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Articles by: Chiara Montalto

  • Events: Reports

    Meet Laura Campisi, A Sicilian Jazz Musician Between Two Worlds

     What made you come to New York, where are you from in Italy and how longhave you been here? What brought you to New York and why? 

    I visited NYC for the first time in 2010 and I immediately fell in love with its vibe. Not sure how to explain it, but it felt like home to me, right away. Back then I was still in Palermo, Sicily, my hometown, and I was constantly thinking about living abroad. I really wanted to experience something different, both as an artist and on a personal level. I needed new inputs, new inspirations, and NYC was definitely the right fit. I moved here in late 2011. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years already!

     What inspires you? How does your Sicilianita or Italianita influence your music? 

    My emotions are my first source of inspiration. Whether I write about something that actually happened to me or not, whether I sing my own tunes or someone else’s, the emotions are key to my creative process. The reason why I do music has always been to communicate – with others, strangers or not, and within myself – that’s why emotions are crucial: they allow us to connect with each other on a deeper level that makes the exchange profoundly meaningful. In order to create an emotional impression that stays with the people we get in touch with, we need to give a bit of ourselves. 

    I find this process truly rewarding, even healing at times. I guess a big part of all this is the result of my being born in a gorgeous and yet incredibly violent land, an island that is – by definition – a world of its own with its own internal rules, just like the realm of human emotions. 

    In Sicily, everything is like amplified by the brightest sunlight you’ll ever see, the bluest blue, so beautiful that it hurts. Sicily doesn’t speak, it screams. Its songs are as loud as its people, and so are its laughers and weeps. That’s why I created a project, Sicily Revisited (with an album on its way), which blends Sicilian music and Jazz using their emotional common ground. There’s so much more to music than its style, in fact it should not be about the style at all. To me it’s about telling the kind of stories that every human being can relate to, using the power of emotions that make boundaries disappear. 

     What are some of the differences and similarities in the music scene in Palermo and New York? 

    Although at a different scale, both Palermo and New York are multiethnic and creative places, and I believe these two concepts are not separated. Diversity around you makes for a rich life experience, providing a multiplicity of points of view and enhancing our capability of inclusion. These are all crucial aspects of the creative process, hence of an inspiring music scene. To give you an example, I used to sing with a band of African drums and percussions when I was living in Palermo, and I perform with Pakistani musicians here in New York. Both experiences have greatly influenced me, even when I’m doing Jazz, Funk or Folk. 

    The main difference between the music scene in NYC and Palermo are the opportunities that the first one offers compared to the latter. Opportunities to me means to feel that what you are doing can really get out there, and that makes all the difference when one choses a music career. The frustration I was experiencing in Italy is what made me go away, for it was killing my creativity and making me doubt my own purposes. Being a professional musician is tough everywhere, but to know that recognition is possible is gasoline to our Ferrari, so to speak, and one cannot do without. 

    Tell me about your upcoming album, Double Mirror. 

    Double Mirror is a tribute to the enriching experience of living between two worlds, Italy and the States, and it features American and Italian rhythm sections playing together with me, as a double trio - vocals, upright bass, electric bass and two drums. The project was born before I even moved to NYC and it has grown along the years. It’s a pretty challenging experiment but I love the result and the many lessons learned in the process. 

    On June 14th, I will be leaving for Buenos Aires, Argentina to record the final vocal lines and to mix and master the album. I’ll be working with a stellar team featuring Latin Grammy-winning producer Emilio D. Miler, Grammy-winning sound engineer Ari Lavigna and Latin Grammy-winning mastering engineer Andrés Mayo. Equally upstanding is the band’s personnel: Ameen Saleem, Gregory Hutchinson, Gianluca Renzi, Flavio Li Vigni and special guests Vincent Herring, Jonathan Scales, Zach Brock and Giovanni Falzone, everyone bringing their unique voice to the choir. 

    The album has the shape of a dream: it seamlessly moves from one frame to the next with an ever-changing vibe that aims to tap into the subconscious and reveals emotions, hopes, and fears that every audience can relate to. I really can’t wait to put it out there!

     How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music? 

    I have one main goal, and that’s to touch people. When I create something that speaks to someone’s feelings - of pain, joy, reflection, lightness, etc. – I get confirmation that I’m on the right path. To me, songs are nothing but containers for the audience to fill up with their own lives, but in order for the artist to deliver such a mystical tool, there must be a profound connection. I’d like my listeners to feel like entrusting me with their purest emotions. It is a mutual give-and-take of the highest form of energy and I love the very fact that music can make it possible. 

     Tell me about your June 13 concert. When/where and what kind of music? 

    On Monday June 13th (7 to 9pm) I’ll be debuting at Zinc Bar, a well-respected jazz club in Greenwich Village. I lost count of how many times I’ve been there listening to the best cats around, and it’s not without a thrill that I’ll be bringing to the stage my project Italian Jazz, born to show the NYC international audience what Italian music is really about. Our music tradition includes some of the finest songwriters and interpreters and I feel it's time to enrich the face of Italian music abroad by sharing these compositions, so dear to Italians of all ages, and make them known outside the national borders.

    The repertoire embraces Italian songs from the 1950’s to the present and revisits them through the lens of American Jazz, combining intimate arrangements and intense Latin-inspired rhythms. The songs include evergreens from the Italian songbook, such as Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) and Parole Parole, as well as hidden gems like L’appuntamento by Ornella Vanoni and Mi sono innamorato di te by Luigi Tenco. More recent compositions by Vinicio Capossela and Cristina Dona’, plus a few originals of mine will also be featured.

    Tell me about you next project or any upcoming projects. 

    My projects for the future are to publish and push as much as possible the two albums that I am working on, Double Mirror and Sicily Revisited (see above). I’d like for them to be heard on a global scale and for my own compositions to find “friends” all over the world. That’s the dream, being able to tour performing this music in front of people of all ages, races and tongues. Of course I’m also working on new songs and have many new projects in mind, but the priority right now is to create something unique and put it out there for the people to pick it up and make it their own. Music is all about sharing, my friend! 

    Don’t forget to come to Zinc Bar on June 13 for an incredible evening of Italian music! 

    ----

    Monday, June 13, 2016 7-9PM ($12 Cover) 

    Zinc Bar 82 W.3rd St, NY

  • Op-Eds

    Thoughts and Reflections on Pope Francis in New York

    Pope Francis - to me -is the embodiment of the Catholic faith I have had the priveledge to experience through my Uncle's priesthood in Brooklyn and Queens for my entire life. To me, that is a faith of kindness, humility and love. It's not right or wrong- my religion is no better or worse than anyone else's (nor anyone's lack of faith or religion, to be clear). It is a faith I have witnessed time and again in action, through his example.  I've often felt that there was a disconnect between the insitution of the Church and the living faith. Just as my Uncle has  bridged that disconnect for the last 40 years in Brooklyn and Queens, Pope Francis is now doing in the world.  

    When the opportunity arose to see the Pope's motorcade in Central Park, I knew it would be an incredibly special day in my life.  Though I would have loved to have attended with my Uncle, he had his own special invitation that day- one of the concelebrants of the Mass Pope Francis said  at Madison Square Garden.
     

