Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Watch "Return to Lucania"

CLICK HERE to watch my documentary Return to Lucania on Vimeo. It's the story of the early 19th century southern Italian immigrants. Through cinema, interviews and historical footage, we examine the conditions which led them to flee, the challenges they faced when arriving in America, and the modern travel destination their land has become today.

The film was funded by the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. (ISDA).

Interviewing filmmaker Gaetano Russo in Rome

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Italian Films Headed to the Berlin Film Festival & Sundance

A scene from Dafne
Here are the Italian films in the lineup of the 2019 Berlin Film Festival...

ANBESSA by Mo Scarpelli Section: Generation KpPlus

DAFNE by Federico Bondi Section: Panorama

FLESH OUT by Michela Occhipinti
Section: Panorama

HANNAH by Andrea Pallaoro: Homage to Charlotte Rampling

NORMAL by Adele Tulli
Section: Panorama

PIRANHAS by Claudio Giovannesi: Competition

SELFIE by Agostino Ferrente:
Section: Panorama

Agostino Ferrente's Selfie is the story of two Neapolitan teenagers who film themselves with an iPhone to tell about their difficult neighbourhood, their daily life, the friendship that bonds them together.

Federico Bondi's Dafne is the story  of a woman with Down syndrome who is coming to terms with the death of her mother while caring for her father.

Adapted from Roberto Saviano's best-selling novel, La Paranoia del Bambini was directed by Claudio Giovanese and speaks of the world of teenage crime bosses in Naples as they compete for power.

Claudio Giavanese's La Paranza dei Bambini

Click here for more information of Berlinale 2919. Stay tuned for more..

The Disappearance of My Mother

The Disappearance of My Mother by Benjamin Barrese is the story of his mother, Benedetta, an iconic former fashion model. Benedetta Barrese rose to fame in the 1960s as a muse to artists Andy Warhol, Salvator Dali, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. As radical feminist in the 1970s, she fought for the rights and emancipation of women. But at the age of 75, she became fed up with all the roles that life imposed upon her and decided to leave everything and everybody behind, to disappear to a unknown place as far as possible from this world.

Hiding behind the camera, her son Beniamino witnesses her journey. Having filmed her since he was a kid in spite of all her resistance, he now wants to make a film about her, to keep her close for as long as possible – or, at least, as long as his camera keeps running.

The making of the film turns into a battle between mother and son, a stubborn fight to capture the ultimate image of Benedetta – the image of her liberation.

The film will premiere in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Those Bad Things
Here in North America, two Italian films have made the official lineup of the 2019 Sundance Film festival.

Loris Giuseppe Nese's Those Bad Things is the story of a daughter whose parents made bad decisions during her childhood. Set in the suburbs in the region of Campania, the days go by slowly as she copes with the consequences of her parents' choices.

The 11-minute short will be shown in the festival's International Narrative Short Films section.

Click here for more information about the Sundance Film Festival.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Indian Filmmaker Kabir Bedi Location Scouting in Basilicata

Photo from Kabir Bedi's Facebook Page
A delegation of Indian filmmakers, led by actor Kabir Bedi, recently scouted locations in Italy's southern region of Basilicata. The presence of the beloved Indian actor, perhaps best known for his television drama Sandokan, put the spotlight on the beginning of a cinematic relationship between Basilicata and India. That partnership officially began in Maratea last year when Bollywood execs traveled to the coastal town to launch the "Namaste India" project with the Lucana Film Commission, aimed at shooting films in Italy.

Click here to read our original article about Indian cinema made in Italy.

The fascination with Basilicata by Indian crews perhaps began two years ago in the Sassi of Matera when television crews shot the beauty pageant Miss India Italy. The production captured the intrigue of Indian producers who made their commitment to filmmaking in Basilicata with "Namaste India".

In a Twitter post, Bedi wrote, "DEEPLY TOUCHED by the love I feel from the people of #Italy. Here’s a joyous encounter in the small town piaza of Vicerno in Basilicata, which I visited a few days ago. Can I ever thank the Italians enough?" Click here to see the video he posted.

