes him be himself – and you feel you are inside it, too. Because you can not win a car race without emotion. That’s what had differentiated Ferrari from Ford up until this point depicted in the film. Ferrari was not just a car manufacturer, but an artisan that created cars to win races. It takes technology, but most importantly, craftsmanship and passion, to do that. Just like a good movie does.

The atmosphere of the film is both thrilling and emotional, a layered drama with characters and cars equally in focus at all times, as the personal story in between the car racing is calling the attention just as much as the dazzling driving scenes. It is enticing and it is the result of not only the vision of director James Mangold, or the beautiful cinematography of Phedon Papamichael, shot in natural light as much as possible, but also because of a painstakingly detailed and authentic recreation of a 1960s world, and a very specific world at that, and of the rebel-vibe of the California car culture of that decade. From the cars to the Le Mans track that no longer exists in the way it did in the sixties, everything was manufactured or built/recreated on real location. Production designer François Audouy takes us behind the scenes and breaks down the process of crafting this world.

Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale in ”Ford v Ferrari”, 2019 | Twentieth Century Fox

What was your main challenge when setting out to create, or recreate, such a specific environment in Ford v Ferrari, not only a story set in the 1960s, but one that revolves around the legendary 24-hour endurance motorsport race held annually near the town of Le Mans, France?

Designing the world of Ford v Ferrari meant, in many instances, re-building places that no longer existed, for a story that spans a diversity of locations across Southern California, Michigan, Florida, Italy and France. The most challenging chapter of the story would be recreating the “Circuit de Sarthe,” which is an eight-and-a-half long circuit across the pristine French countryside surrounding the town of Le Mans. In 1966, these were country roads traversing dairy pastures and farmland, but the track today is a highly engineered course with enormous safety fencing and widened byways built for supercars driving 200 miles-an-hour. The circuit would need to be found somewhere in the US.

To add to this challenge, each chicane and straightaway of the course is steeped in legend and recognizable by die-hard racing fans: “The Dunlop Bridge,” the “Esses,” “Tertre Rouge,” the “Mulsanne Straight,” “Indianapolis,” and “Arnage.” We needed to find analogs for each of these stretches of road, which forced us to shoot the elaborate sequence across four locations in two states.

A mammoth 1,100-foot long three-story concrete bunker-type building anchored the start/finish line at Le Mans. This served as the pits for the 55 teams, with private VIP suites above, and viewing stands above that. A 600-foot long section of this structure was lovingly recreated on an airfield that was rented for the purpose, in Algua Dulce, California, as a fully practical interior/exterior contiguous space.

We also finished the rear of the set as staging for race mechanics and support vehicles. My art department output over 70 construction drawings for this 600-foot long, and also modeled the entire virtual Le Mans site, including accurate topography and hundreds of period-accurate signs, which proved invaluable to the visual effects team in post and helped blur the line between practical and synthetic.

Where did you start your research for all the details and artifacts that made this world so believable and authentic?

One of the early discoveries was that most of the characters who had witnessed these events over five decades ago had sadly passed on, so we were left with testimonies relayed to journalists and historians.

My researcher Ozzy Inguanzo scoured all the usual suspects in print media and online archives, but also conducted in-depth interviews with Ken Miles’ son, Peter, and his friend and Crew Chief Charlie Agapiou. He was first hired by Ken as an 18-year-old mechanic at Ken’s foreign car garage in the early 60s, and then promoted to his Crew Chief at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. Charlie was a goldmine of details, and a humble raconteur of “war stories” that Ozzy digested into notes that would be forwarded to Jim so he could fold these details into the script.

The Fox Research Library helped us by assembling visual imagery from the period which, along with archival footage, we uploaded onto a secure website that served as a visual database of information for anyone on the production needing to get up to speed quickly. Our research collection continued to grow throughout prep to include rare archival imagery and design research from the Henry Ford Museum and many other sources.

We also gained access to the Ford archives at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, as well as the Le Mans museum, which provided us with exclusive film footage of the 1966 race.

