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Monday, September 13, 2021

Transforming Childhood Memories into a Filmmaking Career


Manuela Filomena was born in a small town in Irpinia called Ariano Irpino, located in the region of Campania. Her bringing up contributed to her choice of professions. “Like most Italian families, Sunday has always been a holiday to share with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Perhaps hearing their stories, sharing the work week, and exchanging ideas unknowingly fed my imagination and pleasure in storytelling,” she told me in a recent interview. 

That pursuit led her down a long and varied path of international education, which began in England at Loughborough University where she studied art and design. During those years, she took film classes and discovered that editing was the part of the process she enjoyed most. She also developed an interest in writing. Her final project was a short film on environmental issues called “ A prayer for Earth,” which was shown at the university.


While pursuing an M.A. in film and television at the University of Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples, Fiolmena reached an academic and professional turning point. She was mentored in theoretical and practical filmmaking, which gave her the chance to hone her skills in shooting, editing and post-production while deepening her understanding of the creative process of storytelling.


“My final project, a short film “Goodbye Agnes,” was supervised by the Italian documentary film director Gianfranco Pannone who taught me to see the innate cinematic elements of daily life,” she explains. The film premiered at the 2018 Med Film Festival in Rome. It was awarded Best Editing at the Las Vegas International Film Festival and received the Award of Commendation at the Canada Short Film Festival.


The enchanting 13-minute film follows Enzo, a young man who does something special for Agnes, a young pharmacy worker for whom he is developing feelings. This act of kindness requires a bit of mischief, which, in turn, gets him into trouble with the authorities. But his benign intent and sincerity not only move Agnes, they inspire the investigator assigned to his case. 


A  Scene from “Goodbye Agnes”
Featuring panoramic vistas, inviting shots of the charming towns and warm, nostalgic light, “Goodbye Agnes” was shot between Filomena’s hometown of Ariano Irpino and nearby Trevico. “The idea came from a narrative challenge. Gianfranco Pannone had asked me to make as a final project, a short film whose theme was the sea,” she explains. She went on to say, “I reasoned with the idea that the sea could represent the place to be reached, the desire of the two protagonists and therefore not show it visually (as a directorial choice) and sew a story that could tell of the moment when the protagonist decides to invite the young woman for a trip out of town.”


Filomena is currently a Ph.D. candidate in comparative studies at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). During her first semester, she organized the second edition of the Italian American Film Festival held annually as a supplement to an Italian course taught by Dr. Ilaria Serra. “The theme of identity was an element that united the three films of this edition,” Filomena recalled. “During the course Italian America: Translating Identities, I studied the phenomenon of Italian immigration to the United States between 1880 and 1920, which led to the consequent creation of an Italian-American identity.”


Filomena finds her Ph.D candidacy a challenging and stimulating path. “Studying for me has always been a sort of therapy. The possibility of bringing stories to the big screen is not only a desire but also a way to express my point of view, how I see the world, how I see myself in others.” she said. She wants to dedicate her research to examining the intergenerational, female centered conflicts, giving space and voice to otherwise marginalized debates about women's issues. “I would like to investigate the similarities between the individuals (mainly women) across cultures but also aspirations and dilemmas, showing women not as isolated individuals but as socially located within the wider family and community."


Several of Filomena’s projects are available on her Vimeo channel, including her short film, “Goodbye Agnes.” Go to to check out FAU’s Italian American Film Festival.

-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the September 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Officine La Rossa: The Perfect Synthesis Between Culinary Excellence & Architectural Beauty

Written by Sergio Ragone

After more than a year of closures caused by the fight against Covid, Italian catering restarts from Made in Italy and from the excellence of the territory. An example of how this strategy is successful is offered to us by the newly created platform "Officine La Rossa," a hub of Lucanian food and wine excellences, which recently opened in Rotonda, a village of extraordinary beauty and home of the excellent red aubergine DOP. 

The creator of the project, which makes use of the collaboration with the Lucanian Coldiretti, is Franco Bruno who presented the basic idea of the Officine as follows: "Our challenge is to welcome the many tourists who come to Rotonda every year in the Pollino Park," explained Bruno. He went on to say, "In this structure, they can taste the best of agri-food products made in Basilicata; an initiative that aims to promote the best synergies between sustainable tourism and food combined with the typical hospitality of the Lucanian communities." 

The platform focuses entirely on the food and wine of the area, hinging on the recognized quality of the products and the excellences that are emerging. All the proposed products are related to “I am Lucanian, an agri-food selection promoted by Coldiretti of Basilicata. This union also includes the choice of the strategic partner that "Officine La Rossa" made for the care of the design and set-up of the restaurant, Fimel. This new extraordinary story looks to the future with a deep respect for the past and with its roots firmly planted in the land and in the Lucanian traditions.

The architect, Mariangela Meliante, manager and creative director of the historic company, tells the story of the work done by Fimel: "The process that led us to the result has been articulated and involved structural adaptation work to join two adjacent rooms and bring them back to their original shape. We have thus restored the old size to ensure an adequate surface to host and optimally promote the top of the agri-food production made in Basilicata, in synergy with Io sono Lucano promoted by Coldiretti Lucana. 

