• Film

Docs: Susanna Della Sala directs “Last Stop Before Chocolate Mountain”

Italian-born Susanna della Sala is a director, author and visual artist. Last Stop Before Chocolate Mountain is her latest project – a documentary born from personal life experience that both tells the story and captures the spirit of Bombay Beach, a once abandoned town in the harsh California desert, situated on the shores of a toxic lake, that is now home to a small eclectic community where art heals people in the most unexpected ways. This film was selected to premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in August, and won 3 prizes at the Italian festival dei Popoli in Florence where it was also shortlisted for the David and Donatello award in the Best Documentary category. Susanna agreed to an interview over Zoom.


Did you get any formal education in directing, before starting to pursue it professionally?

Not really. I graduated in Interior Design at Politecnico of Milan. After, I did a course in Set Design and that was what propelled me to the storytelling world. I worked in several projects as a set designer for theater and film. Then I started directing narrative, dance and animation short films. That’s how it all started. I am fascinated with both formats, narrative and factual storytelling. I just want to tell stories.

How did you come across Bombay Beach and its community?

It was very serendipitous. I was planning a road trip with my sister in the USA, and the owner of one of the RV’s we rented happened to live there. We spoke about it and I became very curious about the place. A few years later I visited it and fell in love. I started shooting with my camera straight away. It was 2018. I stayed for 3 months. In 2019 I went back and continued to shoot for several months. In the meantime, I had two crowdfunding campaigns running in the background, so that I could manage things financially and could continue to do it. Then, there was Covid and the global lockdown. I came back in 2021 and that’s when I completed the shooting phase. I used very little equipment. I had one camera and a zoom mic – that was it. I felt that to get closer to the people and the community, the less production fanfare, the better. I stuck to that.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the making of this documentary?

It was the editing. I was getting too many suggestions from a lot of people, trying to make me aware of festival trends, etc. However, all I wanted was to keep my own vision. I had to maintain it and I did.  Also, I wish distribution were easier. I wish more people got to watch it.

In what way do you think this project enhanced you as an artist?

Last Stop before Chocolate Mountain to me represents a universal and metaphorical land where we confront ourselves, awakening our creative impulses, in the mirage of individual liberation. The film embodies the collective longing, both desperate and joyful, for acceptance and a sense of belonging. The love and beauty of Bombay Beach is addictive. Interestingly, even though I am back in Italy, I talk to the people from that community more than to my own friends in Rome.