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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 infobel.com, 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 www.mixcloud.com 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 in Italy. 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.

 

"Pasolini"

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.

 

"Impardonnables"
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.

Monday, April 19, 2021

A Conversation with Director Luca Caserta

Luca Caserta's 2019 short film "Dimmi chi sono" (Tell Me Who I Am) has received high acclaim from every corner of the globe. 

"Dimmi chi sono" is the story of a young mother who is violently attacked during a walk and is so traumatized, she loses her memory, taking shelter in an abandoned house doing what she can to get by. The film was inspired by a true story that Caserta saw on the news in northern Italy. 

Actress Elisa Bertato delicately balances the myriad of emotions that her character is feeling including fear, loneliness, confusion and determination. The film speaks to the international movement aimed at ending violence against women and has taken on its own voice in spreading awareness of the movement throughout the world. 

The soundtrack includes the song "Piccola stella senza cielo" by the Italian rock star Luciano Ligabue, courtesy of the artist himself and Warner Music Italia/Warner Chappell Music Italiana.

The film was recently in the lineup of the Italian Section of the Rochester Independent Global Film Series, which I curated and in doing so, had the opportunity to speak with the filmmakers about the stories behind their works. Check out highlights from my interview with Caserta..

Born in an artistically inspiring environment within a family of directors, writers and actors, Caserta earned a Master’s degree in Prehistoric Archaeology before deciding to pursue an artistic career. He began by working in theater. He then pursued a filmmaking degree at the Movie Academy of Cinecittà in Rome, studying under the direction of Golden Age director and screenwriter Carlo Lizzani along with Giacomo Scarpelli, Cristiano Bortone, Franco Brogi Taviani and Mario Brenta. He also studied cinematography with Giuseppe Pinori, Daniele Nannuzzi and Giuseppe Berardini and attended workshops held by Pupi Avati, Carlo Verdone and Luis Bacalov.

At Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome he attended the intensive laboratory in direction of photography with Giuseppe Lanci and took part in several workshops, including “Working with the light” with the director of photography Alessandro Pesci.

Since completing his studies, he has dedicated himself exclusively to cinema and audiovisuals. He's made short films, documentaries, music videos, commercials and art videos. His works have been presented at many festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, Premi David di Donatello, Berlin European Short Film Festival, Roma Cinema DOC, Miami Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles CineFest, Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival and many more. 

In 2011 he wrote, directed and co-produced the short film “Inside the Mirror” with editing supervision by Ugo De Rossi, who worked with many maestros of Italian cinema, including Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Francesco Rosi. The film, along with “Out of the Depths" (2014) and “The Other Side of the Moon” (2016) is part of the “trilogy on the double," which focuses on the investigation of what is hidden in the deepest part of the human soul. “Out of the Depths” was acquired by IndiePix Films, which offers it on demand in the United States and worldwide through its website. Click here to watch it.  

Caserta is currently working on his first feature film. Click here to follow him on Instagram.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Design Visionaries Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo

Written by Sveva De Marinis

During the 6th edition of Filming Italy Los Angeles, production designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, who have been married for years, hosted a masterclass and received the Filming Italy Los Angeles achievement award for their outstanding accomplishments. 

The two have been working for decades with some of the most distinguished directors in the business. Ferretti began his career in 1964 at the age of 21 as an assistant production designer on the set of “Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo” (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) by Pier Paolo Pasolini and went on to work as a production designer for five more movies of his. He then worked on Federico Fellini’s last five movies, from “Prova d’orchestra” (Orchestra Rehearsal) to “La voce della luna” (Voice of the Moon). 

 

Lo Schiavo started working as a production designer with Ferretti on Liliana Cavani’s 1981 “La pelle” (The Skin). They continued on their shared artistic path with exceptional Italian directors like Elio Petri, Sergio Citti, Luigi Comencini and Marco Ferreri. Outside Italy, they worked on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 “The Name of the Rose” and Terry Gillian’s 1988 “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” The next decade would mark the beginning of a 9-film collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

 

Production design is a very specific field that many times granted Italy its due recognition and the couple has certainly received theirs with a total of ten Oscars nominations for Best Production Design and one for Best Costume, which Ferretti says makes him particularly proud since it’s not even their field. They took home the prize for Scorsese’s 2005 “The Aviator” and 2012 “Hugo Cabret” as well as Tim Burton’s 2008 “Sweeney Todd.” Ferretti reminds the students of his masterclass, “That’s a total of six statues!”