The room is accessed by two glass doors. A selection of wooden furnishings and iron structures adorn the space, harmoniously distributing a warm Lucanian atmosphere. An imperious glass-cut counter catches the eye from the entrance. The counter becomes a symbol par excellence of the opulence of Lucanian agro-food products, given the powerful offer of podolic, goat, pecorino and salami from black pigs and the many products of excellence. Lush aromatic plants of thyme, mallow, rosemary, oregano and basil as well as ferns and ivy decorate the convivial environment with naturalness and authenticity. The cascading lights in wine red rope interrupt the play of the contrasting beams with a classic-style checkered floor, creating a deliberate game of references to the workshop intended as a place for master craftsmen who with skilled hands are able to transform the raw material into a work of art, in this case culinary in an osmotic relationship with the patrons, without filters to testify the passion and authenticity of Basilicata."

In conclusion, “Officine La Rossa” has all the right ingredients to conquer the palates of travelers and fascinate their eyes with the beauty of the details. The result is a mix of all-Italian excellence and an  extraordinary future destination.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Echoes of Italian Cinema Past in the Work of Paolo Sorrentino

With so much buzz about Paolo Sorrentino’s premiere of “The Hand of God” (È stata la mano di Dio) at the upcoming Venice Film Festival and on Netflix, I’m sharing an opinion piece that I wrote last year about both of his HBO series, “The Young Pope” and “The New Pope.” The article was published in the January, 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine

Sorrentino’s acclaimed HBO series “The Young Pope” and “The New Pope” are visually stunning fantasies of the mysterious world behind the Vatican walls. It was announced last year that a third and final series will round out the trilogy.

This fascination surrounding the enigma of Catholicism has been present throughout the director’s career but came to a head in his 2013 Oscar winner, “La grande bellezza” (The Great Beauty). If there was a prelude to the HBO series, it would be that film.


From the opening hymns to the main character, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), curiously gazing into a parochial school, the lure of the Church is always present. “You can’t imagine how much one learns by living alongside a cluster of religious institutes,” he later notes. There is a curiosity about this gated life, not only about what goes on behind closed doors, but who the people are behind them. In those opening scenes, Jep watches a young nun as she picks oranges from a tree. And later, as if the image stayed with him, he watches children running though the grounds of the school in between the trees while a religious hymn plays in the background. He is profoundly inquisitive about what he is witnessing. Looking at that scene in retrospect, it is very telling of what was to come in terms of the series.


There have been comparisons to Federico Fellini and it's my feeling that Fellini has indeed been an influence in Sorrentino’s career. In Fellini's 1970 documentary, “The Clowns,” he addresses the allure of the circus and talks about where it began. He recalls a nun from his childhood who he claims stood about a foot tall, describing her as “always in a hurry, saying she had to do everything because the saints didn’t trust anyone else.” He went on to say that she divided her time between the convent and the madhouse. Fellini was also known for his use animals and the ocean as a backdrop, with key scenes in “La Dolce Vita,” “Satyricon,” “Amarcord” and “Giulietta of the Spirits.” Think about the giraffe in “The Great Beauty,” the kangaroo in “The Young Pope” and the ocean in the “The New Pope.” Each seemed to be a protagonist in its respective scene. This is very felliniesque.


“The Young Pope” begins with the promise of a new chapter in the Catholic Church as Pope Pius XIII aka Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), walks onto the world’s stage to greet the faithful under the tumultuous storm clouds of a downpour. He opens his arms, looks up to the sky and parts the clouds, giving way to the bright rays of sunshine and hope for the future. But then we realize it was just a dream. This surreal opening sets the tone for a series of flashbacks as Lenny has numerous recollections of his youth and the disconnect with his parents. He often questions his devout faith and develops intense feelings for Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the wife of a Swiss guard. The emotional strain of these combined soul searches takes a toll on him and he collapses in the last episode. The exceptional international cast along with a few of Italy’s beloved contemporary actors, including Silvio Orlando as the devious Cardinal Angelo Voiello, earned the series two Emmy nominations, making it the first Italian series to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy.


Sorrentino doubled down on his visual shock factor and produced a much darker series in the second installment, titled, “The New Pope,” which received as much criticism for its lack of a moral base as it did praise for its artistry.


The series opens with Pope Pius XIII in a coma and the search for someone to replace him as pontiff. After the shady death of the first choice, the search ultimately leads to Pope John Paul III aka John Brannox (John Malkovich), an English aristocrat and closet addict who also has issues with his parents. With Cardinal Voiello retired but always involved, he stands by as Pope John Paul III eventually self-destructs, leaving the church while a recovered Pope Pius XIII meets a similar fate. Meanwhile, there is a lot of sex and misbehaving, which one can argue echoes certain films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, like the controversial 1975, “Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom.” The strong concentration on this dark tone tends to take away from the intimacy of the characters that was established in the first installment.


“The Young Pope” and “The New Pope” are available through HBO’s streaming platforms. Fellini’s “The Clowns” is available on Mubi with an Amazon Prime membership. Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” is available on Amazon, iTunes and YouTube. We’ll keep you posted on the release date of the final series.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Going Against the Grain

Andrea De Sica is the grandson of neorealist legend Vittorio De Sica and the son of famed movie composer Manuel De Sica. He may have been handed a golden ticket at birth, but the 39-year-old has paid his dues while charting his own cinematic course. He attended film school at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, was an assistant to Bernardo Bertolucci and made numerous short films before his feature directorial debut in 2016.

It should come as no surprise that growing up in such a creative family had a profound impact on him. In our 2017 interview, De Sica credited his upbringing with laying his filmmaking foundation. “I come from a family of cinema. I had my first experience on set when I was 10 years old. I don’t have a single memory that is not attached to cinema,” he explained.