In another post while visiting Castelmezzano, he wrote, "FAIRYTALE BEAUTY of #CastelMezzano in #Basilicata, #Italy, a town carved out of the rocks that surround it, took my breath away."

We'll keep you posted on upcoming Indian productions. In the meantime, check out this video of Bedi's visit by the news outlet TRMH24 Basilicata.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Viva il Cinema Italiano a New York City!

The first week of December is huge for Italian cinema in NYC! 

Here is the rundown with links to more information.

December 1- Director

Antonio Piazza to attend screenings of his film SICILIAN GHOST STORY at the Quad Cinema for Q&As.. Go to Strand Releasing and Cinema Made in Italy for details.

Click here to read my interview with one of the stars, Filippo Luna.

December 3 & 5- Maria Sole Tognazzi will talk about her documentary film Portrait of my Father at the Italian Cultural Institute on December 3 and present it at the Museum of Modern Art on December 5.
Click here to read my interview with Maria Sole Tognazzi.

December 4N.I.C.E. New Italian Cinema Events presents Francesco Falaschi's Quanto Basta.
Check out my interviews with the star of the film, Valeria Solaria, co-star Mirko Frezza and
Maya Breschi, one of the organizers of N.I.C.E.

December 5- The film retrospective 'Ugo Tognazzi-Tragedies of a Ridiculous Man' opens at MoMA The Museum of Modern ArtClick here for the full schedule.

Italy On Screen New York kicks off December 8. The following day, the New York premiere of Euforia directed by award-winning actress Valeria Golino will take place with the special participation of Academy Award-nominated director Julie Taymor and Novelist André Aciman.
Here is the full schedule of films..


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Meet Italy's Newest Stars- Elisa Del Genio & Ludovica Nasti

Directed by Saverio Costanzo and adapted from Elena Ferrante's novel My Brilliant Friend, HBO’s new television series is enchanting, mystical, suspenseful and full of drama.

A young veteran of contemporary Italian cinema, Costanzo brings to the table his modern style of filmmaking with nostalgic echoes of Italy's Golden Age of cinema. Set in 1950s working-class Naples, the films of Vittorio De Sica instantly come to mind.  Then add the subtle yet powerful performances by its two young stars, Elisa Del Genio and Ludovica Nasti, non-professional actresses, and Costanzo endearingly, perhaps even subconsciously, pays homage to the neorealist genre that De Sica was key in creating.

The development of a close friendship between Elena (Elisa Del Genio) and Lila (Ludovica Nasti) is the basis of the first episode, which introduces us to the harsh reality and flawed characters that surround them. The two girls are top in their class and while their teachers encourage their studies, the girls hesitate to embrace their intellectual gifts due to the society in which they live. 

Costanzo's sets are rich and sumptuous in their grey and earth tones yet ominous and creepy, giving the feeling that something bad is always waiting around the corner. He succeeded in creating an intriguing, fable-like world where fantasy and reality meet. 

My Brilliant Friend airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO. Click here to watch the trailer.

Sara Lo Russo's High-Tech Take on Basilicata

After honing her skills in Rome, she returned to her native region to conjure 3D worlds that bring history to life.

Sara Lo Russo was raised in Potenza, the capital of Basilicata, where she attended college and majored in journalism. Upon graduating, she moved to Rome where she held a position as a news coordinator. Living outside the region allowed her to grow personally and professionally, but she longed to return home and cast a contemporary light upon her region.

So she headed back to Potenza and partnered with engineer and 3D technician Michele Scioscia. With the help of the Lucana Film Commission, they founded Effenove, a film production and visual effects company.

“We specialize in 3D computer graphics,” says Lo Russo. “For us, technology is a tool, not the end, and 3D allows us to add a different language to the way we talk about Basilicata and its stories.”

Effenove literally means F9. As Lo Russo explains, “When Michele and I were trying to come up with a name for our production house, he suggested Effenove because the F9 key is what you press after a long processing of data entry before getting the final image.”

In pursuit of that final image, the artists of Effenove use drones with 4K resolution and SLR/digital cameras to shoot the real word (monuments, landscapes, people) and transform them into 3D models. Using highly sophisticated software, they create stunningly realistic virtual worlds that you enter via computer.