 

The three movies that granted them their Oscars are very different. “The Aviator” is set in Hollywood between the ‘20s and the ‘40s, “Hugo Cabret” in Paris in the ‘30s, and “Sweeney Todd” in 17th century England. The films are different in their scenarios and settings, but props are essential, and thanks to them, we couldn’t imagine the films with a different design team. We couldn’t imagine John Hughes not walking through those huge airplanes or in a different setting than the movie theater where he slowly gets mad. We couldn’t imagine Hugo Cabret with a different robot, or, worse, without one. And, lastly, of course, we couldn’t imagine Sweeney Todd without his razor or his barber chair. And that’s because half of their magic would be gone.

On his professional bond with Scorsese, Ferretti reveals that it was actually he who convinced the director to shoot “Gangs of New York” at Cinecittà studios. He explained that Scorsese wasn’t sure about filming there because he wanted to shoot the movie in the United States. Then one Sunday, Ferretti took him to lunch at a restaurant in front of Cinecittà that Scorsese loved very much. Afterwards, he showed him around. Scorsese seemed to like the set, and Ferretti assured him, “Martin, this is my home, don’t worry, I’ll make it work,” and the rest is history.

 

Cinecittà World by Puntadelsole
Cinecittà has had such an important impact on Ferretti’s life that when he was asked to design “Cinecittà World,” the amusement park inspired by the real Cinecittà studios, he was honored and glad to do it because he saw it as a chance to show kids how to “build” a movie. Located on the outskirts of Rome in an area known as the Castelli Romani, upon the very grounds of Dino De Laurentiis’ film studios, Dinocittà, Cinecittà World was inaugurated on July 14th, 2014 and features movie-inspired attractions such as “Inferno,” a roller-coaster inspired by Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno,” the Spaghetti Western-inspired “Far West Show” and various streets in the theme park inspired by “Gangs of New York.” During the inauguration, he stated that the park is a mixture of dreams and memories of the most important movies of his life that he had the chance to share with his wife Francesca. Ferretti’s attention to detail is what makes the amusement park so unique.

When I think about their movies, the first words that come to mind are “grand” and “specific.” They always create alternative realities. Even when they work on more reality-based films, everything they do is grand and exceptional, but also very detailed and close to the director’s vision. Of course, every production designer has to follow the style and the general atmosphere of the movie, but watching the couple Ferretti-Lo Schiavo at work, you can really tell that they’ve mastered their art throughout the years. They’ve worked on many different movies, with different perceptions, different eras, from the mythological (“Medea” by Pasolini), to the grotesque (“Sweeney Todd”), from the ‘20s (“The Aviator”) to the ‘40s (“Gangs of New York”) and so much more. 

 

What amazes me is the accuracy of the props, even the smallest ones, that make movies and sets as real as possible. When you watch their movies, you can tell that nothing is left to chance, everything has been decided on and studied carefully. Something that catches the eye is the precision and detail of every historical time. One thing is to know how people would dress during a certain time, another is to know what kind of objects people would keep on their nightstand. That’s not something that is left to chance. It requires studying, researching and analyzing every single detail.

 

What they create on set is not only important for the director and for the sake of the movie, but for the actors too, because they will have the chance to immerse themselves even more into the world of their character and won’t have to rely as much on the imagination. A good production design makes the actor’s job a lot easier. And that, I think, is what every production designer tries to accomplish.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Celebrate Nino Manfredi's Centennial


Born Saturnino Manfredi on March 22, 1921, in Frosinone, Nino Manfredi was one of Italy’s most prolific actors from the 1950s to right before his death in 2004.

Manfredi graduated with a law degree but famously declared while delivering his thesis, “Ladies and gentlemen, I swear to you, I will never be a lawyer.” Shortly thereafter, he began his acting career in the theater, working on numerous productions with the likes of Eduardo De Filippo and Vittorio Gassman.


In 1949, he made his big-screen debut in Mario Sequi’s World War II drama, “Monastero di Santa Chiara.” He spent the 1950s honing his skills, often playing a friend and confidant of the protagonist. Among his most popular supporting roles during that decade are Peppino in Antonio Pietrangeli’s 1956 “Lo scapolo” (The Bachelor) and Raffaele in Camillo Mastrocinque’s 1956 “Totò, Peppino e la … malafemmina” (Totò, Peppino and the Hussy).