De Sica pursued a decidedly dark path early in his career. Made in 2007, his first short, “L’inferno sono gli altri,” opens on a student as he is studying. After responding to a knock at the door, he enters a dark abyss and becomes trapped in an underground world where a Chucky-like child torments him.


His follow-up, “L’esame,” is a suspenseful thriller adapted from a short novel by Richard Matheson. The story takes place in the future, when the population is controlled by a government exam administered every five years. If you don’t pass the exam, you are given an injection that ends your life.


De Sica’s 2011 documentary “Hollow City” explores the mid-1960s discovery of Matera’s Cave of 100 Saints. The film features interviews with the locals who set out to find the fabled crypt and captures their reactions when they finally did. The cave is adorned with paintings that have been traced to ninth-century monks who traveled to Lucania from Eastern Europe or Asia Minor. In addition to compelling firsthand accounts, the 17-minute film boasts stunning cinematography that captures the ancient city’s eerie splendor.


De Sica went on to work on several Italian television series and was given funding to make his first feature film in 2016. “I figli della notte” (The Children of the Night) was shot in the secluded, snow-covered mountains of South Tyrol, located in the Northern Italian region of Alto Adige. An impressive debut, the film made its North American premiere at the 2017 edition of Lincoln Center’s “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.” It’s the story of an unlikely friendship at an all-boys boarding school that ultimately leads to murder.


The feature film advances the unique style of his early efforts while marking the official start of his career. “I am a great admirer of all the members of my family. At the same time, I needed time to find my own path,” he explained. “‘I figli della notte’ was the moment in which I said, ‘Goodbye, my dears. The time has come for me to take my own road.’”


His next project was based on a true story and influenced by his teenage years in Rome’s privileged circle of high society and private schools. Netflix’s “Baby” is the story of two high school girls who get swept up in a prostitution ring. The sensitive subject matter is presented from the points of view of the girls. It shows why they choose to live these double lives, lying to their family and friends while keeping company with criminals and abusers. Each episode will leave you at the edge of your seat anticipating the next. It's an absolutely compelling series and so well done by all involved.

Although he has found his own voice, De Sica acknowledges the impact of neorealism on young filmmakers around the world. “My grandfather and his colleagues have paved a road that will always be valid.”

We'll keep you posted on the international distribution for his latest film, "Non mi uccidere." In the meantime, his short films and documentary are available on his Vimeo channel, All episodes of “Baby” are available to stream on Netflix. For more information on “Hollow City,” visit the project’s website at

This article was published in the August 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. In an upcoming issue, I'll be profiling Brando De Sica. Until then, read about his early works in this blog I posed five years ago. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy

A film, television and stage actor,  Stanley Tucci has an impressive 136 parts to his credit in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years. He’s also dabbled as a producer, director and voice actor on his way to three Emmy Awards and nominations for an Oscar, a Tony and a Grammy.

Big-screen acting has been Tucci’s bread and butter, most of it in supporting and ensemble roles. Whether he’s playing an understanding dad in “Easy A,” a flamboyant magazine art director in “The Devil Wears Prada” or Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a wry intelligence shines through much of his work.


His breakout role came in the 1996 film “Big Night,” which he co-directed and co-wrote. In it, he plays the charming, embattled co-owner of a struggling Italian restaurant that he runs with his headstrong chef brother. Known for its spirited scenes of cooking and feasting, the film established Tucci as a culinary force. That reputation grew with his turn as Julia Child’s adoring husband in the 2009 film “Julie and Julia.” 


Tucci began embracing that role in non-fiction projects in 2011, when he hosts the PBS show “Vine Talk,” which featured panels of celebrities tasting wine and telling stories. A year later, he published his first cookbook, simply titled, “The Tucci Cookbook.” Last April, he took the internet by storm during the pandemic with a three-minute Instagram video in which he prepares a negroni for his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt, with whom he authored his second cookbook. 

And so the stage was perfectly set for the February 2021 premiere of his wildly popular CNN series, “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” His latest culinary adventure features a curious and enthusiastic Tucci in the part of a real-life travel show host walking the streets and piazze of Italy in search of the next great meal. Along the way, he meets a host of characters, including historians, pizzaiuoli, celebrity chefs and assorted cheese and wine makers who reveal the magical factors that make Italian food so incomparably delicious. “This was a passion project and love letter to the place where my family is from,” he said in a statement about the series.


With roots in three provinces in the southern region of Calabria – Cosenza, Vibo Valentia and Reggio Calabria — Tucci has deep emotional ties to the land of his ancestors. “Because my parents were so respectful of their heritage, that cultural identity was really important to me, and still is,” he reveals in an interview with CNN Travel.


Tucci lived in Italy for a year in the early ‘70s when his father, a high school art teacher, took a sabbatical with his family to Florence. The trip proved to be a life-changing experience. “First of all, that trip helped inform my aesthetic. Two, it made me appreciate a European lifestyle and sensibility,” he told CNN. “By the time I graduated college, I was aching to go back again, and I felt like I was meant to be there more than I was supposed to be in America. And so, whenever I could, I would go back to Italy.”


He wants Americans to connect with the authentic Italy that he has come to know and appreciate. “I think in America there are a lot of very specific ideas about what is ‘Italian,’ and one of the reasons I wanted to do the show is to dispel some of those myths about what Italy is.” 


Although the main theme of the series is food, Tucci touches on Italy’s rich and varied geography, history and culture as well as its tumultuous politics, both past and present, and their impact on the nation’s cuisine. “I’d like people to see that incredible diversity, and how it came about — from geography, from invasions, from the influences of the Arab world, from the Spanish, the Normans, the Austrians. It’s an incredible culinary melting pot.”