Lo Russo takes a documentary-style approach aimed at making Basilicata interesting and relevant to young audiences. The goal is to engage them and to teach them the history of the region. The most recent example is “Inventum,” an interactive game that is available through the Apple Store and Google Play. But there’s a catch. You can only play the game at the location in which it is set: the Archaeological Park of Venosa. 

Steeped in history, the park’s ancient ruins, which date back to 291 B.C., were once inhabited by wealthy Romans who relaxed in the thermal baths and watched shows in the amphitheater. Underneath the ruins are ancient Jewish catacombs. Now a museum, visitors learn about the Jewish population that occupied the area during the last centuries of the Roman Empire. The Effenove app brings this world to life through the magic of 3D animation.

“Basilicata is definitely a natural set. From the sea to the mountains to the wheat and the sky, the landscapes are extraordinary. However, the reason for staying here are the actual stories. A place can be as beautiful as you want, but if there are no strong stories to tell, the place is just a set,” Lo Russo explains.

Talking with Sara Lo Russo at the Giornate del Cinema Lucano in Maratea, Basilicata

Until recently, the region of Basilicata was most often described as poor, desolate and hard to reach. With the designation of Matera as the 2019 European Capital of Culture, the world seems to be catching on to the region’s modern side. And while younger residents appreciate and respect the writers and directors who once used the land as their muse and movie set, they feel the need to move on from the antiquated stereotypes they now perpetuate. “(Pier Paolo) Pasolini, (Francesco) Rosi and Carlo Levi gave a lot to Basilicata, but we run the risk of getting stuck in that kind of image,” Lo Russo says. “Basilicata today is much more. There is so much technology. There is so much future, and there is a great desire for the future. Just locate the right tools and start building that future.”

Watch a clip from our interview....

Clips from Effenove projects can be viewed online at www.effenove.it. Effenove is also on Vimeo and social media, in particular Instagram, where clips are posted regularly. Click here to watch Sara Lo Russo in my documentary Return to Lucania.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the series "Basilicata: Land of Cinema." Published in the November 2018 edition of Fra Noi Magazine, Chicago.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Ugo Tognazzi: Tragedies of a Ridiculous Man

Ugo Tognazzi: Tragedies of a Ridiculous Man
December 5–30, 2018
The Museum of Modern Art

The great Italian actor, director, and screenwriter Ugo Tognazzi (1922–1990) was among the inimitable quintet of actors from Italian cinema’s golden age—Tognazzi, Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, and Nino Manfredi—who invented and popularized commedia dell’Italia, that tragicomic admixture of folly and melancholy, and commanded the lion’s share of Italy’s box-office receipts in the 1960s and ’70s. Tognazzi’s career began opposite Raimondo Vianello in satirical sketch comedies of fledgling 1950s Italian television—his gifts of impersonation and improvisation are hilariously on display in films like Dino Risi’s I mostri (1963) and Luigi Zampa’s A Question of Honor (1965)—and deepened as his roles in later years became more acidic and introspective. If a typical Tognazzi character was virile and dissolute, sweet-talking his way into beds, executive offices, and corridors of power, he was also confronted with the sinking awareness of his own mortality. One witnesses in this retrospective, then, a man’s seemingly inexorable passage from brash ambition to bitter regret, a man seeking to preserve his dignity in the face of diminishing prowess.

In collaboration with Luce Cinecittà, Rome, MoMA celebrates Tognazzi with a retrospective that spans his four-decade career. The series features 25 of his nearly 150 films, including his unforgettable, award-winning performances in Luciano Salce’s The Fascist (1961), Carlo Lizzani’s La Vita agra (1964), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Porcile (1969), Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973), Elio Petri’s Property Is No Longer a Theft (1973), Mario Monicelli’s Amici miei (1975), Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux folles (1978) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981).

Click here for more information.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Filmatique Dedicates the Month of November to Contemporary Italian Cinema

Gli Asteroidi
During the month of November and as a continuation of last year's Opera Prima Italiana, Filmatique will host Opera Prima Italiana II, a collection of first films from some of the most exciting new directors in Italian cinema.

