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A look into Camilla Bartoli’s work on ‘Hallelujah’

Finding the right balance in storytelling can be tough. One thematic tone often dominates the other, leading to an imbalance or a misrepresentation of what the storyteller was trying to say. A few seconds here, a bad cut there, and the whole thing comes apart. Camilla Bartoli manages to avoid this pitfall with the new film Hallelujah. Described as a “traumedy,” the film effortlessly threads the needle between humor and heart, affirming that she is an editor worth keeping an eye on.

Bartoli cultivated this unique perspective from an early age. She’s Italian, but her childhood was spread throughout the world, as she lived in France, China, the USA, and the UK. She’s worked as an editor and assistant editor on a variety of different projects over the years, including kids’ TV shows, documentary shows, and documentary features. The range of these experiences, both in terms of personal background and professional tasks, has made her particularly adept at knowing how to communicate what can otherwise be a complicated message to a viewer.

Striking the right balance

Bartoli worked closely with the director of Hallelujah, Victor Gabriel, to strike the right balance. The film tells the story of two brothers who are tasked with the guardianship of their annoying, bookworm nephew in Compton, California. There are harrowing topics that come up over the course of the film, including suicide and gun violence, but there are plenty of comedic moments that help to alleviate the tension. 

The editor’s approach to this tricky material was to highlight every emotional beat of the story, so that each one was given its just importance. “The story is the most important thing and you always need to choose the shots that best fit the moment,” she explained. “This includes finding the actor’s reactions, delivery of dialogue, or construction of the frame that moves the story forward. Every frame of the film has to be there for a purpose.”

Shaping the story

Bartoli’s approach works marvelously. Hallelujah manages to go from grim to hilariously funny in the matter of a few seconds, and much of it has to come down to the sharpness of the editing. Bartoli explained that some of the film’s crucial scenes were shaped by her and Gabriel in the editing room, well after they had been shot, which is remarkable to find out given how naturally they play in the final product.

Editing can often be an overlooked element of filmmaking. It’s said that people don’t notice editing unless it’s bad, but those with a keen eye should take note of the seamless and significant style that Bartoli puts on display throughout Hallelujah. “As an editor, I mainly collaborate with the director to bring to life the story that they had envisioned,” she added. “When things are not working as well as they had imagined, the editor’s job is to help them find a different and better route.”

The film made its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival and qualified for the Oscars after winning the Grand Prix at the 2022 HollyShorts Film Festival. It also grabbed the attention of legendary filmmaker (and Oscar winner) Spike Lee, who joined as an Executive Producer. These accolades and accomplishments would likely not have occurred were it not for Bartoli’s essential contributions.

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