He plans on covering all 20 regions of Italy, one episode at a time. He ended up having to shoot around the pandemic to bring his first four to fruition, filming one episode before the outbreak and the other when restrictions were temporarily lifted. He described the Italians he met as “tired, beleaguered by the whole thing, but incredible, open and generous.”


Tucci’s quiet demeanor is one quality that sets him apart from culinary travel giants like Anthony Bourdain, Giada De Laurentiis and Rick Steves. He is none of them while possessing traits of all three. He has the mischievous way of Bourdain, the profound respect for ingredients that De Laurentiis brings to the table and the friendly appreciation that Steves shows his guides.


The subtle, dry sense of humor Tucci brings to so many of his film and television roles shines through as he samples his way across Italy, giving the show a comedic twist rarely found in its counterparts. There’s a lot of laughter going on, and that’s something we can all appreciate after the year we’ve just had. 


In the premiere episode, breathtaking shots of the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast serve as the backdrop for local delights such as the famed Amalfi lemon, Campania’s signature buffalo mozzarella, and spaghetti alla nerano, a zucchini dish so many of us recreated at home. In Rome, Tucci pauses outside the Pantheon to bask in the sublime joy of maritozzi, a whipped cream-filled brioche, before taking a poignant stroll through the Jewish ghetto with a Holocaust survivor. Bologna delivers revelations about the creation of balsamic vinegar, the impact of climate on the production of prosciutto di Parma and the echoes of Fellini’s footsteps in the beachside resort of Rimini. The Lombardy episode is a bit like “Sex & the City” meets “The Sound of Music,” with Tucci drinking Milanese cocktails one moment and visiting an artisan cheesemaker in the Alps the next. A home-cooked soffritto with his parents in Florence and a glass of Nero d’Avola with a young winemaker highlighting his visit to Sicily.

Francesca Fabbri Fellini with Giulietta Masina and Federico Fellini
Photo from "Omaggio a Fellini con I Bislacchi di Artemis/Casadei
If I had to pick a favorite episode, it would be Bologna. The cinema angle was wonderful with a tour of Rimini by Federico Fellini’s niece, Francesca Fabbri Felini. She recently made a short documentary film about her uncle that has been making the festival rounds in Italy. So she’s had a strong presence on social media promoting it and sharing memories about her zio Federico and zia Giulietta Masina. It was such a nice surprise to see her in the episode. She and Tucci talked about Fellini’s 1974 film, “Amarcord,” which was inspired by his life growing up in the town. His 1956 film, “I Vitelloni,” was also inspired by growing up there. Both films have just been released to stream in a special collection on the Criterion Channel called Essential Fellini. There are also numerous videos and interviews in which he along with friends and family talk about his experience growing up there and the impact it had on his movies. The ending of the episode, an aperitivo at the The Grand Hotel, Fellini’s old stomping grounds,  gave me the chills and was the perfect conclusion to a spectacular show. 

Friends and I had small criticisms of the series here and there. Why, for example, did Tucci talk at length about cholera in Naples while overlooking the 17th-century plague that wiped out nearly half of Florence, leading to the creation of the wine windows Tucci spotlighted. And why did he visit a vandalized bookstore in the Roman neighborhood Centocelle, an isolated incident that happened two years ago, while ignoring Cinecittà and the city’s rich cinematic history?


Minor shortcomings aside, the series was a huge success for CNN. According to Deadline, the season premiere drew in 1.52 million viewers and was promptly renewed for a second season, with a release date set for 2022. The episodes from Season 1 are available on CNN’s website. The network is also available through a number of streaming platforms including YouTube TV, Hulu and Sling TV. Click here to check out my report on the series for Radio Vulture, a weekly show transmitted from Rionero in Vulture, Italy.

Click on the images below to stream his films on Amazon.. 

Check out his cookbooks, too...


- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the June 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A Word on Contemporary Basilicata

Singer/Songwriter Rosmy performs at
the Giornate del Cinema Lucano in Maratea
My editor at Fra Noi Magazine recently asked me to write an article about my experience traveling through Basilicata and researching my origins there. If you've followed this blog for a while, then you know that I am always happy to offer my insight into contemporary Basilicata.

New School Basilicata

It has been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. I was living in New York City at the time and working at ABC News as a video editor. Seeing all that heartbreaking footage of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers and then walking through the eeriness of Manhattan made me realize how precious life is and how we can literally be here one moment and gone the next.

That realization led me to do something I had been putting off for years — perform a genealogical search of my maternal great-grandmother’s family in Basilicata. Of all my great-grandparents who emigrated from Italy, I was the closest to her. She passed away in 1980 when I was 8 years old, and the loss had a lasting impact.

In early 2002, I wrote a letter to potential relatives in Italy and had a friend translate it into Italian. I knew the town, Rionero In Vulture, from an old photograph that belonged to my grandmother. I went to, looked up everyone in town with the last name Nigro (my great-grandmother’s maiden name), and sent out a batch of letters along with NYC postcards and copies of photos my great-grandmother received from her brothers who stayed behind. Five days later, I received an email from a cousin in Rionero In Vulture thanking me for sending a picture of his grandfather (my great-grandmother’s brother). Attached was a family photo my great-grandmother had sent to him in the 1950s. I was amazed not only to make contact, but also at how quickly I received the response.