Gli Asteroidi from Germano Maccioni traces the antics of three teenagers amid the inevitable end of mankind, while Gabriele Mainetti mines similar anxieties of extinction and ecological disaster as the backdrop for his breakout superhero picture Lo Chiamavano Jeeg Robot (They Call Me Jeeg). Two portraits of adolescence provide disparate visions of gender and freedom amid marginal landscapes of Northern Italy and Naples, respectively— observational techniques and stunning cinematography evoke a voyeuristic atmosphere of boyhood in Fabio Bobbio's I Cormorani (The Cormorants), while Luca Bellino & Silvia Luzi's Il Cratere reveals the discord between a father's ambition and his young daughter's impossible dreams. Antonio Napoli's Così Parlo De Crescenzo chronicles the life and work of Luciano de Crescenzo, an intellectual icon of Naples' illustrious bygone past.

Il Cratere
Featuring a blend of fiction, documentary and hybrid works, Filmatique's Opera Prima Italiana II Series excavates dystopian visions of a nation post-crisis vis-à-vis the glimmer of adolescence and the galvanizing force of art.

Click here for more information.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Edoardo De Angelis Wins Peoples Choice Award at the Rome Film Fest

Il vizio della speranza (The Vice of Hope) by Edoardo De Angelis is the winner of the "BNL People's Choice Award" at the 13th Rome Film Fest. The "BNL People's Choice Award", in collaboration with BNL Group BNP Paribas, Main Partner of Rome Film Fest, was awarded by the viewers. The audience cast its vote for the films in the Official Selection using myCicero, the official app "RomeFilmFest"  and on the website www.romacinemafest.org

The film follows Maria, played by actress Pina Turco. Her existence streams from day to day, with no dreams or desires, taking care of her mother and working at the service of a bejewelled madam. With her courageous pitbull by her side, Maria ferries pregnant women across the river, in what seems like an endless purgatory. This woman will soon be visited by hope, in its most powerful and ancestral form, as miraculous as life itself. Because to stay human has always been the greatest of revolutions. “No one will ever kill me”

In a director's statement, De Angelis had this to say about the film: “In the frame past present and future. No presentation of the characters, no distraction. The story of women and men is written on the body: the past in the scars, the present in the gestures, the future in the eyes. The body is the main instrument of the narration because its mobile material expresses the transformation of the characters; it is a thematic vehicle in that it reveals the injured beauty of human beings as they wait for something or someone, desperate people clinging to one last hope; finally, the body expresses the desire of the soul to subvert the order of desperation, through resistance, and at the right time, rebellion. Think of a cold winter, a time in which everything around us looks dead and we light a fire to find warmth, while we wait for things to change. The earth generates, the earth hosts, the earth lets us prosper then covers our dead body; the wind blows on the fire and pushes the water of the river towards the earth, to revive it. Life stubbornly fights death: the arc of the world is transformed through birth, death and rebirth. Everything that remains unchanged dies. What moves is alive. For those who have the strength to resist, the reward is the miracle of the world as it is born”.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Celebrate Halloween with Creepy Italian Vintage Films

While recently browsing public domain movie databases, I stumbled upon a few old, in some cases, really old Italian horror films. These movies take "creepy" to a whole new level. Some seem ridiculous in 2018 but in their day, were productions with cutting edge technology.
Whether you have these films  looped at your Halloween party or you actually sit down and watch them, you will be entertained, most likely having never seen anything like them before.

The descriptions of the films were taken from the sources of playback or the public domain movies site, where I originally found them. All of these movies are in the public domain, so you are free to download them.

For straight up horror, check these three out...

Bloody Pit of Horror (Il Boia Scarlatto) is a 1965 Italian gothic horror film based on the writings of Marquis de Sade and directed by Massimo Pupillo. The film, set in Italy, stars Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandi, Luisa Baratto and Rita Klein, and tells the story of a group of women modeling for a photo shoot when the owner of the castle starts to become "The Crimson Executioner," who is bent on their deaths.

Watch Bloody Pit of Horror...