The story is set in many different locations, from the Ford offices and factory, and a Los Angeles neighborhood, to the Daytona and Willow Springs racetracks, the Ferrari headquarters and, of course, the Le Mans race track. Did you recreate all the sets?

Yes! At the heart of this story was Ken Miles’ neighborhood, which Jim Mangold envisioned as a contiguous space with the Miles home overlooking Ken’s garage. We found this location in a quiet corner of Eagle Rock. We gutted and remodeled a two-bedroom house overlooking a small auto shop on a corner lot, with a fantastic period strip mall in the background.

The Shelby story also required similar attention, and presented a story arc starting with the Texan’s cozy but bustling Cobra shop in Venice (recreated in South LA), which then snowballed in size after Ford’s sizable investment. After Venice, Shelby-America moved into two giant aircraft hangars at LAX, which would be yet another challenge to recreate. While developing the GT-40, Shelby continued building GT350 Mustangs, Daytonas and Cobras, so the operation was sizable. One of the legendary stories was that Shelby and Ken Miles would test GT-40s on the LAX runway after the last flight departed to Tokyo.

Our LAX ended up being a runway and hangar at Ontario airport – the managers of which were gracious enough to allow us to control a working runway of their busy international airport, swarming with the constant freight traffic of UPS and FedEx jumbo jets. We built Shelby’s office into a large empty hangar, grounded by built piece of architecture I imagined had been repurposed from Southern California’s aerospace past. We also rented a defunct Boeing 727 stored at the airport and updated its livery to look like a TWA transporter. After dozens of Shelby Cobras, Daytonas, and Mustangs were dressed into place, the illusion was complete.

We found another airport location at Fox Field in Palmdale. This became our stand-in for Santa Monica’s Cloverfield Airport where Ford unveiled the brand-new Ford Mustang in 1964. An aluminum Beech 18 aircraft buzzed the crowd gathered around a stage adorned with giant F-O-R-D letters and flags. The roar of the aircraft’s twin Pratt & Whitneys growled like angry lions, screaming overhead.

Near Fox Field, in nearby Lancaster, was Willow Springs raceway which served as the canvas for the film’s opening race, pitting mid-century Porsches, Corvettes and Cobras that raced at ground-zero of this exciting new motor sport. Dozens of period-accurate signs were created to line the track, with hundreds of half-tires buried into the sand as makeshift “safety bumpers.”

We selected several locations to recreate the mid-century rectilinear world of Ford HQ in Michigan. Henry Ford II’s inner sanctum came to life inside a wood-paneled executive suite at the LA Times building downtown. A reproduction oil painting of Henry Ford overlooked his sweeping office. We provided the requisite well-stocked bar, executive desk with built-in phone, and lush seating area with nickel-plated floating shelves.

In the nearby warehouse district, a sprawling industrial space became Ford’s River Rouge Assembly Plant, the largest assembly line in the world during the 1960s. 21 Ford Falcons were restored and dressed to portray the various stages of automobile assembly. Extras were trained to install windshields, wheels and body panels, and paint parts in a practical spray booth.

We found the final piece of the Ford puzzle at the lustrous Porsche Experience Center in Carson where a Neutra-esque control building was built on a small hill overlooking the test track. We also built a period-correct dynamometer lab, where engineers would birth Ford’s next generation gigantic V8 engine—surely too big for any Gran Turismo racer.

As a counterpoint to Ford, the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, had to be recreated. Ferrari’s famous red-brick gates were replicated in an existing courtyard at the Lanterman Facility in Pomona, with Enzo Ferrari’s office built with a picture window overlooking a courtyard overflowing with olive trees, palms and lavender. At an Edison Substation in Eagle Rock, Ferrari’s racing department told a different story to that of Ford’s – the cars here were each hand-assembled by meticulous craftsmen. Details included custom aluminum Ferrari engines, three bespoke Ferrari 330 P3s, three Ferrari F-1 “cigar” racers and the rental of several priceless Ferraris.