Polo Acquisti Lucania Mall in the town of Tito

I traveled to my ancestral home for the first time the very next year. I didn’t know what to expect before I arrived because everything I had read spoke of a remote, desolate region, often accompanied by pictures of old women wearing black. Two trains from Rome got me there in about six hours. These days, I take one direct bus from Rome, equipped with WIFI and air-conditioning, to arrive in five hours. What I found then and still find is the farthest thing away from desolate: traffic, young people, restaurants, shops, malls, huge grocery stores and every modern convenience you could wish for.


Over the years, I’ve gotten to know so many young Lucanians, as they’re called. While it’s true many young adults leave the area to seek employment elsewhere, many also stay, and they’re fueling the economy and modernization of the region. In Castelmezzano, for example, young Lucanians work in the tourism sector, providing hiking tours through the Dolomiti mountains, operating a zipline and running B&Bs. Watch a clip from my interview with Giovanni Romano, the director of tourism in Castelmezzano..

In Matera, locals like actor/restauranteur Nando Irene, have opened restaurants and art galleries and run film festivals, bringing tourism dollars to their town. On the other side of the region in Potenza, they own bookstores and production companies that specialize in computer graphics and animation. Potenza-born author/journalist Sergio Ragone has written several books with his orgoglio lucano (Lucanian pride) at the heart of his writings. If you want to practice your Italian, one is available on Amazon..


Meanwhile, the towns surrounding Monte Vulture, a dormant volcano, are enjoying attention from wine publications all over the world praising Aglianico del Vulture, which has been nicknamed Barolo of the South. Area wine producers like Paternoster, Azienda Agricola Elena Fucci, Cantine del Notaio and Martino utilize Monte Vulture’s fertile soil to produce high quality wine and olive oil. Young people like the D'Angelo siblings are following in their footsteps and starting their own businesses. What’s emerged is a whole subculture that includes B&Bs, restaurants and spas. 

One way to connect with the Vulture area is to listen to a Sunday show called Radio Vulture. It's a great way to practice your conversational Italian and to be in the cultural loop of Monte Vulture. The show is transmitted from Rionero in Vulture by a group of friends passionate about music. To listen, go to and search Radio Vulture. Click follow and create an account. The shows are uploaded weekly. One of the hosts, Ricky Benz, is an established recording artist. His work is available on iTunes and Amazon. Click here to follow Radio Vulture on Facebook. 


Watch a clip from my interview with Gaetano Russo in which he talks about the Aglianico grapes of Rionero In Vulture..

There are a number of resources online that provide information about the region. My Bella Basilicata, which specializes in genealogy research and heritage immersion, was created by husband and wife team Valerie and Bryan who relocated to Valerie’s ancestral town about 15 years ago. The couple's agency has become a go-to for Italian Americans wanting to know about the land of their origins. The website includes information on the process of genealogy research in the South of Italy and what you will need to get started. 

If you’re on Facebook, check out BasilicataMedia, which features a new web series on the region equipped with English subtitles. Made by another husband and wife team, Greg and Silvia, the series features the two traveling throughout the region. Greg and Silvia are the owners of La Lucana, their family’s olive farm-turned-B&B. All 10 episodes are located on the page's "Beautiful Basilicata" playlist.

Click here to watch my 2018 documentary, "Return to Lucania," which traces the socioeconomic evolution of Basilicata since the early 1900s. If you're interested in learning more about the region's filmmaking legacy, look to the bottom sidebar of this blog for dozens of stories about the cinema of past and present made there.

- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the May 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

One of a Kind Ugo Tognazzi

He gained renown during the commedia all’italiana years but his captivating performances kept him working through five decades until his untimely death in 1990.

Born in 1922 in Cremona, Ugo Tognazzi’s first acting experiences go back to his childhood when he participated in local theater productions. In 1945, he won a competition for amateurs and was then officially hired by theater company which led to a nationwide tour.  A few years later, he landed his first film roles and in the next decade, made a whopping 28 films. However, for all the films he made in the ‘50s, it was the ‘60s and ‘70s when his films were hits also outside Italy, giving him much-deserved international recognition for his lead roles. 


Tognazzi had a uniquely self-effacing and multidimensional style. There’s no such thing as a typical Tognazzi character because they were all so completely different. Losing himself in each role, he gifted them with their own identities. Perhaps there’s a consistent dose of pessimism, but that quality was shared by many in his generation of actors. There’s also an air of indifference that makes Tognazzi’s comic timing impeccable, allowing him to deliver the punchline at just the right moment. Thanks to streaming platforms, many of his acclaimed films are available stateside.


Antonio Pietrangeli’s 1964 comedy “Il magnifico cornuto” (The Magnificent Cuckhold) was adapted from Fernand Crommelynck’s book by the same name. Starring Tognazzi as Andrea Artusi, a successful hat salesman married to a beautiful young woman Maria Grazia (Claudia Cardinale), the film explores the consequences of infidelity. After he gives into the advances of a colleagues wife, Andrea begins to question his own wife’s loyalty to the point of becoming obsessed with her having an affair. All through his suspicions and questioning, she remains patient and above all, innocent. Then one night, he lets his imagination get the best of him and it puts them both over the edge. Tognazzi’s strong silences, shrewd smile and conniving glances give voice to his paranoia and suspenseful, controlled reactions. He knew when to be light-hearted and when to go in for the kill. 

Watch a clip from the opening scene of the film...

