When Matteo Troncone’s new friend from Italy offered him a free ticket to Naples, he jumped at the chance. He was excited at the prospect of learning more about his Italian roots and exploring the ancient city that was home to several generations in his family. He also couldn’t shake the memory of the incredible pizza he’d had in Naples on a previous trip – and he wanted to make a film about it.

Had he made a film before? No, though he did study theater at San Francisco State University and received his Masters degree at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. Did he speak Italian? A bit.

“It’s incredible, if you make that leap how much support you get,” Troncone said. “Everyone was like ‘don’t go, you don’t know Italian’ and I was like no, I’ve got a free ticket, I’m going.”

Once there, he began the process of filming the art of making pizza in Naples, a centuries-old practice that requires great skill and even greater ingredients. Everything, from the mozzarella, to the tomatoes and the flour, adds to the distinct taste unique to the region.

But when a friend visited him in Naples, she immediately noticed something in his footage. “ ‘You’re making a film about arrangiarsi!’” he recalled her saying. “’You’re not making a film about pizza.’ And I said, you’re right! And I was living it!” And thus Arrangiarsi (Pizza … And The Art Of Living) was born.

Arrangiarsi can roughly be defined as making something out of nothing – positivity, perseverance, the ability to think quickly on one’s feet are characteristics of a life lived in the spirit of arrangiarsi. In a city like Naples, which is considered the oldest in Italy and has a dark history of political atrocities, arrangiarsi has become almost synonymous with the place itself.

While filming Troncone split his time between Mil Valley and Italy, but the going was tough. While in Mill Valley he lived out of his camper van to save money to support the film, and he would park at a variety of places so as not to make the neighbors nervous; while shooting in Italy he stayed with friends and even camped outside to make ends meet. His camera lost hours of footage in Italy, his truck broke down multiple times in Mill Valley, but throughout, the kindness of strangers buoyed him in times of need. That kindness and positivity in the face of trying situations was an embodiment of arrangiarsi, and he soon found himself living the very phenomenon he was documenting.

“When you’re in a situation where things are bad, sometimes laughter can be the best way – okay, we’re poor, times are tough, but we’re going to laugh anyway,” he said. “That’s the message of the film – there’s always a way. Even when things get really heavy, there’s always the choice of not being a victim and of focusing on what’s good in the world and thinking, okay, what can we do now to enjoy the day, get out of this situation, or make a beautiful pizza?”

Having never made a film before, Troncone found that the democratization of media made the process more personal.

“Film is so built into the culture now,” he said. “Now that we have digital, a dude living in a van with a $1,000 camera can make a movie. To have my film at MVFF is pretty inspiring and pretty crazy. I think the medium itself – because of the technical availability – is changing things. You can have a film like Tangerine, [shot on an iPhone] something that is so real and visceral, and I don’t know another medium that you can display that type of art.”

So, for someone who’s never been to Naples and tried their authentic pizza, where can they experience the next best thing?

While Italy and Northern California are incomparable, Troncone said, there are a few places in the Bay Area that offer a good pizza. One is Marin’s Farmshop at Larkspur Landing – it features the thin, soft middle and puffier crust. (And since Troncone has lived in Mill Valley for upwards of 25 years, we’ll take his word for it.) The Farmshop is also a featured sponsor at the Opening Night Gala slated for this Thursday evening at the Marin Country Mart.

(And it’s right next to an MVFF venue, the Century Larkspur Landing! Movie and a pizza, anyone?)

Director Matteo Troncone will attend the Bay Area premiere of Arrangiarsi (Pizza … And The Art Of Living) at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival on Sunday, October 8 at 5:30pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center and will remain after the film to participate in a Q&A with Festival Programmers and the audience. Troncone will also attend additional screenings at the Sequoia in Mill Valley and Larkspur Landing.