In the 1960 film, Atom Age Vampire, a stripper is horribly disfigured in a car accident. A brilliant scientist develops a treatment that restores her beauty and falls in love with her. To preserve her appearance, the doctor must give her additional treatments using glands taken from murdered women. His unexplained ability to turn into a hideous monster helps with this problem but does nothing to win her love. The doctor's woes multiply as the police and the girl's boyfriend begin to close in on him

Watch Atom Age Vampire...

In Abel Ferrara's 1979 film, The Driller Killer, an artist slowly loses his mind as he and his two female friends scrape to pay the bills. The punk band downstairs increasingly agitates him, his art dealer is demanding that he complete his big canvas painting as promised, and he gets into fights with his girlfriends. When the dealer laughs at his canvas, he snaps and begins taking it out on the people responsible for his pain and random transients in the manner suggested by the title. This is the uncut version.
Warning: Adult language and situations. Viewer discretion advised.

Watch Driller Killer-Uncut...

I found this 1911 version of Dante's Inferno, also known as the the world's oldest surviving feature-length film, just fascinating and super creepy. This version is silent. However, there are some versions on YouTube that have music accompaniments.

This 1922 silent film, Foolish Wives, is an American production but this version has Italian title charts. The costumes are magnificent, so for this reason, I consider it a great Halloween find. 

Distributed by Universal Pictures and written and directed by Erich von Stroheim, this1922 drama was the most expensive film made at that time, and billed by Universal Studios as the "first million-dollar movie" to come out of Hollywood. Originally, von Stroheim intended the film to run anywhere between 6 and 10 hours, and be shown over two evenings, but Universal executives opposed this idea. The studio bosses cut the film drastically before the release date.

Watch Foolish wives (Femmine folli)

Another great film for costumes and just plain intrigue is the 1921 Italian science fiction film, The Mechanical Man (Italian: L'uomo meccanico). Directed by André Deed, it is one of the first science fiction films produced in Italy, and the first film that showed a battle between two robots. The original film was about 80 minutes in length. However, only about 26 minutes of footage remains.

The story begins with a scientist creating a device shaped like a man that can be remote-controlled by a machine. The mechanical man possess super-human speed and strength. The scientist is killed however by a gang of criminals, led by a woman named Mado, who wishes to get the instructions for building the mechanical man. The criminals are captured before they are able to get them and are brought to trial and condemned. Mado manages to escape and kidnaps the scientist's niece whom she forces to give her the instructions which she uses to build a mechanical man.

The mechanical man is used for a variety of crimes, controlled by Mado. The scientist's brother however is successful in creating a second mechanical man which he uses to combat the original. The two mechanical men fight each other in an opera house, which leads to the dramatic ending.

Buona visione and Happy Halloween!!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Conversation with Documentary Filmmaker Luigi Di Gianni

His documentary films have given voice to a people who would have otherwise been forgotten while preserving rituals and traditions no longer practiced. Visually stunning and emotionally moving, they reflect an Italy we’re not used to seeing in cinema.

Born in Naples in 1926, Luigi Di Gianni captured a dimension of Italy that people outside the South didn’t even know existed. He began his career working in the region of Basilicata, which back then was referred to as Lucania. He first visited the region with his parents when he was a boy. His father, being from the Lucanian village of Pescopagano, wanted to show his son his homeland. 

That trip made an impression on the 9-year-old and created a deep affection that would one day inspire him to return. “I always remained very emotional about returning to this part of my homeland of Lucania,” he says. “It seemed like a different planet compared to Rome, where I lived. The tiring journey, the unpaved roads, the difficulties in getting there by bus: Everything remained etched in my memory and in my heart.”

With the help of author Ernesto de Martino, who was traveling to the region on an archeological study of magic rites, Di Gianni made his first documentary in 1958. Magia Lucana went on to win Best Documentary at the 19th Venice Film Festival.

Watch Magia Lucana...

Through the medium of cinema, Di Gianni explored and documented the extreme poverty that existed in the ’50s and ’60s. The rarity of his subject matter works in concert with his dramatic, slightly dark musical soundtracks to create a truly unique cinematic experience.