    My dear friend Gillian Camille Winn and I met early in Manhattan, and arrived at our entrance to Central Park before 11:A.M. Though we were among the first at our entrance, a sea of people lined the streets.  It was nearly 2.P.M. before we made it through security and into the park. We found a spot at the front of the gate and parked ourselves for the afternoon.  

    People flowed in slowly and surely, and our little spot soon became a tiny neighborhood: a kind family with a college age son discussing his first week of classes, an Ecuadorian woman with her own radio show, and a strikingly beautiful Mexican woman with her two daughters, one a fourteen year old, Kelsey, and the other, a four year old with Down's syndrome, Sammy.

    As Sammy  slept, her big sister Kelsey befriended Gillian and me. Soon enough, little Sammy opened her eyes, took one look at me and extended her arms for me to pick her up. I glanced at her mom for permission and scooped the child up. Sammy and I spent the next several hours together. She would not let me put her down, instead staying in my arms taking turns playing games and dozing off. She was an absolute joy. But, of course, by this point our little neighborhood had gotten a lot more populated. Sammy's mom was now somewhat behind me, but Kelsey was by my side, her little sister still in my arms.

    At times the force of the crowd pushing up on us was too much, but the police officers kept all under control. The air was joyful and full of love in a way I have never experienced. Kelsey tapped my shoulder. "Chiara, look up," she said pointing upwards toward the gorgeous rainbow in the blue sky directly above our heads. "It's a sign," she said, wiser than her fourteen years. "I believe it," I agreed. "Pope Francis has been sent to deliver the message the world needs, to love each other," Kelsey agreed.

    Then the motorcade started coming. NYPD helicopters anf fighter jets held the airspace in the sky. Twice more, Kelsey pointed upwards to rainbows in the cloudless sky. "Definitely a sign," she said. The crowd chanted in Spanish " Se ve, se siente, El Papa esta presente." Cell phones were raised, cameras ready.  As Pope Francis passed us, without thinking, I raised up little Sammy as high as I could, and just as he passed, he turned and blessed us, I swear looking right at her. I said a silent prayer, tears streaming down my face. In a moment, he was gone. Sammy and Kelsey gave me goodbye hugs and disappeared back into the beautiful mosaic that is New York City.

    Later, at Madison Square Garden, in his eloquent homily, Il Papa said it better than I ever could.
     
    "Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be."
     





  • Events: Reports

    In Scena! Italian Theatre Festival. A Conversation with Laura Caparotti



        Through May 20, the In Scena! Italian Theatre Festival is happening in all five boroughs of New York City. The Festival brings Italian theatre, performed in both English and Italian, to American audiences. It  organized and run by the extraordinary Laura Caparotti, artistic director of Kairos Italy Theatre, and my friend.  Recently, Laura and I sat down at Ribalta Pizza to talk theatre, art, and In Scena!, 

    What first brought you to New York City?

         Believe it or not, theater. I didn’t come here to do theater, I came here to escape Italian theater. I was very upset about the politics of Italian theater and I decided to spend 9 months in New York, where I had been coming for three summers to study dance and English. It was September 1996. Long time ago…

    Tell me about the genesis of Kairos Italy Theatre and In Scena? 

           Kairos Italy Theater has an Italian passport, at least the name Kairos. In fact, before moving to New York, my very first company in Rome was called Kairos. I loved the name and the idea behind the name: Kairos is a semi-god from Greek mythology. It represents the occasion taken at the right moment. In fact, Kairos has hair only in his forehead and not in the back of his head, because you could grab it only when it arrives and not when it leaves. After many years, Kairos Italy Theater got more and more recognition, and we were the main Italian theater company in New York. At that point,  I thought it was time for In Scena! Basically, both ideas come from one single consideration: there is too little Italian theater in New York and Italian theater is so great - everyone should be able to see it. 

     How do you choose pieces? Are there themes to your choices? 

        I am mostly interested in social and political work. I love comedies and some of the masterpieces of our literature, like the Decameron. Yet, sometimes the work chooses me. Thanks to collaboration and commissions I have been able to work on Calvino and on Dante, for instance. One of the upcoming projects is about Eduardo Migliaccio known as Farfariello. Even though I know who he was,  it’s only because I was asked to read some of his sketches for an event that I got thinking and now I am preparing an entire show dedicated to him.

    Are  the pieces performed in English or Italian? 

        Always bilingual. Both KIT and In Scena! are always bilingual, it’s our mark, basically. I do believe in the strength of original language. Many are afraid that people are not understanding, and I see that they actually understand more. 

    What can people expect from an In Scena event? 

        To be amazed… and to see wonderful, and I mean wonderful, theater. And to understand and enjoy even if such theater comes from another country. The groups that will showcase their work at the Festival are not only awarded and all in business for many years, they are also a great taste of what my country creates on stage. Just to show that we are not only pizza, mandolino, spaghetti and… you know what! 

    Is there an Italian counterpart to In Scena New York concurrently happening in Rome? 

          I wish!  Making theater in Italy is not easy, organizing festivals is even harder. The bureaucracy kills everything… so, no, there is not. In Italy, I am part of KIT Italia and we do organize some collaborative work with Americans and International artists. Right now, for instance, we are trying to bring in 2016 a very successful New York based theater company to Rome and other Italian cities.

    What is the typical American response to Italian theatre? 

        It’s great. Very often they have a surprised look in discovering that Italian theater is exportable and good. It’s like ‘this is Italian, but I get it’. We have found many collaborators from performing. For instance, Bernie Wohl Center, a community center, has In Scena! and KIT  every year. They love us and their audience, which is not used to foreign theater, if theater at all, come to many performances. Again, the skeptical ones are usually the theater artistic directors…

    Have you noticed any particular universalities in your audiences? 

        No, I must say that we are having a very variegated audience. Of course, at the beginning they were mostly people interested in Italian culture, but now we have reached out to different kinds of audience… I can say now that we have audiences who love good theater!


    Tell me some of the difficulties about performing Italian works in the United States?

        It is mostly in the mind of the people and I must say, especially in the ones of the theater directors or owners. Unless they are used to theater from other cultures and other languages, one of the questions I am asked more often is why do I want to do Italian theater in New York… and how people can get these plays. And the question is not about the language, but the culture. I always answer that it is theater, very good theater, translated, adapted and well acted. So, to answer your question, the real challenge is to find theaters not so concentrated only to American and British theater.

     What is in store for In Scena and Kairos? What is next? 

     Relax! Just kidding… KIT has a brand new website. In June we’ll be holding audition for the company, then we need to organize 2015-16 as we have already some tours planned. And a longer run for our recent production of the Decameron and the Mandrake Root. And of course, there is my project on Farfariello. For In Scena! I aim to have the calendar ready by December 2015, so we can arrive to May 2016 with many  events and collaborations. I have the feeling that I will achieve such dream. 

    I’m sure of it, Laura!  Check out the schedule  and information below and see and In Scena! show. 

