Voices from the silence: letters from Italian hermits to a suffering nation.

A journey from the North to the South of Italy to tell the eremitical experience. Stories of men and women who try to recover the profound sense of themselves and of life through an intimate and solitary journey.

The hermit has been an omnipresent figure within the history of humanity. In every century there have been men and women who’ve embarked on a solitary journey within a spiritual experience, who have put into practice the teachings of sacred scriptures, have followed the teachings and in footsteps of the prophets or the impetus of an inner voice; they traversed the desert, went on pilgrimage, isolated themselves and aimed at the providence of religious beliefs and practices, of the earthly and otherworldly world.

The project was born from a meeting with Federico Tisa, a photographer from Turin who crossed Italy on foot in 2014 with the aim of creating an intimate relationship with the hermits and photographically documenting a story that few are aware of. From that experience a markedly expressive and intense reportage began to take shape, Visita Interiora Terrae. In a spirit of full cooperation, we let ourselves be inspired by his experience to start a film project that we have had within our heart for several years. In 2010, whilst in an old camper van, as we crossed Italy for the first time to deepen our knowledge of the ascetical experience.

Yet the choice of living in solitude remains, in the eyes of most, a bewildering and contentious decision, if not utterly incomprehensible. therefore its not unexpected that people would ask themselves: why are the narratives and history regarding hermits so captivating? What are the things that grasp our full attention? Is it the fact that hermit’s live without finances or without electricity? Do they see few or no people at all? How can they live by relying solely on their own strengths?

After 8 years we decided to retake the journey and started to film The Voices from the Silence.

In an attempt to find answers, the author traveled along solitary and often inhospitable, quasi-inaccessible routes, to reach remote hermitages which are isolated from the voices and the noises of the world, into the far flung region distinguished by quietude, peace and recollection.

Having resumed a relationship with solitude, silence, daily rituals, prayer and beatific experiences, the hermits immerse themselves in their own individual narratives, recounting their past, their vocation, their conflicts and their ongoing battles. We can therefore begin to understand what the real objective of the hermit’s exploration is, and finding this, gave clear meaning to the whole documentary.

The fruitful results of a journey to discover the hermits of Italy, this book (and now a documentary) is a collection of texts and meditations useful for traversing this time of trial which is often filled with solitude and loneliness caused by the COVID pandemic.

In the current environment of infection, difficulty and forced confinement imposed by the counter-coronavirus rules, everyone’s habits had to, to a large extent, change quite dramatically, our lives now largely transpire almost completely within our homes, our relationship with open spaces, with sounds, with people and with time, have greatly changed. For many it has also become a phase of seclusion, isolation, solitude and enforced silence, which can generate a great deal of desolation and sadness. In eremitic terms we call this “a dark night of the soul”.

Yet it could also be a time, which is capable of opening us up to new ways of seeing and thinking, a chance to recover our most authentic self, beyond the rules, masks and conventions often imposed by an exasperated social life. To focus one’s gaze on oneself and on others with greater clarity, as the monks, mystics, ascetics and hermits of all times have always taught.

Unique and unreachable lives? Of course, in most cases it is just like that: yet the suggestions, teachings and insights developed in solitude can be a source of inspiration for humanity of all times, even today, even more so during a period like this, where we are suddenly suspended in the suffering of a new threat which can render us completely powerless and forcing us to completely submit our lives to the unknown.

A providential and award-winning documentary released in 2018, The Voices from the silence, is the result of a long and arduous journey along the peninsula undertaken by the authors, Joshua Wahlen and Alessandro Seidita, whom within it, share the stories of the new Italian hermits.

Today this documentary and now a book with the same name, was published through a crowdfunding campaign, which incorporated new questions and questions collected during this time by the authors and the public created through the screenings held throughout all of Italy, to delve deeper with the hermits themselves on some of the topics that could not be developed further within the documentary and some completely new interviews have been added.

“The book collects the direct testimonies of all of the protagonists of the documentaries,” says Alessandro Seidita, one of the two authors. “Each testimony is divided into two main sections. The first part, the hermit tells us about himself in the first person: his story, the reasons that led him toward leading a solitary life, of their daily life within the hermitage, the mastering of subsistence, their relationship with nature and with their visitors, the care of the world, the importance of prayer, the conquest of silence and other essential themes to understand such a remarkable journey. The second part, on the other hand, is represented as a palpable open letter to a fictional and posthumous new generation, a spiritual legacy to a future humanity. In this section, each hermit focuses on what he wants to leave to future humanity, what advice, what warnings, what are the tools that would be useful for such a journey which can lead one to know themselves and becoming a conscious presence towards the world which surrounds us.