His films show a strong, resilient people who somehow managed to endure “una stanchezza senza speranza” (an exhaustion without hope). In the first few films he shot in Lucania, we’re immersed in a desolate landscape whose denizens tirelessly work the land against the strong, silent backdrop of mountains, sea and olive trees. But as physically spent as they are, these people have a sense of determination that you can see in their eyes as well as their actions as they work with their neighbors, families and beasts of burden to scratch out a living and make Basilicata the treasure it is today.

Di Gianni also ventured with his crews into neighboring Campania, Puglia and Calabria, where he documented the traditions and hardships of those regions, drawing attention to the plight of the Southerners and preserving their culture on film.

Among the many documentaries Di Gianni shot in the region of Campania is the fascinating 1962 film Grazia e numeri, which explores the relationship between the citizens of Naples and the “anime pezzentelle” interred in the Fontanelle Cemetery. For the most part, the corpses contained in the cemetery belonged to the victims of a plague that swept across Italy in 1656 and a cholera epidemic that struck in 1836. With their remains abandoned and their souls trapped between heaven and earth, they were piled in large numbers into an underground graveyard. These bones eventually attracted the compassion of the living, who descended into the cemetery to establish a relationship with the souls who once animated them. Di Gianni takes us into this subterranean world, where the faithful recite prayers and visit with their adoptive spirits. This unique phenomenon is simultaneously creepy and loving: bodies abandoned in death due to disease that are cared for by the living through prayer. Outside these crypts, we make our way through the streets of 1962 Naples as the locals go about their lives. Grazia e numeri is a stirring and insightful glimpse into the soul of the South, both present and past, during that period.

Watch Grazia e numeri...

Di Gianni’s 1967 Tempo di raccolta (Harvest Time) documents a day in the life of Calabrese women as they work in the olive groves of the region. The simple but stunning beauty of those majestic centuries-old trees, Di Gianni’s choice of traditional music, and the play of sun and shadow during those autumn days turn the film into a visual and aural symphony. The generations of women working together, with the older ones filling the baskets and the younger ones lifting them atop their heads and carrying them off, present a picture of contentment. At lunch, they feast on bread, tomatoes, olive oil and wine before heading back to the groves, baskets in hand. A manned lift arrives to shake the tree loose of its fruits, and the morning routine repeats itself. The women return home in the evening to enjoy dinner as the family gathers around the table for spaghetti. They tuck the children into bed, the dawn returns, and they head back out to do it all over again.

Watch Tempo di raccolta...

The 1965 film Il male di San Donato (The Evil of San Donato) was shot during the month of August in a village near the southern tip of Puglia. The opening shots of the whitewashed buildings and empty streets capture the tranquility of a scorching summer day in southern Italy. Then, suddenly, we are faced with the “evil” referenced in the title. “The film takes place during the ceremony of the Feast of San Donato, protector of the village of Montesano in Salento, which back then was a part of Lecce,” Di Gianni explains. “During the event, people were seized by restlessness, epilepsy, powers of madness, because the saint, San Donato, is the protector of madmen and epileptics, and the village was invaded by this evil.” The film focuses on a number of possessed villagers who, with the help of their neighbors, overcome the powers that have taken hold of them. The phenomenon featured in the film no longer occurs today, so the film is now of great historical value. The village showed its appreciation by recently granting Di Gianni honorary citizenship.

Watch Il male di San Donato...

Now in his 90s, Di Gianni is enthusiastic about the South and talks about shooting these films in great detail with vivid recollections and precious memories. Regarding his unintentional historic contribution, he says, “I am not a director who operated in a scientific sense. I saw scientific opportunities and then went with my imagination, and I felt those worlds with my participation. I shot a documentary about the Madonna del Pollino that concerns Calabria and Lucania, and I lived great emotional moments. I witnessed some very particular behaviors as people were crawling on the ground with their tongue out and when they carried their animals into the church in front of the Madonna. There was an incredible relationship, a very strong bond with this Madonna. I don’t consider myself a believer or a non-believer, but there were moments in which these episodes deeply touched me and sometimes I participated. Sometimes I cried with them.” 

Click here to watch Luigi Di Gianni in my documentary Return to Lucania.

Watch "Return to Lucania"

CLICK HERE to watch my documentary Return to Lucania on Vimeo. It's the story of the early 19th century southern Italian immigrants...