Tognazzi had a small but pivotal role in Pietrangeli’s 1965 follow up, “Io la conoscevo bene” (I Knew Her Well). Starring Stefania Sandrelli, the film follows Adriana Astarelli, a free-spirited starlet trying to make it in Rome’s unforgiving movie business. Tognazzi plays the role of Gigi Baggini, an out of work aging actor desperate for work. There is an intense dance scene in which Gigi gives an impromptu audition for an exploitative producer (Nino Manfredi). The scene serves as a perfect example of Tognazzi’s total immersion. Gigi is so physically and emotionally invested in this audition, the scene is just exhausting to watch. 


Another small part worth mentioning came in the 1968 Dino De Laurentiis production of “Barbarella.” Adapted from Jean-Claude Forest’s best seller of the same name and directed by Roger Vadim, the science fiction film stars Jane Fonda as a futuristic peacekeeping space traveler whose mission is to save humanity. Tognazzi interprets the role of Mark Hand, the “catchman” who assists Barbarella on her journey, seducing her along the way. Tognazzi’s voice was dubbed, so you’re not getting the essence of his complete performance, but not having to follow subtitles gives you freedom to admire him in the prime of his career. The film was made at Cinecittà studios and boasts some pretty zany costumes and set design. 

Tognazzi made string of dark comedies in the 1970s that include Elio Petri’s 1973 “La proprietà non è più un furto” (Property Is No Longer a Theft). Known as political filmmaker, Petri’s films often served as commentary on the decline of society and this film is no different with its emphasis on the role that money and power play in corrupting people. A petty thief who calls himself a Mandrakian Marxist, meaning that he only steals what he needs, has a target on Tognazzi’s character, a greedy, morally depraved butcher. “The Butcher” as he is called throughout the film, is truly despicable character who never really learns his lesson.
Click here to watch the film on MUBI for a limited time. Click here to watch it on Criterion Channel.


Tognazzi created another grotesque character that year in Marco Ferreri’s “La Grande Bouffe,” a dark comedy about four middle-aged friends, masterfully portrayed by Tognazzi and Marcello Mastroianni along with French actors Philippe Noiret and Andréa Ferréol. The group plans a decadent weekend getaway at a mansion with one goal-  to commit suicide by gorging themselves to death. Equipped with voracious appetites, one by one, the group reaches its goal through carnal and culinary indulgence. Tognazzi plays Ugo, an Italian chef living in Paris who is the designated cook for the weekend. He passionately and articulately creates every meal as if it was his last and the last was indeed his greatest accomplishment. The film has become a cult classic but is not for the faint of heart. Click here to watch the film on iTunes and here to watch it for free on Tubi.

Based on the stage play by Jean Poiret, Édouard Molinaro’s 1978 “La Cage aux Folles” provided Tognazzi the opportunity to create one of his most memorable characters, the gay cabaret owner Renato Baldi. The proprietor of a popular nightclub known for its drag shows, Renato must temporarily straighten out at the request of his son Laurent (Rémi Laurent) who was conceived 20 years ago during a one-night stand with a young actress. This request comes on the heels of Laurent’s engagement to a woman whose politician father is in the middle of a scandal and uses the engagement as an excuse to get out of town and meet the parents. Renato’s longtime partner, the highly emotional Albin (Michel Serrault) does not take the request lightly. What follows is a hilarious lesson on the perils of pretending to be someone you’re not. In 1996, Mike Nichols remade the film, titled “The Bird Cage,” with Robin Williams in the role of Renato Baldi. Williams channeled Tognazzi’s creation and gave a moving performance. 


Tognazzi passed away in 1990 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. In addition to his films, his legacy includes his children Ricky, Maria Sole, Gianmarco and Thomas Robsahm who are all successful contemporary filmmakers. 

Click on the images below to stream Tognazzi's films on Amazon..



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and Cecilia Pignocchi
It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international film festival but such is the case with Cecilia Pignocchi and Arthur Couvat’s debut work, “Grottaroli.” The 14-minute film is in the official lineup of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Shorts Program.

Set along the Adriatic Coast, the film follows a group of veteran fishermen as they reflect on their way of life becoming obsolete. Told from the point-of-view of the four fishermen and as Pignocchi’s describes her fifth character, the sea, the film offers total immersion into this culture that few outside the area know exists. 


I spoke with Pignocchi about the making of the short and her journey to premiering a first film on such a respected international platform. 


What inspired you and Arthur Couvat to tell the story of men in this fishing village?

Arthur and I were inspired by the strong relationship that these men have with the sea and we were curious about their way of living in this unique landscape. I grew up a five-minute walk from the marine caves that have been carved by generations of fishermen, locally known as the Grottaroli. I only realized how unique this place was when I moved away. Living far from the sea and from my culture allowed me to see my hometown in a different light. Every time I would return home, I would see the caves as a movie set. After doing some research and site visits with my father, I involved my longtime friend and cinematographer Arthur Couvat. I showed him pictures of the caves and their inhabitants and he immediately loved the idea of making a short about this place. From then on we started our journey of producing this short film together. It has been a true labor of love, the project has been completely self-funded by us, the directors, with very little budget.


Tell me about Grottaroli.. Is it as its name suggests and made up of grottoes?

Grottaroli are the people who carved the caves. The term comes from “grotta” which means “cave” in Italian. So literally Grottaroli means “Cave people”. These marine caves are the extraordinary result of the work of man guided by fishing needs. Along the coast of Ancona, many caves have been dug over the centuries by the farmers who lived on the upper part of the cliff. First carved to store boats and fishing tools, the caves later became a gathering place. Nowadays, the new generation of cave owners go to the caves only in summer.


What can you tell me about the protagonists of the film?