Another challenge was recreating Florida’s Daytona International Raceway, at the two-mile long oval Auto Club Raceway in Fontana. 1,000 feet of pits was dressed with dozens of elevated gas tanks, flags, tires, dressing and support vehicles. We also painted the walls around the track with thousands of feet of chevrons and large DAYTONA letters.

Christian Bale and Noah Jupe in ”Ford v Ferrari”, 2019 | Twentieth Century Fox

The name of any of these multiple locations never appears on screen when the story moves from one place to another. The film is so beautifully executed that the viewer is only informed visually that the location has changed. What were the most important elements you employed to create this visual language?

Each specific setting was carefully designed to not only convey the proper tone for the scenes, but also follow a set color palette and architectural language. The reason for this is that I wanted the audience to instinctually know where they were geographically without having to resort to subtitles. There was a lot of planning that went into the design of the location so that there would be a clear design language to each chapter in the story. For example, the world of Ford was rectilinear with steely blues and lacquered woods. In contrast, Ferrari’s factory was textural earth tones, with lipstick red accents. And in contrast to that, Southern California’s color story was a very vibrant sun-kissed palette echoing research from the period.

Before watching the film, I was hoping for it to be a nod to the good action films of the 1960s and 1970s and after I saw it I was so glad that it had surpassed these expectations. Did you use any films from that period as reference?

Of course, I looked at all the period racing films, from Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966) to Le Mans (1971), but was most inspired by the design work and bold choices of Godard’s Contempt (1963) and Tati’s Playtime (1967).

Production design is first and foremost meant to create a detailed fictional world that would help the characters inhabit that world. For example, the props. Many of them remain in the background, subtly complementing, not distracting from the story being told, and many of them are hardly noticed by the audience although they may be of paramount importance for helping the actors get into a certain setting and atmosphere, into character. Were there any particular little things, period props that you used to help define the image of the protagonists?

The details in the set dressing and props are sometimes just as important as the backgrounds, especially when they convey details about character back stories, or add to the texture or emotion of specific scenes. I love the slot car track that Peter plays with early in the film, and how the Dunlop Bridge was made from an old air filter from his father’s garage.

My decorator Peter Lando found a vintage WWII-era BSA motorcycle for Ken Miles’ garage, which hinted at Ken’s lifelong love of English motorcycles, and this piece of dressing ended up in an unscripted, wonderful moment of Ken arriving to Shelby’s hangar at LAX as the sun set over the tarmac.

The race cars were also each peppered with dozens of details, and I remember staying up late one night with my art directors, hand-applying hundreds of faux rivets to the bodies of the three Ferrari 330 P3s. It was a detail that we felt we just had to have, so that they would feel authentic!

Were all the racing cars that appear in the film specifically built for the production?

Central characters in our story were the cars, and recreating them proved to be an enormous challenge, as they could take several months each to manufacture. We ultimately built 34 period race cars for the film, most of them built to be able to perform at high speeds by the team of stunt drivers.

This is the 1960s. There was a car-based culture in the US at the time. Apart from the race cars, how did you recreate this rebel-vibe of the California car culture?

Southern California was the heart of the movie, and in the early 60s, the Southland was a very exciting, vibrant place to be. We wanted to capture what was essential, the birth of a new sporting culture, and the energy of young men taking these Corvettes, Porsches and Cobras out to the desert to race them around sandy, sun-baked race courses. It helped to capture the realism of this by shooting at the real Willow Springs Raceway in the Mojave Desert, and the hundreds of extras working in 110º temperatures also added to the realism. This was the first week of the shoot, and looking around at the completely immersive surroundings with those extras and picture cars was transportive. In many ways, most of the locations in the film felt like time capsules to an early time, imbued with as much detail, layering, and scope as possible to recreate this world that no longer exists.
Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans ‘66) is out in cinemas worldwide now.

