MVFF: Documentary explores art of pizza and living well

Mill Valley’s Troncone explores the art of pizza — and living well — in ‘Arrangiarsi’

By Vicki Larson, Marin Independent Journal

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It was bad enough that Matteo Troncone was booted out of his Mill Valley house and unable to find another place to live. But then his girlfriend of two years unexpectedly broke up with him — by email. Then he was nearly killed by a MUNI bus when it smashed into his car. Then he had what he calls a complete falling out with his parents. And then he lost the role of a lifetime (“The reason I wanted to be an actor was for this role.”), playing Jamie in San Jose Repertory Theatre’s production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — all within just three weeks.

“My whole life, everything, fell apart,” he says.

With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Troncone, 52, bought a 1985 VW van to live in and decided to head to Naples, Italy, to trace his roots. And to eat pizza in its birthplace. Lots of pizza.

It brought him to tears, the good kind.

And that’s when everything changed in ways he never could have predicted. He turned his transformation into “Arrangiarsi (pizza ... and the art of living),” a 96-minute documentary that makes its Bay Area debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday.

Birthplace of pizza

When he returned to Mill Valley with the sights, smells and tastes of Naples fresh in his mind, he knew he needed to make a film about pizza, which was birthed in Naples as peasant food.

Never mind that Troncone — a professional actor and masseuse who lead the Native American sweat lodge ceremonies at Esalen Institute for many years — had never made a film before.

But then he got a free airplane ticket to Italy from a woman who couldn’t use it.

“All of these signs kept on pointing to me to going and doing this project even though everybody told me, ‘You’re absolutely crazy: You don’t know how to make a film. Naples is really dangerous, you’re going to get killed, they’re going to steal your camera, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t have any money,’” he says.

And some of that was true.

Nevertheless, Troncone returned to Naples for 18 days and filmed nonstop the colorful street artists, pizza makers, farmers and flour producers he met on his $1,000 camera.

“I was just so fascinated by that place, the incredible crumbling beauty and the chaos and creativity there. It was full of life,” he says.

When a friend saw his footage, she convinced him that his film wasn’t really just about pizza.

“She said, ‘You’re not just making a film about pizza; you’re making a film about arrangiarsi’” — the art of making something out of nothing.

Which was exactly what Troncone was doing with his life; he’d lost everything and yet everywhere he turned, he found abundance and generosity that enabled him to survive.

‘Living the film’

“I realized I was living the film,” says Troncone, who spent a hard-scrabble five years living in his van, moving it every day from street to street throughout Mill Valley, bartering and finding other creative ways to survive. He also raised $25,000 on Kickstarter to finish the film.

“What I realized was that no matter how much money I had or how much money I didn’t have, and there were often times when I didn’t have any money, I knew I was going to be OK and I just trusted that. And it was exciting to witness how is this guy going to get out of this situation and what will happen next,” he says. “Living in a van you become very resourceful, and that is what arrangiarsi is, becoming resourceful.”

“Arrangiarsi (pizza ... and the art of living)” debuted earlier this year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival to a warm reception.

“I was expecting to see a little travel film and have a craving for pizza but was rewarded with so much more,” writes critic Susan Cochran. “Troncone proves you can live your dream.”

And that’s what Troncone, who still has his van but now calls a studio home, hopes his film inspires people to do.

“My main desire is to share the film and the journey, but also for them to see that the universe is friendly and they can always ‘arrange’ themselves and they can always be empowered by the art of being resourceful,” he says. “There’s always a way.”

If you go

What: “Arrangiarsi (pizza ... and the art of living),” part of the Mill Valley Film Festival

Where and when: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (rush tickets only); 11:30 a.m. Oct. 12 at Cinearts Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; 3:15 p.m. Oct. 13, Cinemark Century Larkspur, 500 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur

Admission: $13.50 to $15