Paolina has big teeth.
She follows in the footsteps of her mum and gran before her.

Could it be a hang-up, handed down through generations?
Or could it simply be that big teeth mean big smiles?

Directed by Paolina Stefani
Thanks to Jodie Clifford


Paolina Stefani |

Paolina Stefani Filmmaker

The one rule with the pictures
was that they all had to show our teeth.
  • Your film tells us a lot about you already, but…tell us about yourself, Paolina.

I was born on the 8th of March 1998, on International Women’s Day, to a Dutch mother and an Italian-Belgian father. I grew up in a small town in Tuscany called Lucca.

The city of Lucca is surrounded by medieval walls that enclose the city center, in the middle of which is my childhood home.

With time, I realized the walls were not only a physical structure but became a metaphorical limit to my expression and growth. In this little, Italian town, being a woman became one of my biggest struggles and challenges.

Matriosca |
  • Why?

Being a very sensitive kid, hyper-sexualized from a very young age and seen for how my body appeared, instead of its content, I developed a very limited understanding of what, as a woman, I could be or do. The options were few and stereotypical, and led me to develop anxiety that, in turn, led to anorexia at the age of 15.

Thanks to my mother for opening my horizons, pushing me from a very young age to travel the world alone, once I finished high school, the time came for me to leave the nest, fly away, and create my own path. Great things happen when you start questioning yourself and what surrounds you!

  • And leaving the nest led you to…Central St Martins, in London.

Central Saint Martins
, London, fuelled my exploration and understanding of what people attempt to express, providing an outlet for empathetic and intelligent translators and interpreters of feelings.

First studying graphic communication design and then specializing in moving image, the core of my work grew from harnessing stories as vehicles that are humanly and socially engaged.


It is in the ideation and creative direction of projects using tools such as empathy, mutual help, exchange, and problem-solving, that my practice revolves around. Interacting with a group of people on a specific theme, mutually learning from it and each other – showing others what there is to say – is what I am interested in the most when creating.

“My aim was to create
both an intimate yet universal story.”
  • Your film is based on hundreds of family photos and videos. How did you proceed?

Technically speaking, the hardest part of the making was to write the story. Once the story was written, I recorded myself reading it out loud, then scanned the pictures and put them in the most effective sequence possible. The one rule with the pictures was that they all had to show our teeth.

Initially focusing on the only two things that were left of my grandmother, old photographs and my mother’s memories, I felt the urgency to experiment more with the potential of photography as a tool for storytelling. The photos became the tool to guide and question the stories that helped to shape my own identity, plus that of my mother and grandmother.

Pairing sound and vision, past and future, perception and imagination, my aim was to create both an intimate yet universal story.

Matriosca |
  • Why this title, “Matriosca”, the Russian doll?

Everything started when, in an attempt to represent who I am, I found myself drawing a Russian Doll, a matryoshka. The nesting doll inspired me to compare my identity to both its shape and meaning. I started by the assumption that as a matryoshka, designed in such a way that each doll fits inside the next, one’s identity is shaped by a sum of layers.

Furthermore, the etymology of the word matryoshka, (a woman and mother of honest and high principles) fueled an investigation of my identity as a woman and the women that I take after.

To better understand the women preceding me, I researched my family archive. The old photographs of my late grandmother, and the conversation they triggered between my mother and I, inspired me to analyze and tell the story of my own ‘nesting doll’.

Just like the intricate dolls fitting one inside the other, I saw the image of me fitting inside my mother, fitting inside my grandmother: I proceeded to analyze my own matryoshka (or matriosca in Italian).
Matriosca |
  • A word about 99 and the subtitling of your film in many languages?

Growing up between Italian, French, Dutch and English made me realize that while the words we use to express ourselves may change from place to place, feelings remain universal.

I am completely in line with 99’s vision and mission. To break the language barrier; highlighting stories that need to be told and shared, is truly one necessary cause. To be part of a larger ‘net’ of stories and people is indeed what makes 99’s work so special.

I believe we are all allies in some way, all trying to understand who we are and why we do what we do, and it is through spaces like 99 – through stories and films – that we find ways to visualize our needs and dreams on the quest towards finding our voice.

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