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October 4, 2019

Coming Out, Italian Style

Valentino Misino '19 uses his thesis documentary to show his true self

By Andrea Ngeleka

Valentino Misino’s life reads like a film. Then it became one. Valentino was born in Southern Italy, an area called Apulia located across the Adriatic Sea from Greece. Growing up obsessed with Disney animation, his extroverted personality was stifled by the fear of being a young closeted boy in a conservative Catholic family. “High school was a curse. I had no friends. My mates unloaded all the rudeness of Italian machismo upon me, I found myself alone,” says Valentino.

His introduction to cinema, which coincided with both his love for Disney and his desire to be an actor, led him to some of the greatest Italian filmmakers: Fellini, De Sica and Visconti. Building his knowledge of cinema also allowed him to pursue his other loves— foreign languages, poetry and journalism— and provided escape. “Between twelve and seventeen, my addiction to movies took over. I spent my nights studying: I fell in love with French literature and history of art. I got the best grades in the entire school. The utopian world I was living in saved me, but couldn’t prevent the fear of the others from my heart.”

Valentino decided to escape in real life. First to Rome, where he got Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Film, Letters and Art. Then to Paris, where he began working on sets, eventually getting the opportunity to write and direct a documentary for Canal Plus, Pasolini Motore!  about the controversial Italian actor/filmmaker/poet/political thinker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who is one of Valentino’s heroes. “Paris made me feel like Rimbaud, Picasso and Dali. I needed legitimacy as a director and artist,” Valentino says. The Paris experience also gave him the idea for another great escape. This time to Los Angeles and the School of Cinematic Arts, where Valentino got an MFA in Production in 2019.

Over the course of his three years at SCA, Valentino developed a reputation as a go-to mentor for other students and a dependable assistant to Professors. He TA’ed producing, directing and documentary classes for Professors Amanda Pope, Michael Peyser and Jeremy Kagan. He fell further in love with the documentary genre receiving guidance and mentorship from Pope and Professor Doe Mayer. Valentino developed a documentary thesis project with that would allow him to end the escape act and finally reveal his true self to his family. 

 Titled Swipe Me Tender, it begins with Valentino narrating in Italian, the line: “Sooner or later, you can no longer refuse to accept the truth, and you open the closet door.” Ostensibly about online dating among gay men, Swipe Me Tender evolved into Valentino’s own coming out story. “Every time I would show my class dailies, the comment I got the most was that there needed to be more of my personal story. The dating app thing was good but the real story of the film was my coming out,” he says. 

Serendipitously, some events in Valentino’s life coincided with the making of the film. His ex-girlfriend came to LA for a job and his family had already planned a trip to visit him during the months when he was shooting; they are all featured in the film. Swipe Me Tender ended up being a film about love, family, growth and the horrors of dating apps, managing to be both funny and touching. The heart of the film was Valentino finally coming out to his parents. Capturing that evolution was nerve-racking, he says. “So many things just came together so that it could happen,” he says. Swipe Me Tender won Best Editing at USC's First Look Festival and was a finalist at The Best of New Filmmakers Los Angeles.

 Valentino has always been a jack of all trades when it comes to the arts: director, producer, poet, critic. So it’s no surprise that he now has his hands in several projects. He is directing a series of six commercials about the USC Trojan Marching Band that will screen at the Coliseum during halftime of football games to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the band’s director, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner. He is also a Consultant Producer for the USC’s Change Making Media Lab and is producing the next “Cinema Italian Style,” the Los Angeles showcase for the best Italian movies of the year. Valentino’s career trajectory reflects continuing globalization in the film industry.


“I’m also taking Swipe Me Tender back to Paris to see how it performs there. And I want to do a series, in the style of Anthony Bourdain's shows, that follows what happens after Swipe Me Tender between Los Angeles, Paris, and Rome showing fashion, art, and stories that matter.”

Wherever he goes next, Valentino is no longer escaping, just enjoying the journey. Just as it began, Swipe Me Tender ends in Valentino’s voice, in Italian. This time he says: “Sooner or later the truth shines and you open your heart...Free. Fearless. Out.”
Valentino with documentary program professor Amanda Pope