Before you can blink, folks in this circle will be going on about Argento. Then comes the final digression when someone in the corner gets all retro and invokes Le fatiche di Ercole, or Hercules, while the dude standing next to them does a Bill Murray imitation. Rough vocal approximations of Brando’s cotton-mouthed Don Corleone sometimes round things out in such conversations.
The thing is: There is way more to Italian cinema and culture than the typical American in an embarrassing little thought experiment knows—the greatness of Michelangelo Antonioni, Dario Argento and Federico Fellini granted.
If Albuquerque is typical of America, that’s not necessarily our fault. In a town the size of Burque, current and past European cinema ain’t exactly a priority booking event for big corporate cinemas. Plus which, there is only one locally owned art theater left in these parts and, well you know the story.
Fortunately the triumphant return of the seventh annual Italian Film & Culture Festival (formerly known as the Italian Film Festival) proffers the perfect opportunity for Burqueños and Burqueñas to get all up-to-date on the latest and greatest in Italian cinematic and cultural expression.
The fest took 2013 off when founder Ron Steiner moved out of town. This year Italian Film & Culture Festival Managing Director Maria Arancio Berry says the reinvigorated fest is coming back big, featuring screenings and other events that “reflect not only the best of Italian cinema but also the best of Italian culture.”
The Alibi spoke to Berry about the revamped event by phone. “A group of passionate Italian-Americans on our planning committee decided—since we had taken a year off to reorganize—we wanted to reimagine the festival and broaden it to include more elements of Italian culture.”
Besides screening some of the latest contemporary Italian music videos as pre-show entertainment, the annual happening presents nine contemporary Italian films in their local premieres. New events in 2014 include a chorale and dance concert, artist outreach at local schools, an indoor bocce tournament and art exhibits. All serve to widen the scope of the affair, happening Feb. 8 to 16.
Music has long been part of the vanguard of Italian culture and an important component of its cinema, too. In recognition of this soaring and symbiotic relationship, the Italian Film & Culture Festival opens at the KiMo Theatre (423 Central NW) with a rousing performance by the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus directed by Roger Melone. Melone and company will track through innumerable highlights of Italian opera accompanied by Keshet Dance Company. The opening gala reception afterwards at Hotel Andaluz gets soundtracked by Eleganza String Quartet.
Film takes center stage on Feb. 9 when Venice Film Festival-winner Io Sono Li (Shun Li and the Poet) has dual showings at Albuquerque’s South Broadway Cultural Center (1025 Broadway SE) and the Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe (463 Paseo De Peralta).
As prime mover of the whole shebang, Berry has already watched this year’s offerings. “We decided they should be contemporary films, award-winning and highly acclaimed. These are films that are popular in Italy to begin with. They are in Italian with English subtitles. That was important to us. We were also interested in Italian directors and screenwriters and tried to include a variety of genres. Those were the guidelines,” said Berry.
The filmic selections are compelling and diverse, but Berry said showcase film Io Sono Li is “a real gem, very touching and beautifully filmed.” The inclusion of director Demetrio Casile’s Calabrian coming-of-age tale Melina con Rabbia e con Sapere (Melina with Anger and Knowledge) comes with an added bonus: Casile is the 2014 festival artist-in-residence and will attend screenings of Melina throughout to discuss his work. In addition the auteur will journey to local schools to talk about the film, and Casile’s painting and sculpture are slated to be on exhibit during all the proceedings.
Berry says Casile’s contribution makes for an amazing educational experience for all attendees but particularly for the youth. “He made the film for and about young people: to showcase the region of Calabria. It’s a fairly poor region. His is an effort to reach out with a message to stay in school and overcome obstacles. The film shows contemporary life in a very small village in a poor region of Italy.”
The final weekend includes a nod to Valentine’s Day with a special showing of clever Italian rom-com Tanti Baci Dopo (Many Kisses Later). A pre-film performance of Neopolitan love songs by Burque’s own John Zito will be especially cool, particularly if there's a rendition of “Core 'ngrato,” which translates as “ungrateful heart,” on Zito's set list. Melina and Tanti Baci Dopo both screen Friday, in the afternoon and evening respectively, in the African American Performing Arts Center and Exhibit Hall (310 San Pedro NE) at Expo New Mexico.
The Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE) plays host to the final hours of festivities with a full schedule of events planned for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 16. Berry says Il Gran Finale will include an intermezzo. This signature event is a tradition. “We’ll start the film at the Guild and then stop it halfway through. Then 100 patrons walk across the street, have a wonderful lunch at Scalo and then return to the theater,” said Berry, “That’s the festival.”
The seventh annual Italian Film & Culture Festival benefits UNM Children’s Hospital. Tickets range from single event admission to bocce team registration to festival passes, and they're available at the fest website, italianfilmfest.org, and via HoldMyTicket.