How does one become a hermit?

Many have told us that they have left the world after they had managed to build a healthy identity within this world, only from this point can one open themselves to the vigorous experience which is solitude, another approach to life and reality. Altogether we met approximately twenty hermits, most of whom lived the experience with absolute clarity. Some were unable to express themselves verbally, or they are not understood very well or at all by us. In any case, a (religious) tradition is of the essence for such a journey, it becomes an orientation, a compass. Many come from a community monastic experience which they “bring” with them to the hermitage, with a schedule for the day marked by prayer and work (Ora et Labora). Often they have a point of reference within the Church, a bishop or his delegate: they reveal that it is essential to have someone with whom to speak to and with whom they can verify their journey. The hermitage, however, has a great interior freedom which forges itself, something which perhaps distances it from the monastic experience. The vision of a person also makes a great difference in the type of search that is undertaken.

How do they maintain themselves?

Everyone is dedicated to an activity, which becomes their labour (for example painting of icons, making stone sculptures for churches), and to the husbandry of the vegetable garden. The Church does not give any money to hermits yet hermits receive a lot of attention from the local communities around them: hermits often become spiritual advisors and they are helped by the Church and their surrounding parish communities in achieving this.

How did you manage to find them?

We documented ourselves before leaving for our journey for about four months, we followed the suggestions and leads provided, even from those who supported us with the crowdfunding campaign. If all went well we had a telephone number to contact someone, but often we had weak disclosures, we walked for hours in inaccessible areas; unfortunately sometimes we were given and followed false leads. The search lasted 4 months in the winter, in a camper van.

Who are the hermit? And what do hermits say about themselves?

Father Giancarlo Bruni, one of the most charismatic figures we have met and known, says that they are the guardians: those figures who protect something very precious for humanity, who are able to provide guidance to humanity when they begin to start seeking it again. When they have reached a point where they wish to return to a more authentic way life again, one can turn to these people who have preserved that kind of attitude and profound experience with their effort and fatigue. It is strange to say, but almost everyone has a vocation to dedicate oneself and take care of the other. Of course, they try to give more weight to the quality of the meetings than to the quantity, unlike us. People who look for them usually find the hermitage open, some even have a room to host. Often those who go to look for hermits will find a warm welcome.

Perhaps the nostalgia for the infinite: the need inherent in the soul of every man to connect with something deeper that can broaden our identity; in addition to the life story that we build for ourselves and that often is close to us, an opportunity to recover that need for time that many of us have felt in the daily rhythm of our lives, to finally take a breath and focus no longer on the outside projecting our energies towards doing and having to do, but investing these forces in a totally opposite dimension, the one that goes inside us, in our depths, to discover a new relationship, first of all with ourselves. Then, when we activate a certain type of transformation within us, these transformations propagate in the closest relationships and then extend throughout our social context. Society, in fact, is built, it is made up of our relationships. The possibility of changing what we don’t like comes first of all from how we relate to others and to what we have around us. There is a great transformative power in each of us, which must be discovered in some way. The hermits teach us that the way to find out is to listen.

The book was born at a very special moment in time. What can the experiences of the hermits convey and teach us in a time of mandatory isolation, something that can be quite painful for some people?

Voices from the silenceLe Voci dal silenzio: A journey from north to southern Italy to narrate the eremitical experience within the different religious traditions. Histories of men and women who try to recover their deep sense of self and life through an intimate and solidarity search. <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” href=”http://<iframe title=”vimeo-player” src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/193153899&#8243; width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>Press here to watch the Documentary trailer or Purchase online here.

Le Voci dal Silenzio trailer

Direction, cinematography, production: Joshua Wahlen, Alessandro Seidita

Subject, editing: Joshua Wahlen

Cast: Frá Bernardino, Giancarlo Bruni, Frá Cristiano, Frá. Dalmasso, Fr. Daniele, Fr. Lentini, M. Simonetta, Sr. Mirella, Sr. Paola, स्वामी-Swami Atmananda e Fréderic Vermorel.

Coproduction: Arte Senza Fine

In collaboration with: Film Commission Torino Piemonte

With the support of: Infinity e Produzioni dal Basso

Media partner: Italia che Cambia – Terra Nuova Edizioni

Language: Italian with english subs

Genre: Biographies

Year: 2018

Running time: 53 minutes

File resolution: HD

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