Italian director Sebastiano Riso’s debut feature Darker Than Midnight - about a gay teenager living on the streets of the Sicilian city of Catania to escape a violent father who disapproves of his girlish looks - is premiering in Critics’ Week. Rai Trade handles sales.

The film is based on the true story of Davide Cordova, a performer and co-founder of the legendary Roman nightclub Muccassassina. How did the collaboration come about?

We’re both Sicilians living in Rome. We met on a Rome-Sicily flight. It’s difficult not to talk on a plane, especially when you’re Sicilians. He told me his story and it was so incredibly powerful - it had all the elements of a film. When we were writing the script, me, Stefano Grasso and Andrea Cedrola, we took out a lot of what happened to him because it was so overwhelming and so extreme that people would have thought it was made up.

Why did you focus on Davide’s teenage years only?
I’m obsessed with adolescence — perhaps due to my father’s influence as a psychiatrist. Although the story is particular to Davide, there’s also something very universal about his tale. When you’re a teenager you’re a sort of Zelig. You’re forming your personality, your sexuality and your interests… It’s a fascinating stage. In fact among my favourite films are Germany Year Zero and The 400 Blows. We focus on his 14th year. The other important aspect of the film is Davide’s sexuality. He is very, very feminine. It was a way to discuss something that is not discussed much in Italy. Today to be gay in Italy is a problem. Every week, there are young boys who commit suicide because not conforming, not being the same as everyone else in Italy is a problem. Italy is the only country in Europe that does not have an anti-homophobia law.

Davide Capone, the young actor who plays Davide Cordava is amazing to look at where did you find him?
We looked at 9,000 boys over two years - found on beaches, in schools, through casting calls… anywhere and everywhere and we just couldn’t find the right boy but I knew that 80% of the film’s success would rest on the performance of the main actor. I told the producer ‘I am going to Palermo’ and the second day I was there I found him in a school. He didn’t want to act. He’s into music. He loves Nina Simone and did this amazing rendition of I Put A Spell On You. He’s a true artist.

How did you get veteran producer Claudio Saraceni on board?
He loved the script. He’s better known for comedies but also was prepared to get involved in a film like this. We needed someone brave like him to help make it happen.