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The Toughest Horse Race in the World: Palio

Film about the Palio, the oldest horse race in the world, which turns the Italian city of Siena into a high-stakes battleground of strategy, intrigue and simmering machismo.

The Palio is the oldest horse race in the world, and turns the Italian city of Siena into a high-stakes battleground of strategy, intrigue and simmering machismo. In the eye of the storm stand the jockeys - adored if they succeed, despised if they fail.

This film follows the legendary maestro Gigi Bruschelli, winner of 13 races and master of the intrigues that surround the Palio, and his former protégé Giovanni Atzeni, a handsome young contender driven by a fearless passion to become number one. It exposes the notoriously closed world of this ancient race and the larger-than-life personalities of those involved in an epic and cinematic tale of Italian life in microcosm.

1 hour, 25 minutes

Cosima Spender, director of The Toughest Horse Race in the World: Palio answers the Storyville Q&A

Cosima Spender, director of The Toughest Horse Race in the World: Palio answers the Storyville Q&A
What is more important, story or character?
In this film I started with just the characters (the jockeys) and their point of view of the Palio. By the end of the shoot we realized we had not only a group of diverse and entertaining characters but also a classic epic story. A film works when both characters and storylines are strong.

What made you first want to explore the subject?
I grew up near Siena and wanted to make a film on the Palio as my graduation film from film school. I started researching and realized it was too big a subject and waited till I had three feature lengths under my  belt before embracing the Palio full heartedly. Once I clicked my angle was going to be the jockeys, I found it easy to focus within the chaos of this spectacle.

How long did it take to get the film off the ground?
Two years from start to finish.

What were you most surprised to learn in the course of production?  
I learned how satisfying it is to make a classic narrative story. In documentaries, this comes out of a fortuitous alchemy of crew talent, the relationship with your characters and following your deepest instinct while filming real time events.

What have been the differences in reception to the film in countries it has now travelled to?
Amazingly, all over the world people seem to really enjoy being initiated into the arcane world of the Palio, with its layers of intrigue, subterfuge, beauty and tradition. Some are drawn in by the action flavour of the film, others to the ethnographic side.

Which documentary has most inspired you?
Fiction films inspire me more than documentaries; Sergio Leone’s ‘spaghetti westerns’, Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” and Fellini’s “Roma” and “Amarcord”.

Favourite Website/blog?
I’d rather read a book. I only go online for email and instagram.

Person you’d most like to interview (living or dead?)
14th Century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio.
Best piece of filmmaking advice you’ve ever been given?
Always leave a door open.

Best piece of filmmaking equipment you can’t live without?
My editor husband .

If money was no object, what is your dream documentary subject?
I don’t want to jinx it.

Favourite film of all time?

The Conformist

Most difficult access?
The ‘Comune’ of Siena, the city council.

Best recent read?
Madame Bovary

Credits

Role Contributor
Director Cosima Spender
Series Editor Nick Fraser

Broadcast

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