     

     

    In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY 

    8 Full Productions Presented in All 5 Boroughs

    May 4 - 20, 2015

    Kairos Italy Theater (KIT), the preeminent Italian theater company in New York, presents the third annual IN SCENA! ITALIAN THEATER FESTIVAL NY. This 17-day festival will offer 8 fully-staged productions from Italy, among other events and activities. Shows will be presented in all five boroughs of New York at venues including The Secret Theater, Theatre For The New City, BAAD, Brooklyn College, John Jay College, and Center of the Arts at College of Staten Island. Each show will have at least two performances, one in Manhattan and one in an outer borough. All are presented in English or with English supertitles. Performances run May 4 - 20, 2015. Tickets formost full productions are $15 and readings are $5. An All-Access Pass is available for for $75. For more details and tickets visit www.inscenany.com or call 646-850-7056.

    FULL PRODUCTIONS:

     

    Angiulina The Mule

    by and starring Rossella Raimondi

    When a country girl moves to the city she is cursed to become a mule -- a servant to her depressed husband and an anorexic daughter.

    • Thursday, May 7 at 6:00pm at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo at NYU (24 W 12th St, Manhattan).

     

    Broken Dances – in Pasolini’s Bubble 

    by and starring Benedetta Capanna / Excursus Company (Rome/Lazio).

    This dance theater piece takes audiences on a stroll through the contradictions of Roman daily life punctuated by the echoes of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the greatest poets and intellectuals of contemporary Italy (and to whomIn Scena! 2015 is dedicated, on the 40th anniversary of his death). Presented in collaboration with IDaCO NYC, the Italian Dance Connection.

    • Monday, May 18 at 8:30pm at BAAD (2474 Westchester Ave, Bronx).

     

    Chez Dimì

    by Giuseppe Sinatra / DimiDimitri Company (Novara/Piemonte).

    A butler tries to lift the spirits of an old lady on her birthday with sketches, jokes and circus-like stunts. DimiDimitri is a clowning-based theater that has received numerous important Italian and international accolades.

    Wednesday, May 13 at 4:00pm at Church of St. John’s (300 Bloomfield Street at 3rd St, Hoboken, NJ).

    • Thursday, May 14 at 4:00pm at Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center (610 E 186th St, Bronx).

    • Friday, May 15 at 7:00pm at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo at NYU (24 W. 12th St, Manhattan).

     

    Cingomma

    by and starring Jessica Leonello (Brescia/Lombardia).

    This comic monologue tells the stories of migrants returning home to their roots, travelling backwards through the history of Italy and its changing customs. 2012 Petroni Award winner, 2014 Offerta creative/teatrinrete Award winner. 

    • Thursday, May 7 at 7:30pm at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo at NYU (24 W 12th St, Manhattan).

     

    Ninetta and the Others

    by Damiana Leone / Errare Persona Company (Frosinone/Lazio).

    This drama tackles the difficult theme of rape as an instrument of war. Based on a mass rape that happened during WWII. Winner of Amnesty International's Chimere Award.

    • Monday, May 11 at 7:30pm at Theater for the New City (155 1st Avenue, Manhattan).

    • Tuesday, May 12 at 6:00pm at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Alumni Association (524 West 59th Street, Manhattan).

     

    Taddrarite – Bats

    by Luana Rondinelli / Accura Teatro Company (Trapani/Sicilia).

    Three sisters find the courage – and sarcasm – to talk about incidences of domestic violence. Winner of the 2014 Rome International Fringe Festival Award.

    Saturday, May 16  & Sunday, May 17 at 7:30pm at Bernie Wohl Center at Goddard Riverside (647 Columbus Ave, Manhattan). 

    • Tuesday, May 19 at 7:30pm at Brooklyn College (2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn).

    • Wednesday, May 20 at 6:00pm at Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Avenue, Manhattan).

     

    Viola di Mare 

    by and starring Isabella Carloni, based on the novel Minchia di re by Giacomo Pilati / Rovine Circolari Company (Ancona/Marche).

    Viola di Mare is a salt-water fish that is born female but then turns into a male after laying its eggs. This is the true story of a 19th century girl who dresses like a man to escape her father’s fury and the bigotry of her island village.

    • May 4 at 7:30pm at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo at NYU (24 W. 12th St, Manhattan).

    • Tuesday, May 19 at 7:30pm at Brooklyn College (2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn).

     

    Webulli

    by Ermanno Nardi / Elea Teatro and Industria Scenica Company (Milanno/Lombardia).

    Bullying on social networks is the subject of this dark comedy that explores the digital exchange of explicit materials. 

    READINGS:

     

    Le Beatrici

    by Stefano Benni. – directed by Margherita Peluso. 

    A series of monologues that explore our complex and troubled society through the eyes of contermporary women, titled after Dante’s muse. 

    • Saturday, May 9 at 3:30pm The Secret Theater (44-02 23rd Street, Long Island City, Queens).

    Giuseppe Musolino: a Drama in Acts 

    by Giuseppe Morabito – directed by Evan T. Cummings

    A very special world premiere of a play discovered by Evan T. Cummings in his attic. The play was written by his great-grandfather, a reporter and writer from Calabria, who often traveled between the US and Italy and was one of the reporters for the trial of legendary folk hero Brigante Musolino. 

    • Thursday, May 14 at 6:00pm at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Alumni Association (524 West 59 street, Manhattan)

     

    The Alibi of God

    by Francesco Randazzo. During a dark night, a priest faces the ghost of a young man whom he loved passionately. 

    • Monday, May 18 at 6:30pm at BAAD (2474 Westchester Ave, Bronx).

    IN SCENA! ITALIAN THEATER FESTIVAL NY was founded in 2013. That year, it was chosen as an official event representing Italian culture in the US under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic with the Patronage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C. For more information on IN SCENA! ITALIAN THEATER FESTIVAL NY visit www.inscenany.com.





    EVENTS BY DATE:

    Thursday, May 14

    NeON Center (198 East 161st, Bronx, NY).

    noon – Free Verse meets In Scena!

    Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center (610 E 186th St, Bronx)

    4:00pm – Chez Dimi

    John Jay College of Criminal Justice Alumni Association (524 West 59 street, Manhattan)

    6:00pm –  Giuseppe Musolino: a Drama in Acts

    Friday, May 15

    Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo at NYU (24 W. 12th St, Manhattan).

    7:00pm – Chez Dimi

    Saturday, May 16  & Sunday, May 17

    Bernie Wohl Center at Goddard Riverside (647 Columbus Ave, Manhattan).

    7:30pm – Taddrarite-Bats

    Monday, May 18

    BAAD (2474 Westchester Ave, Bronx).

    6:30pm – L’alibi di Dio – the Alibi of God

    8:30pm – Broken Dances – In Pasolini’s Bubble

    Tuesday, May 19

    Brooklyn College (2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn).

    6:00pm – Taddrarite-Bats

    7:30pm – Viola di Mare

    Wednesday, May 20

    Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Avenue, Manhattan).

    6:00pm – Taddrarite-Bats

    Bread, 20 Spring Street, Manhattan

    8:00pm – Closing Night.

     

     

  • Life & People

    HUNGRY FOR LOVE: A Conversation about Food, Cinema & Amore!