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Soul Cake: A Winter Playlist

”Only Lovers Left Alive”, 2013 | Recorded Picture Company, Pandora Filmproduktion, Snow Wolf Produktion

Winter-themed, but not necessarily so, and eschewing the traditional Christmas carols and everything that boasts of the holiday cheer and saccharine sentiment. The Classiq Journal December soundtrack is a mix of some great indie, rock, blues and jazz music, some of the songs with an underlayer that is very much in tune with the bittersweet feeling of the end of the year. And because we are also at the end of a decade, I had to refer to one of my favourite films of the 2010s, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, where music plays an even more important role than it usually does in the filmmaker’s works. If I were to explain my choices, Sting’s words about his album “If on a Winter’s Night…” (one of its songs, Soul Cake, gives the title of this playlist) resonate to me the most – I liked the inspiration behind it so much that I may very well quote it year after year:

Like many people, I have an ambivalent attitude towards the celebration of Christmas. For many, it is a period of intense loneliness and alienation. I intentionally avoided the jolly, almost triumphalist, strain in many of the Christian carols. I make a musical reference to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” only as a dramatic counterpoint to the words in “Soul Cake”, for example. This was a song sung at Halloween by children who go from door to door asking for pennies and “soul cakes” (the latter not originally intended for the living). I was also keen to avoid the domestic cosines of many of the secular songs, recognizing that, for many, winter is a time of darkness and introspection.


Walking amid the snows of winter, or sitting entranced in a darkened room gazing at the firelight, usually evokes in me a mood of reflection, a mood that can be at times philosophical, at others wildly irrational; I find myself haunted by memories. For winter is the season of ghosts, and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in this season of frosts and in this long hours of darkness. We must treat with them calmly and civilly, before the snows melt and the cycle of the seasons begins once more.”


1. Soul Cake, Sting / 2. Comes Love, Joni Mitchell / 3. Smile, Jimmy Durante / 4. Nutcracker Suite: Sugar Rum Cherry, Duke Ellington / 5. Venus in Furs, The Velvet Underground / 6. Personal Jesus, Johnny Cash / 7. Layla, Derek and the Dominos / 8. Tangled up in Blue, Bob Dylan / 9. Ocean of Night, Editors / 10. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones / 11. My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen / 12. Somebody to Love, Jefferson Airplane / 13. My Way, Frank Sinatra / 14. Going Back Home, Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey / 15. Landslide, Fleetwood Mac / 16. Ode to My Family, The Cranberries / 17. Loveblood, Sundara Karma / 18. The Man Who Sold the World, Nirvana / 19. No Sound but the Wind, Editors


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The Taste Makers: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

1. Photograph: Classiq Journal | 2. Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto


On Corso Umberto I, 159, tucked away on a quaint little alley in the heart of the city of Modica, Sicilia, is the place where you will find the best chocolate in the world. The oldest chocolate factory in Sicilia, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, has been producing archetypal chocolate for six generations and for more than 150 years. La Dolceria is still in the same place where its founder, Francesco Bonajuto, opened his small confectionary in 1880. Crafted through an old cold-processing method of cocoa used by the Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico (straight from cacao beans, with no cocoa butter or other additives you’ll typically find in chocolate), the Bonajuto chocolate is made exclusively from cocoa mass and sugar and sometimes a little spice or natural essence, each variety having no more than four ingredients in composition. It is the most singular chocolate taste (not too sweet, but extremely rich), with a unique grainy texture that derives from the fact that the added sugar doesn’t completely melt, because the cocoa is processed at a relatively low temperature. Simply put, this is how chocolate should taste like. And, from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that once you have tasted the Bonajuto chocolate, you can forget everything you thought you knew about chocolate.

Tradition is one of the core values of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And how could it not be? Its place of birth is Sicilia, a place where man’s main purpose in life is preserving the land, their traditions and values, and where many mainland Italians are turning to in search of that almost forgotten back-to-the-land ideal, a place that has all the history of Rome, but also where lots of Arabic and Greek influences remain, a place that brightens your eyes and enlivens your senses, your spirit and your tastes. And Modica, where Bonajuto was established, is one of the most atmospheric and most historically- and culturally-rich cities in Sicilia, a place La Dolceria is committed to giving back to, as one of its most valuable ambassadors around the world. Culture brings knowledge, which brings consciousness and a sense of responsibility.