We wanted to portray the real Grottaroli, the old generation, the men who come here all year round, no matter what the weather conditions are. So we looked for our cast in the winter, the season during which most of the caves are closed. 

The trailer is beautiful. The music and sound of the waves really stood out to me. 

We really wanted to use the beautiful Italian music from the ‘60s, which embraced perfectly the mood and story of our film. “Mare Incantato” by Fausto Papetti, which translates to “The Enchanted Sea,” was the perfect song to portray our 5th character: the sea. The sea is in fact the reason why the caves exist and it’s the thread that connects our four characters.


Did you study filmmaking? Tell me about your path as a visual artist and filmmaker.. I'm also curious about your English because it's great! Did you spend time living abroad?

I didn’t study filmmaking, I studied design which gave me a broad spectrum of skills without focusing on just one expertise. I have always loved cinema and I have always been curious about the world around me. After high school, I remember I wanted to become a photojournalist and travel the world. Then I went to study design and started working as an art director. Over the years I have experimented with different media, but with this project, I realized how interested I am in film-making. In particular, documentary film-making is a beautiful form of art to express your view on the world. Arthur and I had a wonderful experience collaborating together and we are already working on our next project.

Learning English was a long process that started in middle school. I have always been bad at it and I hated it so much. I believe in learning by doing, so when I was 17, I decided to spend one year in Australia to finally learn English. Then during my university studies in Italy, I spent a semester at a university in Bristol and 3 months in NYC for an internship. After I graduated, I moved to Amsterdam where I started working 6 years ago. Now I can finally speak English!!


Which filmmakers have influenced you along the way?

Arthur and I love Werner Herzog. He represents a huge inspiration for both of us. I also love the style of old Italian short documentaries, where it was very much a poetic representation of reality with usually a deep male voice narrating and the people filmed were never interviewed. The shorts by Vittorio de Seta, Cecilia Mangini and Luigi di Gianni all did this on a diverse range of topics. I love when reality is portrayed as poetry. I think poetry can be found everywhere all around us.


Now having this first filmmaking experience under your belt, is there any part of the filmmaking process that you prefer? 

I have to say I loved every part of it. The research is very compelling because it allows you to learn so many new things. Preparing a treatment is also something I love to do because that’s when the idea starts taking some sort of shape. Shooting is probably the most beautiful part but also stressful, because there is not too much time to think. It's definitely something you craft with experience, so I have a long way to go. I really like editing, being able to decide the rhythm and find the most interesting way to connect the pieces together, as well as thinking about what music can let the images say something hidden.


“Grottaroli” will be available to stream June 16 and 17. Click here to learn more about it and to purchase tickets. Click here to watch the trailer.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Marco Pontecorvo's "Fatima" Now in Theaters and Streaming

Marco Pontecorvo’s “Fatima” opened today in theaters across the US.

Based on the true story of the 1917 Marian apparitions reported by three children at the Cova da Iria, in Fátima, Portugal, Pontecorvo’s film offers an adaption for new audiences with modern technology. “The cinemascope format can give back to the audience a much stronger emotion and can make people enjoy the stunning cinematography by Vincenzo Carpineta, as it was intended,” says Pontecorvo. 

The director got involved with the project after producers saw his 2009 feature film,  "Pa-ra-da," that addresses the homeless children issue in post-Ceausescu Romania. The producers were impressed by his direction of the children and suggested he direct “Fatima.” He felt the story was perhaps too religious but had some very appealing narrative angles. “I proposed to them to veer the narrative towards a film that instead of being dogmatic, could have been opened and put the focus on the relevance of this story for the believers and the doubters as well. The doubt element is crucial in this narration. It is a dialectic doubt that is a sign and an occasion of growth for both the different points of view,” he explained.


Pontecorvo offers insight into the performances and storyline of veteran actors Harvey Keitel and Sönia Braga and how it convinced the producers to trust their instincts and bring him onboard. “In the exchange between Harvey Keitel’s character and Sönia Braga’s, they never change their minds but they both grow. To exercise doubt makes you grow wiser. So, I told the producers of the movie that if they were interested in this point of view, I would have been on board. They were because they really wanted this movie to speak to everyone and respect all of the different points of view and perspectives, including mine. I am someone who believes that nature in its grandiose beauty is a representation of God and the divine. That’s why it is so important in this movie.”

“Fatima” is currently playing at AMC theatres nationwide. Click here to purchase tickets. If it’s not playing at a theater near you, click on the image below to stream it on Amazon.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Happy 90th Birthday, Adriana Asti!

"Be like me, I don't love anybody anymore and they call me Amore." An unforgettable line in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1961 "Accattone" came from a spirited, light-hearted prostitute portrayed by Adriana Asti. 

Born in Milan in 1931, Asti began her acting career in theater before going on to work with many of the great maestros of Italian cinema, including Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini, to name a few. She had small roles in huge, iconic films and made those characters memorable. In addition to her on-screen roles, she was also the voiceover of many of her contemporary counterparts like Claudia Cardinale, Lea Massari and Stefania Sandrelli. She is still very active in theater, television and film.

I am working on a feature article about Asti for the July issue of Fra Noi Magazine. As part of my research, I reached out to documentary filmmaker Rocco Talucci who made a beautiful film about her life and career. "A.A. Professione Attrice" premiered at the 2015 Rome Film Festival. Talucci presented the film with Asti and walked the Red Carpet with her and Franca Valeri by his side. I asked him if Asti would be up for answering a few questions. He checked with her and told me yes. Needless to say, it made me very happy. So I sent a few questions to him and he passed them onto her. So on the occasion of her 90th birthday today, I'd like to share our interview. Although brief and indirect, it really means so much to me that someone I've admired for so long took the time to consider my questions. 

