Valentina Castellani Quinn is not only a well-rounded artist, with a strong background in painting and fashion design, but also an intuitive and forward-thinking entrepreneur. This last quality she discovered accidentally, after the tragic and sudden death of her beloved husband Francesco Quinn, firstborn of Oscar winner Anthony Quinn, in the summer of 2011.
Thanks to her extraordinary sensibility and sixth sense, the recently founded Quinn Studios have co-produced Yilmaz Erdogan’s The Butterfly’s Dream (acclaimed Turkish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards and Golden Globes), and are now presenting the documentary One Rock Three Religions, directed by Isaac Hertz and supported by the United Nations.
Valentina, how has your background in fine arts led to your present career in the movie industry?
My drawing skills opened the way for me to attend the Art Institute in Florence and then to complete my studies at the European Institute of Design (IED). The program was very selective, only 20 students were accepted and I had to learn how to draw fashion sketches at night, while also preparing for my high school finals. It was hard to imagine a career in the arts at such a young age, and my father wasn’t very supportive until he realized how good I was, which made him proud and improved our relationship. My parents came from two opposite worlds: he was a pragmatic head physician, while my mother’s family owned the Verdi Opera House Theater in Florence since the 19th century.
After graduating, I have lived in Paris for about 5 years, selling my designs to some mayor fashion houses, the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Kenzo, and creating costumes for contemporary ballet shows. Besides, I also took an interest in acting, training with Vittorio Gassman among others, and appearing in a few minor TV series and classical plays.
When and why did you move to Los Angeles?
My first husband – and father of my daughter Sofia – is famous photographer Lance Staedler. As he used to work in fashion and cinema, we first moved to New York and then to Los Angeles, which seemed to offer more opportunities in terms of both business and family life. Eventually we divorced but remained friends, and he and Sofia have always been very close.
In 2008, while dubbing Ron Howard’s movie Angeles and Demons, I met an old friend from my youth, Francesco Quinn, and fell in love with him. Our families have known each other for many years, Anthony and my grandfather also worked together at some point. Francesco and I happily married and settled in Malibu with my daughter and his children, who unfortunately happened to be there when he suddenly passed away. Creativity helped me face that tragedy: I decided to turn a dream into reality by founding the Quinn Studios with my business partner Max Musina. Our first production was the beautiful TV series Life on a Bike, based on the lives and races of professional cyclists participating in the Giro d’Italia, courtesy of the Italian national television (RAI).
The Quinn Studios were then up and running. What did you do next?
We wanted to make a documentary film on the Syrian war, which is so close to Europe and yet so neglected, and went to Turkey to request all the necessary permits and protection. Nevertheless, the current situation and terrorism threats have momentarily stopped us.
In Turkey, however, we met Yilmaz Erdogan, director of The Butterfly’s Dream. His movie was very different in the beginning: it was too long and dramatic, according to the local taste and tradition, but still it was a masterpiece. We worked on it together, modifying the texture and rhythm of the plot, until it finally looked ready for an international audience. The first screening that we organized for the Hollywood Foreign Press was a success, and a week later the movie was nominated to the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. It was recognized in international festivals and, most importantly, we literally opened Hollywood’s doors to a new market: this year another Turkish movie won at Cannes Film Festival.
Can you tell us more about your latest production One Rock Three Religions?
We were approached by young filmmaker Isaac Hertz, who was working on a documentary on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and wanted us to produce it. The idea was interesting, but we needed to widen the film’s outreach and include all the cultures involved in an unbiased way, by interviewing world leaders and common people in both Israel and Palestine. We presented the final version to the United Nations and on the occasion of a recent UNESCO meeting on international dialog in Florence. Achieving peace is a slow process that affects us all, while choosing not to be afraid only takes a moment and can change history.
Constantly traveling the world, do you feel at home in L.A.?
Absolutely. But after all I left Italy at the age of 18, so I don’t really know what it means to live there as a grown woman. Even if I decided to live and work in the U.S., I often visit my family in Italy and love the way our traditional values and creativity combine with L.A.’s multiculturalism. The local Italian community is vibrant and tight-knit, and I’m particularly proud to collaborate with the IIC on some initiatives.