But Bonajuto has always been defined by another quality: pushing boundaries and looking into the future. It is not important just to know where they come from, but to always have their own vision and evolve tradition. La Dolceria, under the supervision of the present owner, Pierpaolo Ruta, not only constantly innovates and creates new and unique products, but has committed to being a taste maker, not just a chocolate maker. Educating the public on its very distinctive, raw taste has not been the easy way to find the place it deserves among customers and connoisseurs from all over the world, but the fact that, through patience, perseverance and passion, they have succeeded makes their accomplishment all the more special.

To start off December, a month of storytelling, childlike joys, thoughtfulness and giving, I have invited Alessandra Scucces of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto to walk us through the inspiring journey of la più antica fabbrica di cioccolato di Sicilia.

The city of Modica, Sicilia | Photograph: Classiq Journal

What makes the Bonajuto chocolate exceptional?
It’s long history always focused on local tradition, vision of future goals and the highest quality possible for each product.

Where do you source the cacao beans and what is the secret to the best quality cacao for chocolate?
We source cocoa beans from Perù and Venezuela plantations, also we select cocoa mass coming from West Africa and single origin varieties such as Madagascar, Tanzania etc. We select cocoa that has several certifications not only about chemical properties, but also about workers conditions in cocoa plantations.

You are artisans, you create chocolate. With more than 159 years of activity, Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily and one of the oldest in Italy. Tradition is clearly one of Bonajuto’s cornerstones, but innovation and research are also important. It’s like an evolution of tradition. Is it necessary to learn the rules before you can break them?
Cocoa is a very complex and delicate product with a centuries-old history; knowing its characteristics and fineness is unavoidable to create a good chocolate. Furthermore, our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.

In the 1990s, you launched a revolutionary process of cultural recovery of old Hyblean recipes, and of the cold-processed chocolate, a real gastronomic “fossil” that was doomed to disappear. Can you tell me a little more about it?
In 1992, Franco and Pierpaolo Ruta leaded a great change in the family’s company, as they decided to focus on chocolate and few others products. It really was a hazard and the beginnings were not so easy: people didn’t know anything about this product, nor was the common taste ready for this rough, simple bar. “Internet” and “food” blew up ten years later so it was a patience work of dedication and love for this chocolate, besides the family history, that allowed the Dolceria to create a new life and value for this ancient chocolate.

Fattojo, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto’s Bean to Bar laboratory, Modica | Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto


1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Corso Umberto I, Modica | 2. Bonajuto single origins chocolate
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

I think you describe so well the taste of the Bonajuto chocolate as rough and simple. And when I first tasted your chocolate, the first thing that came to my mind was: “This is what chocolate should taste like.” How have people learned to appreciate the singular taste of your chocolate?
Communication and storytelling have been key points to “prepare” people for this special taste. We know it’s very different from the commercial chocolate that almost everybody is used to, but our experience also proves that once you try this simple, rough bar, you’ll keep choosing it.

Sicily is well known for the way it values land and tradition. The traditional cold-processing method that has been managed to be preserved to this day in Modica is an example of that. But how challenging is it to resist technology?
Technology is an amazing ally, if used in a proper manner. For instance, the last laboratory we opened is the “Fattojo” where we are able to produce Bean to Bar chocolate: the technological and artisan sides surely go together.

Your chocolate sortiments have very few ingredients, but they are very varied. And I presume your process for selecting ingredients is one that is deeply personal and important. How do you find inspiration for the different flavours?
Sicily is of course a treasure trove of flavours, thanks to its rich gastronomic history and all the different people that have lived here through the centuries. Also, we love to experiment with tasting and spices from different countries and traditions.

”Our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material
and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.” Alessandra Scucces
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto


Antica Dolceria Bonajuto: 159, Corso Umberto I, Modica, Sicilia


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