Buon Compleanno Adriana Asti, a master actress so very loved and appreciated around the world! 

"Rocco and His Brothers"
Tell me about your collaboration with Luchino Visconti .. how you worked together in theater and cinema. Tell me a little about your relationship.
At the theater, the first time I did Arthur Miller's “The Crucible,” I was Mary Warren. Even though I was very young, he had already given me a part of the primadonna.

I was very much in love with Luchino, like everyone else, because he was a very charming and overwhelming man. I was very happy because it seemed to me great luck that this extraordinary thing of being with him at the theater, at the cinema and in friendship had happened to me. 

In cinema, my first experience with Luchino was with “Rocco and His Brothers.” I shot the scenes set in the ironing room.

With Luchino I had a great friendship, we were always together almost every evening!

In the 1950s and '60s, when you all worked together, did you realize one day that you would become icons? Did you know you were making immortal movies?

No! Absolutely not! I have no sense of the future.


Tell me about your experience playing the role of Susanna Pasolini.

Yes, Pier Paolo's mother, in Abel Ferrara's film. It was a painful experience because I had a scene with (Willem) Dafoe playing Pier Paolo in which he was lying in bed. I had to go in and hug him but I started to cry, cry, and cry because I saw him as Pier Paolo! We had to stop shooting ... the situation became a little too sentimental.



Did you feel nostalgic to revisit so many things about Pasolini?

I had a lot of emotion. For Pier Paolo, I have always had it, even beyond the film we made.


What was it like working with Abel Ferrara?

We weren't exactly friends. Abel is a difficult man but he's brilliant in his own way.


Speaking of your contemporary films, I really enjoyed your performance in André Téchiné's "Impardonnables." Did you collaborate with the director on the creation of Anna Maria? It seemed that you enjoyed playing this character.
Téchiné is a mysterious man, very sharp and intelligent. I followed his directions. We had a very pleasant time while shooting the film in Venice. Yes, I really liked this character.


In your career which spans of over 60 years, which experience or role have you most appreciated?

Perhaps the experiences with Pier Paolo Pasolini! I enjoyed playing Amore, the character of "Accattone." Elsa Morante, our friend, is also in the prison scene.

When I am able, I will share the feature article that I am writing for Fra Noi. In the meantime, click on the links below to stream a few of Asti's films.. 


Intervista in Italiano...

Raccontami la sua collaborazione con Luchino Visconti.. come avete lavorato insieme nel teatro e nel cinema. Parlami un po’ del vostro rapporto.

A teatro la prima volta ho fatto The Crucible  di Arthur Miller, ero Mary  Warren, anche se ero molto giovane mi aveva dato già una parte di prima donna. 

Ero molto innamorata di Luchino, come tutti del resto, perché era un uomo molto affascinante e travolgente. Ero molto felice perché mi sembrava una grande fortuna che mi fosse capitata questa cosa straordinaria di stare insieme a lui a teatro, al cinema e nell’amicizia. Al cinema la prima esperienza con Luchino è stata con Rocco e i suoi fratelli, ho girato le scene ambientate nella stireria.

Con Luchino ho avuto una grandissima amicizia, stavamo sempre insieme quasi tutte le sere!

Negli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta, quando avete lavorato tutti insieme, vi siete resi conto un giorno che voi sareste diventati delle icone? Sapevate che stavate girando film immortali?

No! Assolutamente no! Non ho il senso del futuro.

Raccontami la sua esperienza di interpretare il ruolo di Susanna Pasolini.

Sì, la mamma di Pier Paolo, nel film di Abel Ferrara. E’ stata una esperienza dolorosa perché avevo una scena con Dafoe che faceva Pier Paolo nella quale era sdraiato in un letto. Dovevo entrare e abbracciarlo ma ho iniziato a piangere, piangere, e piangere perché lo vedevo come Pier Paolo!  Abbiamo dovuto interrompere le riprese… era diventata un poco troppo sentimentale la situazione… (ride)


 Ha sentito un nostalgia per rivisitare tante cose di Pasolini?

 Ho avuto molta emozione, per Pier Paolo l’ho sempre avuta, anche oltre il film che abbiamo girato.


Come è stato lavorare con Abel Ferrara?

Non eravamo esattamente amici, Abel è un uomo difficile però a suo modo è geniale .


Parlando dei suoi film contemporanei, mi è davvero piaciuta la sua interpretazione in "Impardonnables" di André Téchiné. Lei ha collaborato alla creazione di Anna Maria con il regista?  Sembrava che lei piacesse interpretare questo personaggio.

Téchiné  è un uomo misterioso, molto acuto e intelligente. Ho seguito le sue indicazioni. Abbiamo passato un periodo molto piacevole durante le riprese del film a Venezia. Sì, mi è piaciuto molto questo personaggio.


Nella tua carriera di oltre 60 anni, quale esperienza o ruolo ha maggiormente apprezzato?

Forse le esperienze  con Pier Paolo Pasolini ! Mi ha divertito recitare Amore, il personaggio di Accattone. Nella scena del carcere c’è anche Elsa Morante, nostra amica.

Transforming Childhood Memories into a Filmmaking Career

  Manuela Filomena was born in a small town in Irpinia called Ariano Irpino, located in the region of Campania. Her bringing up contributed ...