    Justin Ambrosino and I became fast friends at a playwriting group at the Calandra Institute years ago. A graduate of the prestigious American Film Institute, his short film "The 8th Samurai", won more than 20 jury awards worldwide and qualified for an Academy Award.


    Soojin Chung, originally from South Korea, and also a graduate of AFI, produced "Escape from Tomorrow" which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and has been both critically and commercially acclaimed. As a matter of fact, we were all briefly, housemates when I was in LA doing a run of my own play!




    "Hungry for Love" will be their first feature collaboration. The film, which is backed by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent & Filmmaker Magazine is the story of two strangers who meet for the first time and embark on a five-borough culinary adventure through NYC! Their Kickstarter campaign, which recently launched, is already gaining traction and is a Kickstarter Staff Pick because it is considered one of the best campaign videos seen! So to support them on their journey from script to screen, we ate a dinner, prepared by Justin, of linguine with shrimps and arugula, grilled bronzino and a cold bottle of Falaghina, and we had a chat, a chiacherata if you will, about three of my favorite topics: food, cinema and amore.

    CM: Justin, tell me about growing up in the restaurant business and your family. Where was the restaurant? What are your earliest memories of it?

    JA: My father comes from Torre del Greco, a city situated on the bottom of Mt. Vesuvius. He opened an Italian restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1977 and sold it over five years ago. So, it was a 35 year run for him. I am 33. It was all I knew. My earliest memories involve the scent of my father when he’d come home at night. He worked 7 days a week in the beginning and stayed past closing because he had to shut down every night. I remember... when he'd tiptoe into my room to give me a good night kiss, he had this potent smell that was a mixture of baked clams, fried calamari and lingering cigarette smoke!




    Then, came the parties we'd throw every Christmas. The restaurant would close and our family would take over. We'd share presents, eat Lobster Fra Diavola and all us kids would whack a pinata full of candy until it popped. Good memories. But as soon as I turned 15, I went to work as a busboy, and from that point on my eyes were opened up to the reality of it all, a mixture of good and bad. The next ten years working there would be my coming of age through all things food related.

    CM: What about you, Soojin, what are your earliest food memories? Were you always a foodie?

    SC: Growing up, I was never interested in food. I was an unusual kid because I didn't ask for candy, chocolate, ice cream or hamburgers like the other children. But since I met Justin, eight years ago, I found another side of myself that I never knew existed. When we worked on our first film at AFI together, Justin invited all the crew to his tiny apartment for our first production meeting (that's where we are supposed to discuss all the details of making the film). But when I arrived, Justin was sweating, frying fresh shrimp, making dough from scratch, he was cooking up a feast! Then, as we ate, all everyone discussed was food and wine. It was definitely a delicious dinner, made with love and care, but after 3 hours of talking and eating, I wondered when the production meeting would begin! In that moment, I became a bit of a foodie myself.



    CM: How are food and love connected? Loaded question, I know.

    JA: There is nothing better than spending the rest of your life eating delicious food with someone who makes you feel special. I mean there is no way to sum up happiness any other way. Think about when you travel somewhere, when you return home, family and friends always ask, "how was the food?", and, "did you meet any cute girls? Guys?" Why? Because that is what defines a good time! Sure, you can be with someone you love and eat a bad meal but still be happy, or you can be with someone you don't love but eat a good meal and still be happy. But if you put them together? There's nothing better!




    As far as the loaded topic of food goes, well, I try not to think about it too much. I don't know where I fit in it all. There are tons of books, TV shows, studies and debates about food in the media. But for me, I distill it to the essence, it doesn't matter what you eat, or how you eat it, you die. We only get one turn around the globe and that's it. Food, and love, are two things that can helps us get through it all. We need food to live and love to survive.


    CM:
    So then why "Hungry for Love"? Why now?

    JA: This is my first feature, and I want to tell a story that will bridge my past and my present, leading the way for my future. Using food, restaurants and New York City as the backdrop, I will be able to fill every frame with the things I love the most and that made me who I am today. For example, I made the male lead, Giovanni, an Italian American from Staten Island, who delivers pastries. I used to deliver pastries myself and know all the details about the job and of course about reataurants, Staten Island and being Italian American. You see, all these characters are based on some sort of reality in my life. They are all dealing with issues like student debt, Hurricane Sandy, weight, and possibly related illnesses – issues my family faces everyday. Sadly, even my father just suffered a minor heart attack – despite being skinny!  But he is fine now. So, we know a bit of the reality of it all. Finally, there is my love of food and New York and how one night out in the city, eating amazing food can transform you and your outlook on life. Basically, the story itself is a reflection of how I feel right now and how the ones I love feel, and throughout the story there are many hints about the things I will surely be making movies about in the future!




    As for why now? Well, luckily for me, food is a very hot topic currently. Coming from where I do, I would have written about food no matter what, but right now is the perfect time for something like this. But I want to tell a different side of the story then I am used to seeing. There is an overwhelming amount of media out there that makes a fuss about food, what it is, how we eat it, what it does to our bodies and how to prevent this or that. Now, that's all great and important, but for me, sometimes I just want to eat and not think about it, you know... actually enjoy myself, live in the moment. I know it is sometimes an all-too-brief moment, but that is why my movie takes place in one night. It tries to captures that moment of ecstasy before it all fades away.

    CM: Soojin, what about you? Why are you interested in telling this story now?

    SC: I came to America, from South Korea, in 2006, and gained about 20 pounds while living in LA. Now, that's not the reason for "Hungry for Love", this is... you see, two years ago, I went back to South Korea for the post-production of my previous film "Escape From Tomorrow" and suddenly I was looked at differently. Korean people were shocked and deeply concerned about my weight, age and my single status. All together, I became an un-ideal woman, and that's when I realized how I am categorized in Korean society and what that feels like. When I came back, Justin and I had a discussion about how miserable I was feeling. He related it to the his own family and their stories. I thought there was something really touching about that and worth telling. Justin mentioned he did have a love story he wanted to tell set in that world and so we began to develop it. I think it is important to tell this story to combat the overwhelming amount of beauty & fitness advertisements preaching just the opposite.



    CM: So the movie has many sides to the story! When will the audiences expect to see "Hungry for Love" in the theaters?

    SC: We plan on having our premiere in 2016 at some festival around the world! Then would will be in the theaters shortly afterwards. It seems like a long way away but that's the reality of filmmaking. But all this will not be possible unless we succeed our Kickstarter campaign, so it's really up to your readers and all the people out there to make our dreams come true! Even $1 will help!

    If you enjoyed this conversation and would to know more about Justin and Soojin and their wonderful New York City Food Film, please take a look at their Kickstarter campaign, contribute to their dream to make it possible and then go back to enjoying life; to the all important quest for love and good food.

  • Facts & Stories

    The Never Forgotten Face


     I never knew your name, but your face is etched forever in my mind. That cheerful and smiling face that greeted me warmly every afternoon as you brought  the mail to our office,  on John Street and Broadway, back when lower Manhattan was still lower Manhattan, grey, seedy and industrial but so beautiful, so New York.  

