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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Filmatique Dedicates the Month of November to Contemporary Italian Cinema

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

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

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

Click here for more information.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Celebrate Halloween with Creepy Italian Vintage Films

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

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

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

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

Watch Bloody Pit of Horror...

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

Watch Atom Age Vampire...

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

Watch Driller Killer-Uncut...

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

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

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

Watch Foolish wives (Femmine folli)

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

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

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

Buona visione and Happy Halloween!!

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Conversation with Documentary Filmmaker Luigi Di Gianni

Updated October 2019

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

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

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

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

Watch Magia Lucana...

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

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

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

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

Watch Grazia e numeri...

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

Watch Tempo di raccolta...

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

Watch Il male di San Donato...

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

Di Gianni passed away in May of 2019. My short documentary, Luigi Di Gianni: Soul of the South, which traces his filmmaking in southern Italy, premiered at the Sedicicorto Film Festival near Bologna, Italy in October of 2019 and will be shown at the Rome Independent Film Festival and Cortodino Film Festival Dino De Laurentiis in Naples in November. 

Click here to watch Luigi Di Gianni in my 2018 documentary Return to Lucania.

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 fi...