The following decade brought more substantial roles that revealed his talent for comedy, which made him a key player in the commedia all’italiana genre. In 1960, he teamed up with a pair of comic greats in Mario Camerini’s classic black-and-white mystery, “Crimen” (Suddenly, It’s Murder). The all-star cast features Manfredi, Gassman and Alberto Sordi as three men accused of murder. Silvana Mangano, Franca Valeri and Dorian Gray play their wives. Manfredi is Quirino Filonzi, a happy-go-lucky husband whose wife, Giovanna (Valeri), calls the shots in their marriage. Eugene Levy released a notable remake in 1992 titled “Once Upon a Crime.” Dino De Laurentiis produced both the original and the remake.


Manfredi shined in the lead role of Luis García Berlanga’s 1963 comedy, “El verdugo” (The Executioner). Manfredi plays José Luis Rodríguez, an undertaker who falls in love with Carmen, an executioner’s daughter. After they marry, José is obliged to carry on the family “dynasty” once his father-in-law retires. Terrified at the thought of executing someone, José becomes obsessed with the crime section of the newspaper, going out of his way to break up street fights in the hopes of preventing someone from earning a death sentence that he will have to carry out. 

One afternoon, he receives a telegram stating that he will have to perform his first execution. The news sends him into a frenzy until his wife reads that the deed is to be done on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. They decide to make the trip the honeymoon they never had, all the while hoping the condemned will receive a pardon. Their enthusiasm is dampened when Carmen’s father guilt trips them into taking him along, proclaiming he was only sent to depressing places during his long career. Arriving at the prison, José pleads with the guards to let his father-in-law put his 40 years of experience to good use. To his chagrin, the duty falls to him.


By the 1970s, Manfredi evolved into a strong leading man, carrying a variety of films with ease. This was nowhere more evident than in Ettore Scola’s 1976 “Brutti sporchi e cattivi” (Ugly, Dirty & Bad), in which Manfredi completely transforms himself into the detestable Giacinto Mazzatella. The film follows a poverty-stricken family devoid of morals living in the slums of Rome. Giacinto receives a large sum of insurance money after an accident causes him to go blind in one eye. Everyone wants a piece of his fortune, so he hides his money and sleeps with a rifle. When he falls for Iside, a promiscuous young woman, he wines and dines her, and eventually moves her into his home to live alongside his wife and children. Feeling disgraced, his wife cooks up a plot to kill him.

Over the course of his award-winning career, Manfredi juggled stage, film and television roles. He also stepped behind the camera to direct. He suffered a stroke in 2003 and passed away the following year. His son Luca carries on his filmmaking legacy, having recently directed two acclaimed movies about his father and Alberto Sordi.


Below are Manfredi's films available on Amazon. Click here to watch "The Executioner" on Criterion Channel. Click here to watch "Ugly, Dirty & Bad" for free on Tubi.


                       

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

Mimmo Verdesca's Portrait of Alida Valli Streams One Day Only in the US

A new documentary about actress Alida Valli will be available in the United States on Sunday, March 21 through the virtual film festival, Filming Italy Los Angeles. Contemporary actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno is the voice of Alida Valli in Mimmo Verdesca's new film, “Alida” aka “Alida Valli: In Her Own Words” on the Italian icon whose influence reached far beyond Italian shores.

The film consists of photos, 8mm home movies, archival video from Istituto Luce Cinecittà, Rai Teche, and Rome's film school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia as well as scenes from her most memorable films, which include Mario Soldati's "Little Ancient World," Alfred Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case," Carol Reed's "The Third Man" alongside Orson Wells, Luchino Visconti's "Senso" and Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900." The film also features testimonies of those who knew and loved her. From her family to her closest friends to the great artists who worked with her, such as Bertolucci, Vanessa Redgrave, Roberto Benigni, Charlotte Rampling, Marco Tullio Giordana and many others. Through these mediums, Verdesca's documentary showcases an extraordinary, international career that spanned 70 years in both cinema and theater.


I contacted Verdesca to ask him about the making of this film. He was very generous and forthcoming with his answers. 


Why did you want to make this documentary?