    I knew everyone on John Street:  the coffee cart guy, the token booth clerk, the shoemaker on the corner and the illegal immigrants who would sell their wares until the cops came, and then re-appear twenty minutes later, and everyone knew me.  But you were always my favorite.  Probably because instead of just dropping the mail, you would take the time to chit-chat, make small talk, before taking whatever mail had to go out. In my circumstance, you knew that I really didn’t want that day job;  that I had big, lofty ideas and that I wanted, more than anything,  to be acting. You would take whatever submissions my hopeful heart had prepared the night before, and you’d always say ‘Fingers crossed for you, kid. Hail Marys said.” You didn’t just carry the mail; you carried my hopes and dreams.

    Randomly and strangely, I called out of work that day. I was not sick and there was no excuse. I remember the odd sound my brand new cell phone made when everyone was calling me at the same time. I remember going to Owls Head Park with my grandfather and watching in stunned silence; one of the few times I ever saw tears role down his cheek; I remember the sound of the voice of the woman I reached when I called the Staten Island public high school where my mother taught, telling me her husband worked in the Towers and she couldn’t get through; I remember the sound of my own mother’s voice when she finally heard mine, she had just walked out of her classroom thinking that I was down there, as I always was,  not knowing I'd called out.  I remember the sight of the paper that fell like snow in the backyard, I remember the hope that I’d held onto  that those I knew who were missing would somehow be found. I remember not wanting to remember.

     

    A few days later, I was back in Lower Manhattan, back to the regular, going on, trudging forward. Walking down John Street, like I always did, only this time the smell of death and the clanks and bangs  were inescapable and incomprehensible all at once. And there you were, like you always were, though this time, instead of the usual “Fingers crossed for you kid, Hail Marys said,” you just put your arms around me as we both wept. “Thank God, you’re ok kid, I was praying for you.” 

  • Events: Reports

    Festivals: the Preservation of Culture

    Late Summer. The season for Feasts, fairs and block parties in New York and beyond. A few years ago, I  was in Cleveland, Ohio visiting a dear friend, Kristian Campana. Walking through the Italian neighborhood in Cleveland, Kristian introduced me to a Cassata cake.  As you'll see in his article, it's a tad different than the traditional Sicilian Cassata.

    Last year, Kristian started writing about all types of festivals in Ohio. Last weekend, he attended Cleveland's largest Italian Festival, the 112 year old, Feast of the Assumption. In the spirit of late summer Feasts and Festivals, here is his wonderful article.

    Enjoy!

    Thank you, Kristian!

    Festivals:  the Preservation of Culture

    By Kristian Campana

    I love festivals for their variations in themes, food and activity.  Since I started blogging about Ohio festivals last year, I’ve been to more than 70.

    They’re more than just funnel cakes and rides.  They’re celebrations created to bring people together for particular reasons.  A corn festival, for example, may be the perfect way to sell the harvest surplus.  A frog jumping festival may be a fun excuse to educate children about nature. 

    This past weekend, I attended Cleveland’s biggest Italian festival – the Feast of the Assumption.  Now in its 112th year, the festival brought in over 100,000 people who came to eat and celebrate all things Italian.

    ...the festival does more than just celebrate Italian culture.  It preserves it.

    From 1870 to 1920, a period before radio and television could help unify Italy through the language of Dante, more than 20,000 Italians came to Cleveland from cultures not tied so much to the country of Italy as they were to various Italian towns. My great grandparents from Barrea (Abruzzo), Bovalino (Calabria), and Cefalu’ (Sicily) didn’t understand each other when they arrived in the States, nor did they prepare the same dishes at home.  They spoke different dialects, were accustomed to different foods and had different customs entirely. 

    They might as well have been from different countries.
    But thanks to neighborhood churches, something magical happened in those Italian neighborhoods.  In order to raise funds for the church, those Italians came together. 
    They prepared dishes known in their native towns and provided entertainment through local song and dance.  When the non-Italian community first came to the festival to behold this new culture growing right there in Cleveland, they discovered many interesting things - tarantellas, pizza, pizzelle (ferratelle), zeppole, grappa, and morra.  All these varied elements and more came together to create a definition of what Italian culture was.

    Of course, the Cleveland community’s definition of Italian may differ slightly from other cities.
    To give an example of this, I present you with the Cleveland cassata cake.

    Consisting of yellow cake, a whipped cream topping and a filling of strawberries and custard, it’s not like the popular Sicilian cassata, nor the lesser-known Tuscan or Abruzzese versions.  But it is part of Cleveland’s Italian culture, probably resulting from an Italian immigrant bringing it over and integrating it into the local culture.  If there had been a greater influence of Sicilian immigrants, perhaps this version may have never taken hold.  But it’s now the only cassata cake that the Clevelander knows because it was the only one integrated in that definition of Italian culture. 

    Of course, this isn’t to say that Cleveland holds an inaccurate definition of the Italian culture.  The Italian culture was evolving long before Cleveland’s wave of Italian immigration and it’s still evolving today.

    The Cleveland Feast of the Assumption is an example of a 100 year old cultural definition based on its blend of Italian immigrants.  It’s a cultural time-capsule of how Italy once was at the time it was created - like an album filled with the snapshots carried over by each of those immigrants of that time period.   And, although the details of those snapshots have faded away or been substituted by the descendents of those immigrants, festivals like the Feast of the Assumption have done what they could to preserve them. 

     I’m sure similar instances have occurred around the world in other cities of Italian immigration.  And, if you attended Italian festivals in those cities, you may find other preserved stages in the evolution of Italy’s culture.

    Perhaps you would find other treasures like the Cleveland cassata cake.  Or perhaps various customs no longer practiced in Italy.

    No matter where you go to celebrate the Italian tradition, it’s important to keep it alive.  And what better way than by attending an Italian festival?

    Because, even if you didn’t end up gaining any insight about your heritage or yourself, there’s always good food and people to make it worthwhile.

     

  • Art & Culture

    A Conversation with the Creative Team Behind "Beyond Wiseguys: Italian-Americans and the Movies"


    The film, which was Executive Produced by Rosanne DeLuca Braun and John Turturro, was broadcast last year on PBS. It deals with the many contributions and challenges that Italian-Americans have made in the movie industry. The film features an array of film luminaries such as Mr. Turturro, Marisa Tomei, Susan Sarandon, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Tucci, Ben Gazzara, Isabella Rossellini, with commentary by historians and scholars including - among others -  Professor Fred Gardaphe and writer George DeStefano.


    Recently, the film has been re-developed as an educational tool, featuring a dvd accompanied by a Teachers’ Guide, written by Professor Gardaphe. In honor of Italian-American history month, the film will have a special one-time only screening in Gloucester, MA on October 11 at the Cape Ann Community Cinema.  I recently interviewed Ms. DeLuca Braun, Professor Fred Gardaphe and director Steve Fischler of Pacific Street Films, about the film.

    CM- What lead you to make the film? What inspired it? How did Pacific Street  Films get involved?

