The Twin Cities is blessed with a cornucopia of cultural and ethnic film festivals: Nordic, Black, International, Cuban, Polish, African, Latin, Asian. This past weekend, March 6 – March 9, the 6th Annual Italian Film Festival, organized by the Italian Cultural Center with the support of the MN Film Society, took place at the St. Anthony Main Cinema. Curated by Anna Bonavita, a local chocolatier and co-founder of the Cultural Center, this year’s selections went beyond the stylized Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty (incidentally not a particularly popular film among the Italians I spoke to opening night). Watching these films you go on a real journey—documentaries and independent films that go deeper into Italy. Unlike travel films or American films, by attending international film festivals, moviegoers settle into a culture and see it as it is represented for that culture. You may not understand the nuances of some references in the films, but you will feel more inside the place than if you are standing somewhere on a piazza.
A particular focus of this film festival is to offer conversation and information following the films in the form of Q&A with relevant people. The first film this year was shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as part of the program surrounding the Sacred exhibition and Colin Covert moderated the Q&A. The festive opening party/fundraiser auction finished with an ostensibly political film, Viva La LIbertà (Long Live Freedom). The story is similar to the Kevin Kline film Dave, in this case a twin brother covers for an AWOL Senator. Actor Toni Servillo from the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, skillfully navigates the double role. Following the screening, Mossimo Bonavita, a former senator himself, fielded the questions.
Many documentaries recall Italian history, like Il restauro dei luoghi Verdiani—da Roncole a Sant’Agata passando per Busseto (Restoring Verdi’s Places—from Roncole to Sant’Agata via Busseto), Teorema Venezia (The Venice Syndrome) and the whimsical heartfelt homage to the quirky irascible Frederico Fellini by another filmmaker Ettore Scola. Scola is one of the surviving group of famous post-WWII Italian filmmakers and as UMN faculty member Lorenzo Fabbri explained, all of his colleagues have passed on; this film is his way of paying homage and remembering. In some ways it calls them all back to life using classic film footage—on Sunday this film was introduced with a Q&A that followed and was moderated by Fabbri.
Romance is extremely intimate and intense in Italian films as witnessed by the other films in the festival like Cosimo e Nicole (Cosimo and Nicole), Tutti i santi giorni (Every Blessed Day), and Gli Equilibristi (Balancing Act). On a lighter note the comedy Il Rosso e il Blu (The Red and the Blue—reminiscent of the French film La Classe) gives insight into the Italian education system and challenges faced by a young teacher.