I felt the curiosity and the need to tell the story of one of the greatest and most famous actresses of Italian cinema, as no one had ever done, through the words of her private writings, letters and diaries, which, for the first time, come to life, becoming the “narrator" of the film. It's a new, intriguing and unique story in which Alida's thoughts are protagonists, telling of an extraordinary life, divided between great joys and enormous pains, made up of difficult and conflicting choices, but always sincere and in the name of love. These thoughts and experiences formed the character of Alida, first as a woman and then as an actress, in an artistic path, which was only the reflection of a mysterious and fascinating personality, often deliberately impenetrable. I wanted to show the woman behind the character and to bring out her essence. Hence the choice to use only her name "Alida" as the title of the film. These desires arose from the privilege of being the first director to deal with the immense personal archive of Alida Valli and having discovered and understood the depth of her soul, thanks to meeting with her family, her nephew Pierpaolo De Mejo, her daughter-in-law Maria Laura and her second son Larry. This vast, unprecedented and precious personal heritage can now be relived and shared by the new generations, allowing them, through my film, to discover one of the most important and representative actresses of our country, of our cinema, of our history.

 

Tell me a little about the journey of doing it and the most interesting and moving things you learned about Alida Valli.
It was truly a journey, an exciting journey, which lasted three years, spent in the incredible life of Alida Valli, in search of her soul. To do this, I had to completely immerse myself in all of her unpublished writings in order to understand the deeper meaning of every single and wonderful word, to then render it in the most sincere and faithful way possible. This was achieved through the interpretation of Giovanna Mezzogiorno's voice, one of our best actresses who shares not only talent but also a certain rigor and a certain pride of mind with Valli. Her intense and decisive voice, at times melancholic, accompanies us in a story that I have enriched with so much other repertoire material, never shown before. 


I tried to give back to the public the many emotions I experienced personally in telling Alida's story, such as her youthful love for the Turin aviator Carlo Cugnasca. It was a great love story, which ended tragically with his death in the war in 1941. The letters they exchanged are imbued with love, passion, tenderness and infinite respect. The last letters are moving, when Carlo was in Africa to fight. They're writings to which Alida and Carlo confide their fears and the hope of seeing each other again soon. Heartbreaking and desperate are those to which Alida received no answer, because Carlo was already dead, but she did not know it yet. Alida will then call her eldest son by the name of Carlo.


In your opinion, what is Alida Valli's legacy?
Alida Valli will always live in her famous interpretations that have stood the test of time. Her talent, skill, beauty and charm will continue to thrill viewers of every past and future generation around the world. Alida Valli will remain, especially thanks to my film, the example of a strong, independent, modern woman, faithful to her values and to the people she loved, "special" as her son Larry defines her in my film. In short, a great woman, simply respectable.

Verdesca added that the wonderful journey of making this film that was "undertaken with so much passion and determination" is shared with his collaborators and with all the producers of the film, Venicefilm, Kublai Film, Istituto Luce Cinecittà, MiC, Rai Cinema, Fenix ​​Entertainment, Union of Istrians and with the collaboration of the CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, which allowed him to make the film he wanted. 

"Alida" was selected for the Cannes Film Festival 2020 in the Cannes Classics section, presented at the Rome Film Fest 2020 and was nominated for the 2021 Nastri d'Argento as "Best Documentary on Cinema.

"I am really proud that the film is traveling the world in numerous festivals and I am happy that today it's also landed in Los Angeles, thanks to Tiziana Rocca who chose it and wanted fit or her prestigious Filming Italy Los Angeles," Verdesca said.


"Alida" will be available though midnight tonight Pacific Time. Click here to stream it. 




Filmmaker Mimmo Verdasca

Intervista in Italiano


Perché hai voluto realizzare questo documentario?

Ho sentito la curiosità e la necessità di raccontare la storia di una delle più grandi e celebri attrici del cinema italiano, come nessuno aveva mai fatto, attraverso le parole dei suoi scritti privati, lettere e diari, che, per la prima volta, prendono vita, diventando l’“io narrante” del film. Un racconto quindi nuovo, intrigante e unico, in cui i pensieri di Alida sono protagonisti, per narrare una vita straordinaria, divisa tra grandi gioie ed enormi dolori, fatta di scelte difficili e contrastanti, ma sempre sincere e in nome dell’amore, la cui ricerca ha condizionato e formato il carattere di Alida, prima come donna e poi come attrice, in un percorso artistico, che è stato solo il riflesso di una personalità misteriosa e affascinante, spesso volutamente impenetrabile. Ho voluto raccontare la donna dietro il personaggio per tirarne fuori l’essenza, (da qui la scelta di usare solo il suo nome "Alida" come titolo del film), nascono dal privilegio di essere il primo regista a confrontarsi con l’immenso archivio personale di Alida Valli e aver scoperto e compreso la profondità della sua anima, grazie all’incontro con la sua famiglia, suo nipote Pierpaolo De Mejo, sua nuora Maria Laura e il suo secondo figlio Larry. Questo vasto, inedito e prezioso patrimonio personale ora può rivivere ed essere condiviso anche dalle nuove generazioni, permettendo loro, attraverso il mio film, di scoprire una delle attrici più importanti e rappresentative del nostro paese, del nostro cinema, della nostra storia.