    RB- When I curated a film festival focusing on the history of Italian Americans in Hollywood for Long Island's  Cinema Arts Centre, it was awall- to -wall sellout, so I knew I was onto a story that needed telling. As I did the research, looking deeper into the intersection between the Italian immigrant experience and Hollywood history, I became inspired to tell the story of how Italians put their heritage, their experience and their creativity to work in the service of American movies. In caseyou haven't guessed, I'm Italian.

    SF- Rosanne Braun came to Pacific Street Films with the idea of making a documentary  about Italian Americansand the film industry.  We thought it was interesting and a subjectthat hadn't really been explored in a serious way, so we partnered on the project.

    CM- What was the experience of producing like? Your biggest challenge? Biggest reward?

    RB- Producing the film, even though it was my first, was a lot like producing film festivals, of which I have done many: you bring together the best resources you can find, raise the money to support their work, ride herd on keeping the story and message intact, and somehow

    get the whole thing to the finish line. Besides raising the money, which took several years, the biggest challenge was shaping our final hour-long film from the 40 hours of great interview materials we had from our celebrity guests. Thank god my co-producers, Steve Fischler and JoeSucher of Pacific Street Films, had more than enough experience and skill to make it happen. The biggest reward, of course, was sitting in theaters and hearing the audiences enjoy the film thoroughly.

     
    SF- There were two challenges we faced in making the film. The biggest – often the case with documentaries -- is raising the money.  This was difficult and helps account for the fact that it took a few years to make the film.  Rosanne Braun spearheaded this effort and she worked tirelessly and successfully in making sure the film was completed.  The second challenge was to take a history that spans over 100 years and involves countless people and shape it into a coherent and strong hour.  What we ended up doing -- successfully we feel -- is combining the compelling interviews we conducted within a chronological framework that ranged from the early days of cinema to the Italian American filmmakers and artists working today.

    CM- How did John Turturro come on board as an Executive Producer?

    RB- I had gotten to know John during my work for the Cinema Arts Centre, and knew how strongly he felt about his own Italian-American background.

    Once I put together the outline of the story I wanted to tell, I sent it to him. He called me almost immediately and signed on as Executive Producer. His involvement encouraged many other well-known film artiststo give us interviews, like Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Spike Lee, Ben Gazzara, Paul Sorvino.....almost everyone we met, in fact.

    CM- What led you to create a Teachers Guide?

    RB- The film deals with how Italian Americans are stereotyped in Hollywood movies, and how that affects Italian American filmmakers  themselves, as well as American audiences, so it's a topic that applies to any racial or ethnic group and integrates perfectly into classes on history, social sciences, media and literature. It seemed a natural for high schools and colleges, and with Professor Fred Gardaphe's help, we  were able to create a Teachers' Guide that assists teachers with classroom discussion, homework assignments and special projects.

    FG- The main goal of the teachers guide is to aid teachers and discussion  leaders in preparing the film for classroom use and to stimulate teachers’ own interpretations.

    CM- What would you like to see happen as a result of the Teachers Guide?

    RB- I think media literacy is one of the most important things that can be taught in our media-overloaded culture, so I hope that in a small way we are helping people to think about what they're consuming as popular culture stereotypes, and not just absorb them unthinkingly.

    FG- I would like to see the guide used by teachers so that it would make their  work a little easier.  I also hope that it will inspire them to do other things with the materials.  

    SF- We would like to see teachers use the film and the teachers guide to discuss the  way Italians and Italian-Americans are represented -- and misrepresented -- in popular culture.  There has been a prevailing stereotypical and demeaning association with ItalianAmericans and this needs to presented in a direct and responsible manner.

    Check out the trailer for the film here.





  • Art & Culture

    Justin Ambrosino's "The 8th Samurai" eligible for Oscar Nomination

    Justin Ambrosino,  who was recently interviewed on i- italy, is happy to announce that his film  THE 8TH SAMURAI  has won the top prize THE BEST OF FEST AWARD at the LA SHORTS FEST which means it now qualifies for the Academy Awards! The film has already won seven awards at festivals in the US and abroad.

    The film,  about a struggling actor in  1950's  Japan, was shot in black and white and is in Japanese, has a universal message of hope and survival. Justin, an Italian-American from Staten Island, went out to LA to attend AFI a few years ago.  "The 8th Samurai" was made as Justin's thesis at the American Film Institute.

    Justin recently said "I''m proud of THE 8TH SAMURAI and how far it is going. I think it is a film that deserves an audience because it was made for them. We all tried so hard to make the audience feel something. Though the film isn't timely, it's timeless, though its not political, its emotional and though it's Japanese, it is still universal. This award gives the film a chance to be seen by more and more people and that is such a luxury when it comes to a short film. Me and my whole cast and crew are so extremely grateful."

     "The process to being nominated is very competitive. First, you have to be shortlisted which means they choose ten films out of the best 100, more or less, best short films from around the world. Then that gets cut down to five. It involves a lot of factors, but after winning this award and qualifying, well anything is possible. At least the film will be watched by the Academy which makes me happy.

    This award causes awareness about the film and it gives the film a chance to be seen by more and more people. That is such a luxury when it comes to a short film. I think it is a film that deserves an audience because it was made for them. We all tried so hard to make the audience feel something.
     

    Fellow filmmakers, festival jurors, my teachers, AFI alumni and the audience have always believed the film could be a possible contender for the Academy but I never imagined it would go this far. I'm proud of THE 8TH SAMURAI.
     

    I have a lot I want to do in my life, a lot of dreams to fulfill, goals to accomplish, stories to tell and right now, at this time in my life, it is probably the most important thing that could happen to me. Now I can continuing pushing forward with great excitement, confidence and most importantly hope."

    Bravo, Justin! Keep your eyes peeled for this VERY talented director.
    Don't forget to watch the trailer and read the articles.

  • Art & Culture

    A Conversation with Justin Ambrosino


    Several years ago, in a writing group at the Calandra Institute, I got to know a young film director named Justin Ambrosino. Justin grew up in Staten Island, to an Italian American family, and has been writing plays and scripts for years. He was accepted to AFI's film program, and relocated to Los Angeles. His first film "The 8th Samurai" was recently completed and has won the Jury Prize at the Sonoma International Film Festival, The Audience Award at the Big Muddy Film Festival and Best Director, Best Film and Best Actor Awards at the Show Off Your Short Festival. On June 5th, “The 8th Samurai” will screen at the Staten Island Film Festival. It will screen at 2 PM at the College of Staten Island Recital Hall - 2800 Victory Blvd. Staten Island, NY 10301. Below is a conversation that Justin and I recently had about his film, his career, and inspiration. You can view the trailer for “The 8th Samurai” below.

     

    Tell me a little bit about you.

    I was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up on Staten Island. My father was born in Torre del Greco and my mother was born in New Jersey. Some highlights of my youth are: my cousin married Kirk Hammet of Metallica (they are now divorced) and I spent a lot of time backstage at their concerts. I was scouted to play for the U.S. Olympic Development Soccer Team but quit before tryouts. And I can say that that most important thing is that I spent most of my youth working at my father's restaurant, Ponte Vecchio, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I spent many long days and all nights there until closing. At the restaurant, I watched people, heard stories, made friends and enemies, and learned about life in all its glory and ugliness.

