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‘Long Live the Tyrant,’ About Publisher Giancarlo DiTrapano, the ‘Basquiat of the New York Literary Scene,’ Eyes Spring Shoot (EXCLUSIVE)

“Long Live the Tyrant: Life and Times of Giancarlo DiTrapano,” a feature documentary about the independent book publisher, is being developed as an Italy-U.S. coproduction. DiTrapano is described by Ian Thornton, one of the film’s producers, as the “Basquiat of the New York literary scene.”

The film is written by Guia Cortassa and directed by Cortassa and Vittorio Antonacci. It is produced by Jennifer Buzzelli, Giulio D’Antona and Thornton, with the support of the Giancarlo DiTrapano Foundation. Production coordination on the project is by Susanna Verni. The line producer is Teo Segale.

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Forty per cent of the budget is in place, with shooting about to start in Italy. The producers are now looking to complete financing and enlist a narrator, with a wish list headed by Paul Giamatti.

DiTrapano, who died at 47 in 2021, ran literary magazine New York Tyrant and boutique publishing house Tyrant Books. According to his obituary in the New York Times, he “championed avant-garde work and relished taking chances on young, untested writers.”

Tyrant published such works as Atticus Lish’s “Preparation for the Next Life,” which won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; “The Complete Gary Lutz” by Garielle Lutz; and “The Sarah Book” by Scott McClanahan, which the New York Times called, in its review, “not a book you savor,” but “one you inhale.”

DiTrapano once said: “My stuff isn’t for everyone, but nothing should be for everyone. Or at least nothing that’s worth anything. You know what’s for everyone? Water. Water is for everyone. And if you’re publishing something for everyone, well, you’re publishing water.”

“Long Live the Tyrant” will tell DiTrapano’s story “through the voices of his friends, the authors he loved and published, his beloved family, and the people who knew and valued him,” according to the producers. “Personal archive footage and photographs will enrich the tale, that will embody a true exploration of Gian’s world; while telling of his extraordinarily poetic existence, it will show the places that he loved and lived in.”

The project was initiated by Cortassa, a Milan-based writer for international magazines focusing on art, music and literature. She is also a radio host and author, and an editor and translator for several international publishers.

In 2013, Cortassa exchanged emails with DiTrapano when she was working for an American literary magazine and DiTrapano wanted to get one of his authors’ novels published in Italy. “I always admired what he published, the way he approached the industry, the way he worked with authors, and I always wished we could do something together,” she tells Variety.

However, the publisher moved to Italy and Cortassa moved into different fields of art, so this was not to be. “When I heard that he had died in 2021 I thought that I needed to tell his story. It was like one of those misconnections, and I needed to make that connection happen in some way and the best thing I could do at that point was to make his story known to as many people as possible.”

After speaking with D’Antona, Cortassa decided that a documentary would be the best means of telling such a story. D’Antona was later joined by Buzzelli, who is a family friend of the DiTrapanos, and Thornton as producers.

Cortassa has been engaged in archival research and has been in touch with all the Tyrant authors, and other people who were in contact with DiTrapano in his work and personal life. “We are recreating all the steps and all the key points [in his story],” she says.

The film will focus on DiTrapano’s editorial activity between 2009 and his death. “He was adjacent to a specific literary group, called Alt-Lit, who were trying to establish a new canon in literature,” Cortassa says. He published “all the underdogs of literature, giving voices to writers and artists who would never have the chance to have their voices heard otherwise. He had this passionate and visceral approach to writing. He didn’t actually care who the author was, but if he felt something in the manuscript he was reading he tried all he could to get that writing published. This was what made Giancarlo’s work unique. We will try to convey how he got there.”

The film will track the publisher’s life from his childhood in West Virginia, to New York City, where he set up Tyrant, to Naples, where he moved with his husband just before his death, and Sezze Romano – the Italian village where his family was from, and where his writers’ residence still runs.

Cortassa says she wants “the sense of [DiTrapano’s] continuous discovery and scouting and love for the unknown and never heard before” to be conveyed by the film.

Thornton, who is also a novelist, adds: “That all resonates so much because being on the other end of the literary business and having to try to shovel everything through agents… Giancarlo and I have a mutual disdain for agents – these gatekeepers – and that is the barometer of someone who loves the art: he wanted to be directly in touch with the author and have that immediacy and get away from the agents, who are a special breed, and I don’t say that as a compliment. But that underlines his genuine approach and that is rare.”

D’Antona is an Italian writer, journalist and producer. For several years, he was a foreign correspondent based in New York, covering American literature and culture for multiple Italian magazines. He now writes for La Stampa. He was associate producer on several documentaries for Dazzle Communication: “Vitti d’arte, Vitti d’amore,” a docu-film on the life of Monica Vitti, co-produced by Indigo Film and RAI, “Ants,” a documentary on migrations across Europe, and “Il sequestro Dozier,” a Sky docu-series on the kidnapping of American general James L. Dozier. He has produced four comedy specials for Netflix.

Thornton was a co-producer on documentary “The Face of Anonymous,” about hacker Commander X, which was nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards. He is developing two doc series with Terry Shand’s Emmy-winning Castle Entertainment, based on research from his novels on occultist Aleister Crowley and Count Dracula, as well as a scripted drama on soccer club Leeds United with Ralph Ineson, and several shows with legendary dance and house music brand DMC.

Buzzelli is a New York-based producer with 25 years’ experience in international co-production, distribution and programming for the likes of National Geographic, truTV and Konami.

Antonacci directed “Leap of Faith,” a documentary on itinerant workers during religious holidays, in 2018. It was selected at the 36th Turin Film Festival and distributed on Amazon Prime. He also directed and wrote 2018 short “Meat Soup,” winner of the Premiere Film Award in the Alice nella città section of the Rome Film Festival. His credits include several documentaries including “Vitti d’arte, Vitti d’amore,” produced by Dazzle Communication and Indigo Film, and “L’intuizione di Duchamp,” part of Rai5’s ArtNight series. In 2022, he directed Michela Giraud’s comedy special “The Truth, I Swear!” for Netflix.

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