 

Raccontami un po’ il viaggio di farlo e delle cose più interessanti e commoventi che hai imparato di Alida Valli.

E' stato davvero un viaggio, un viaggio emozionante, durato tre anni, nella vita incredibile di Alida Valli, alla ricerca della sua anima. Per farlo ho dovuto immergermi completamente nella lettura di tutti i suoi scritti inediti, comprendere il significato più profondo di ogni singola e meravigliosa parola, per farla poi rivivere nel modo più sincero e fedele possibile, attraverso l'interpretazione della voce di Giovanna Mezzogiorno, una delle nostre migliori attrici che con la Valli condivide, oltre che il talento, anche una certo rigore e una certa fierezza d'animo. La sua voce intensa e decisa, a tratti malinconica, ci accompagna in un racconto che ho arricchito di tanto altro materiale di repertorio, mai mostrato prima. Le foto private e pubbliche, gli home movies a colori in 8mm, le immagini provenienti da archivi importanti, quali Istituto Luce, Rai Teche, Ina, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia di Roma, e poi le scene dei suoi film più memorabili, da "Piccolo Mondo Antico" a "The Paradine Case" di Hitchcock, da "The Third Man" al fianco di Orson Wells a Senso di Luchino Visconti, fino a Strategia del Ragno e Novecento di Bernardo Bertolucci e tantissimi altri, in una carriera internazionale durata 70 anni, vissuta intensamente tra cinema e teatro. 


Non mancano anche le testimonianze di chi l'ha conosciuta e amata. Dai sui famigliari agli amici più stretti, fino ai grandi artisti che hanno lavorato con lei, come Bernardo Bertolucci, Vanessa Redgrave, Roberto Benigni, Charlotte Rampling, Marco Tullio Giordana, Margarethe von Trotta, Thierry Frémaux, Dario Argento, Piero Tosi, e tanti altri. 


Ho cercato di restituire al pubblico le tante emozioni che ho vissuto personalmente nel raccontare la storia di Alida, come ad esempio il suo amore giovanile per l'aviatore torinese Carlo Cugnasca. Una grande storia d'amore, conclusa tragicamente con la morte di lui in guerra nel 1941. Le lettere che si scambiavano sono intrise di amore, passione, tenerezza e rispetto infinito. Commoventi sono le ultime lettere, quando Carlo è già in Africa a combattere. Scritti a cui Alida e Carlo confidano le proprie paure e la speranza dai rivedersi presto. Strazianti e disperate sono quelle a cui Alida non riceveva risposta, perché Carlo era già morto, ma lei non lo sapeva ancora. Alida poi chiamerà con il nome di Carlo il suo primogenito. 


Naturalmente tengo anche a precisare che questo "viaggio meraviglioso", intrapreso con tanta passione e determinazione, l'ho condiviso con tutti i miei collaboratori e con tutti i produttori del film, Venicefilm, Kublai Film, Istituto Luce Cinecittà, MiC, Rai Cinema, Fenix Entertainment, Unione degli Istriani e con la collaborazione del CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, che mi hanno consentito di realizzare il film che volevo. "Alida" inoltre è strato selezionato al Festival di Cannes 2020 nella sezione Cannes Classics, presentato con successo alla Festa del Cinema di Roma 2020, ed è stato candidato ai Nastri d'Argento 2021 come "miglior documentario sul cinema". 


Sono davvero orgoglioso che stia viaggiando nel mondo in numerosi festival e sono felice che oggi sia approdato anche a Los Angeles, grazie a Tiziana Rocca che lo ha scelto e voluto per il suo prestigioso FilmingItaly L.A.

 

Secondo te, qual è la sua eredità?

Alida Valli vivrà sempre nelle sue celebri interpretazioni che hanno superato la prova del tempo. Il talento, la bravura, la bellezza e il fascino continueranno ad appassionare gli spettatori di ogni generazione passate e future di tutto il mondo. Di Alida Valli resterà, anche soprattutto grazie al mio film, l'esempio di una donna forte, indipendente, moderna. Fedele ai suoi valori e alle persone che amava. "Speciale", come la definisce suo figlio Larry nel mio film. Insomma, una grande donna, semplicemente perbene.

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 ...