    In 2000, I started making movies and I worked as a PA on films such as “The Departed,” “Lord of War”, “The Producers” and the television programs “The Jury”, “The Sopranos” and “Unscripted”. During that time, I made short 16mms films, became a film journalist and interviewed many filmmakers about the ups and downs of the business. Soon, I applied to American Film Institute, and was awarded the Patricia Hitchcock Scholarship and went on to make “The 8th Samurai” as my thesis film.

     

    What inspires you

    I don't think there is a day that goes by that I'm not inspired by something. It can be someone's face, a piece of music, a train ride, a bad memory, a foreign language, a good story, the thought of love, an old friend, my family. I am afraid I will never be able to ever catch up on my inspirations.

     

    What made you decide to tell a story in a foreign language and in black and white?

     I never set out to direct a Black and White Japanese film. I had always wanted to make films in foreign countries, but I had imagined that that would take me years to do. Then this opportunity came and the material required it. The story was set in 1950’s Japan so... it just felt right. The very first images of the film in my head were black and white. My cinematographer and I talked about and explored the idea of shooting in color, but ultimately, the story rejected those ideas. In addition to the creative reasons, black and white was also practical because it helps to sell the period, and make the production design more real, and transport the audience immediately to the past. Having the actors speak Japanese was just natural. It was one way to make it more real, and more true to the material. Everything came from the story.


     
    Did you encounter resistance when you were pitching “The 8th Samurai” because of that?

    I would say yes and no. The AFI faculty always loved the script. From the beginning they enthusiastically supported me and the story.  But when I mentioned my vision of it, it seemed as though it had contrasted with their vision of what it should be. Some even thought it was going to be like a Saturday Night Live sketch, others thought that the black and white might make it look like a cheap independent film. Once, I heard at school, "Why make it in black and white and all in the Japanese language? Don't you want a job in Hollywood?" So there was always this mix of the school loving the story and then being scared that my ideas were too ambitious. But after the film was made and they saw it, they understood and complemented my vision. I always felt support but also some doubt which wound up being a challenge for me to prove myself.

     

    How long did it take from start to finish?

    JA: It was a 2 year process. I had written a short synopsis of the idea when it first came to me in late 2006. Then, about 6 months later I wrote an outline, finally, the script. In the summer of 2007, the school green lit the script as my thesis film and we went into development. I wrote a number of drafts changing scenes and adding characters but ultimately, I'd always go back to the first draft because the structure of it was impenetrable. Then we moved out of development and into pre-production: casting and scheduling. I worked with the actors for about a month before shooting, which I know is a luxury, but we all felt that it had to be done to make it right. Then we shot the film in 5 principal shoot days and 2 days of reshoots. The reshoots were 4 months later because of scheduling conflicts. We edited the film on and off for about 6 months, creating the soundtrack during that time as well. We delivered the film in late 2008.

     

    How did you direct the actors in the film? Was there an interpreter on set? Was anything lost in translation?

    All the actors were dedicated and passionate about the project. I included them in the whole process (costumes, tone, style, props, etc). Trust was ultimately the most important thing to me. This allowed me to let go more.

     

    The script then went through numerous translations: first literal, then the actors translated the dialogue, then it was translated back to me, then on set, I allowed for some improvisation. My script supervisor spoken Japanese and English, but so did the actors so there wasn't much trouble to communicate.

    And when you asked if there was anything "lost in translation" well I would say there were many things "found in translation". I think when we translated it into Japanese and went through that whole process, it sparked new ideas, truer ideas to the theme of the film. We found solutions instead of problems. I hope to have an amazing experience like that again.

     

    What about the casting process? Did you cast out of LA?

     At AFI we can only work with SAG actors. Like most directors I like to work with the best actors available, but a film with an all Japanese cast who can speak fluent Japanese begins to limit the choices. Yumi Takada, the casting associate of Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, turned me down numerous times at first. I could not pay her and I could not pay the actors, so I understood, but she was the only one with the access to the actor's I needed. I just persisted, then one day, she just said, "Send me the character descriptions." In less than a day she returned with the actors from Letters of Iwo Jima for each role.

     

    I decided to cast Nanshu first. Eijiro Ozaki was enthusiastic about it. We met, had a coffee, and talked no audition. He said yes, and then I cast the rest - Toshi Toda, Takashi Yamaguchi, Akiko Shima, Hiroshi Watanabe, Ikuma Ando. Even for the small roles, I was able to cast great actors like Yuki Matsuzaki.  I was very fortunate to have Yumi. She helped throughout the whole process. She even came to set to see me direct. We are now friends.

     

    Tell me a little bit about what you are currently working on and life in Korea for an Italian American kid from Staten Island!

    I'm in Seoul now writing my first feature that I will direct later this year about a Neapolitan chef who comes to South Korea to open a restaurant. We will begin shooting in November. Korean director Yongki Jeong is the producer under his Golden Page production company. The film will be spoken in three languages: English, Korean and Italian.

     

    I feel very comfortable here. Life is not that much different here. When we go out in Seoul, we got out in big groups. We enjoy spending time around a diner table eating and drinking, talking all night. There is always music and singing going on somewhere. There are tiny, narrow streets and scooters everywhere. And it is easy to make friends. Everyone is warm and compassionate. Seoul is a very happening city, both ancient and modern. I'm having the time of my life.  

     

    Where do you see your career taking you next?

    I think it is easy to say right now that I do not know where my career will go next, that's the fun of just starting out. Right now my options are infinite. I am ready to make a film in Hollywood or a film in Italy, an independent film in New York or another foreign film in Asia, a big budget thriller or a slapstick comedy. Basically, I feel like my job is to be prepared for every possibility and whatever my next project is I have one goal - to make a good movie.

     

    I am always working on various scripts, developing projects, but right now, as I said I am making my first feature this year in South Korea, a story about a Neapolitan chef who gets an offer to open up a restaurant in Seoul. That will require from me a significant amount of time in South Korea. During this next year I will learn so much and, by the end of the year, I know that I will be a different person, so I look forward to whatever experience will come next.

     

    How has your Italian-ness/ Italian-American-ness influenced you as a filmmaker?

    When I decided to be a filmmaker I wanted to study the History of Cinema first until I found a film that really spoke to me. When I began studying the history of World Cinema I started with Italy. My education began with films like "Last Days of Pompei “and "Cabiria" and it continued until today with films like “Gomorrah” and “Il Divo.” I fell in love with Italian Cinema during this time. I fell in love with Ettore Scola's sense of humor, De Crescenzo's unique Neapolitan style, Rosselini's ability to change personality, De Sica's classic storytelling techniques, Fellini's free narrative, Pasolini's sacred and profane themes, Bava and Argento's adventures in genre, the comedy of Toto, Fillippo, Troisi and more recently Capuano's powerful images and Procacci's producing power.

     

    There are also many other films and filmmakers that have become part of my subconscious when making a film. Throughout this whole journey I have to say that it was Pier Paolo Pasolini's “Accatone” that made me say that is the movie I wish I made. Once I found that film, I began my own path to becoming a filmmaker. I hope to one day have the opportunity to contribute to the History of Italian Cinema because it has already given me so much.

     

    What advice do you have for any young artists out there?

    What I'm going to say is for filmmaking but I think it can translate to any art form. I think I am far, far away from being able to give good advice to anyone who wishes to have a long career because I do not know where my choices will lead me. But if there is someone out there who wishes to make films I believe that, yes, every film you make is important, but it is not as important as your next film or your film after that. And a personal film should not be more important than a film that you make only for money, because each film requires you give 100%, you should live and die for it and no matter what find a way to express yourself through it. So basically if you want to make more than one film in your lifetime, then make your first one and move on to the next, don't let the many choices you have to make stop you from moving on. Make a commitment and live with those choices. If you want to call yourself a filmmaker, then you must make films.

     

     

    For those of you in the New York area, you can catch a screening of "The 8th Samurai" at 2 PM at the College of Staten Island Recital Hall - 2800 Victory Blvd. Staten Island, NY 10301.

  • Op-Eds

    Thoughts on Resurrection, Reinvention and Madonna


    Like Madonna, I recently celebrated a birthday. Not yet fifty, and thirty has already happened. I’ve decided the moment is right to start using the adage I long ago learned from my grandmother “I’m as old as my pinky and a little older than my teeth.” I constantly hear seemingly soothing clichés “What are you upset about?” “You are a baby!” and my favorite “Age is only a number, its all about how you feel.” Though I know there is truth in these words, I lately I’ve been a little, well, honestly, down. I take this amazing business class for artists, and when I emailed my accountability partner on my birthday that my task for that day was “to try and enjoy myself,” she responded and wrote me a great message that, as a Leo, we are the true rulers of the universe. She was surprised by my astrological sign.

    Madonna, when asked about her recent 50th birthday,  seemed to not be too phased by her age. Now, I was always much more a child of punk and post punk than pop music, but like anyone my age, unless you grew up under a rock, you knew who Madonna was. She was always there. “Like a Virgin” was the first cassette tape I ever owned- it was given to me. I had  absolutely no idea what a virgin was. But I noticed the reaction that was caused by my having that tape.

     My grandmothers, with whom I was very close, hated and despised her. They called her a vergona – a shame. I had no idea, really, why, but I knew that Madonna- like me- had an Italian name, and something about her made everyone care enough to hate her. These after all, were my grandmothers, who ordinarily would have had no dealings with pop culture, but they seemed to know everything about what she was doing, and they had an opinion about all of it. Sitting on the front porch of our row house, my grandmother would chat with her neighbor, as they sat. “She’s a hooah,” the neighbor lady would say. To this day, that is still my favorite word in Brooklynese. Whore- Hooah.
     
     Stylistically, of course, at this point, I became obsessed and immersed in post-punk, but I reveled in observing the controversy that Madonna caused. I loved her freedom and lack of inhibition; it was something that personally, I longed for. Our world was full of rules and regulations, right and wrong, bella figura and brutta figura, and I was still, after all, a kid. And, at that, an Italian – American kid obsessed with punk and post punk and the problems of the world. My older brother and our neighborhood friends wasted no opportunity teasing me about my concerns about the injustices of apartheid. Madonna seemed to control all of the controversy she created. I, on the other hand, inadvertently created controversy that consistently blew up in my face. Case in point, my brother Franco, mischief up his sleeve, had convinced my friend that Bishop Desmond Tutu, whom I was very interested in, herded elephants across Africa. When that neighbor boy asked me if that was true and why I was so interested in this man, I burst into tears. Oh to have been able to control controversy on 23rd Avenue the way Madonna controlled the controversy over her every move! I, on the other hand, withdrew to myself. Not very Leo like.
     
    Not long after the “Bishop Desmond Tutu incident,” I did (to this day, I maintain) the single most rebellious thing you can do in an Italian- American family. Or at least in my Italian American family. I became a vegetarian. I waited a few months before making the announcement to my grandparents. When I finally did tell my grandparents, I had to assure them that I hadn’t joined a cult or another religion, that I simply no longer cared to eat meat. At the time, I thought I’d never stop seeing meatballs and sausages, they were ubiquitous. . That and well, I was just tired of something. Of what exactly, I’m still not entirely sure, but I was stirring the pot of controversy in my own way, in my own world. The day we finally told my grandparents of my (major) decision, my grandmother, in her sweet way, took me aside. “Chiara,” she whispered in my ear “how about this… I’ll make you a little piece of steak, and…. I’m not going to tell anybody- it can be our secret.” It took another few months to assure her that I didn’t want to eat meat in secret. Finally, I was causing my own controversy and waging my own rebellion.
     
    Madonna, of course, was still there in the background, but I was far too caught up in The Cure, Depeche Mode and U2 to admit that I was paying attention to her.
    All I saw was that the women in my world still cared- they still had an opinion, they still hated her. I often wondered how someone whose life was so far removed from ours could have such an impact. Was it the substance of what Madonna said and did that caused the ire, or was it that she was free, uninhibited and powerful in her own right that upset them? These women in my world were smart, talented, vibrant and wonderful, but none of them were truly free to develop and utilize their talents- they were products of their own times. I am the first truly free woman in my family. With hindsight, I see their hatred of Madonna in another way; they perceived her freedom and they hated her for it. Yes, Madonna knowingly pushed the envelope ( what true artist doesn’t) but the women in my world seemed to hate her for something more- for her freedom and her power. We were all deeply steeped in Italo-Catholic womanhood, and I fell somewhere in the middle of it. “Why can’t you wear some nice little heels?” my cousin would ask, as a I tied up the laces of my boots. Sunday meals were peppered with long conversations and debates about what I should eat.
     
    Then, “Like a Prayer” happened. Yes, I was still way too caught up in my alterna- world to admit publicly that I liked that song. Truth be told, I didn’t like it- I LOVED it. It was brilliantly written and performed, complete with a Gospel choir. I took to calling it – “the Italian- Catholic girl’s anthem of liberation.” Of course, by today’s standards the song and the video are tame. But, at that time, in my world, the uproar created by that song and video were unlike any I had previously seen or any previously caused by Madonna; the imagery, the rape, the kissing a priest (and, at that a Black priest). “She’s gonna go to HELL for this,” they screamed. “She oughtta be ashamed of herself- these young people today, look at this, look at what the world is becoming.” And of course, my favorite “She’s a hooah, she took the name of the Madonna!” I loved it, loved the furor, loved the imagery, loved the reinvention, loved the statement that she made with that video- even though I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. And then the furor died down, and I went back to my alterna world, my baby doll dresses and Doc Martens, my music, and my new obsession with surrealism and film noir. And my grandmothers went back to their worlds, and their front stoops, their families and meatballs and sausages- and to their last years of lives. I had no idea. I was way into my own rebellion, my own private Prayer.
     
    And so here I am, all these years later. My grandmothers are gone, no more front stoop, no more rollers. I eat meat again. A few years ago, after my last grandfather died, my mother had made macaroni and meatballs. “Mom,” I said, “I want a meatball.”
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

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