Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Toast to 2016 with Prosecco!

    Ready to toast to the New Year? How do you do it? You’ll need enough sparkling wine!
    The latest data from Coldiretti, Italy's leading organization of farmers, says that for the end of year festivities 190 million bottles of Prosecco, bubbly made in Italy, will be uncorked all over the world. Coldiretti speaks of a record breaking amount of bottles: there has been an increase of 13% of bottles exported abroad only in the first nine months of 2015 as Prosecco has become Italy's sparkling wine that is most cherished outside of the country.

    The demand for this delicious bubbly has increased with the arrival of the holidays, and especially for toasting to the new year – for the first time in 2015 the amount of exports has exceeded the value of one billion euro. On a national level, data show that after seven years of reductions sales have taken a positive turn. In numbers, about 52 million of bottles will be uncorked on New Year's Eve, registering an increase of 4% compared to last year's sales. Furthermore, Coldiretti, could not stress enough, how, on an international level, this has never happened before: everybody is crazy for bubbles.

    Sales of Prosecco have increased by 48% in Great Britain and by 22% in the United States. The two countries respectively rank first and second outlet markets, followed by Germany where sales have increased by 5%. A great surprise is that demand has increased also in France, a country known for its nationalistic choices, especially at the dining table. So Prosecco has found a way also in the birth country of Champagne!

    If we have to classify the Italian sparkling wines that are most exported in the world Prosecco comes first, and is followed by Asti Spumante (a DOCG white, slightly sparkling wine made in southeastern Piedmont from the Moscato Bianco grape. Asti is sweet and low in alcohol, and is mostly served with dessert), Trento DOC (a white or rose bubbly made in Trentino. Its characteristics are a delicate, rich bouquet, a dry, smooth, rounded and elegant flavor, and a straw-yellow color) and Franciacorta (a DOCG sparkling wine made following scrupulous criteria from the region of Brescia in Lombardy). The international success of all these wines is a step forward for Italian wines in the dethroning of Champagne as the world's favorite bubbly. Indeed Coldiretti is saying that 2016 will be welcomed by more flutes of Italian bubbly than of Champagne.
    But we don't have only good news regarding Prosecco as with the increase of its popularity there is also the surfacing of a new issue: fake Prosecco. The problem of Italian sounding products is not new and bottles of Kressecco and Meer-Secco are made in Germany as well as in Russia and South America. Back in March Coldiretti announced that Crimea was responsible for producing a bubbly pretending to be Italian. “Roberto Moncalvo, Coldiretti president, said such counterfeiting cost Italy as many as 300,000 jobs, which could be created if fake Italian products are combated with international support. “The true enemies abroad are the low-cost imitations of national (Italian) foods that don’t have any ties with the production system of the country,” he said.” The issue gets even more serious if Italian-style products made abroad outnumber those exported from Italy. This is the fight of many, led by the Italian Trade Commission, which organizes seminars and lectures to educate consumers.
    So let's toast to 2016, and in order to make a good toast we don't need only Prosecco but also some inspiring words, a call to action, that will bring everyone together.


  • Art & Culture

    'Sono Cosa Nostra', a Documentary on Libera

    “We will show it in movie theaters, we will air it on TV, it will be everywhere. This film is a tool of public service, it's about our commitment to legality and the daily battle of who fights it step by step.” Paolo del Brocco, CEO of Rai Cinema told this to the audience of Nitehawk Cinema at the special screening, and world wide premiere, of Sono Cosa Nostra.

    Directed by Simone Aleandri and Produced by Clipper Media with Rai Cinema, the documentary that celebrates 20 years of Libera, a network of over 1600 associations fighting against the Mafia and organized crime. Libera was founded by Don Ciotti, a priest from Turin, in 1995 and  it uses land and assets seized from the Mafia to set up local food cooperatives, anti-drug projects, and community centers. Libera was also fundamental in the passing of law 109 which allows the seizure of assets belonging to the Mafia.

    Don Ciotti himself attended the screening where he humbly and emotionally stated how he is not the hero here but he “represents a group, a community of 1600 associations who do no tire to fight.” “This documentary brings you some small examples,” Don Ciotti continued to explain, “What has been done is still too little, we have confiscated only 17.000 assets.

    If we all join forces – the magistrates along with ordinary people – we can look at the future in a different way. The fight against the Mafia requires a lot of work, starting with education, in schools. Education awakes the conscience, knowledge is power. March 2016 marks the 20th year anniversary of Law 109. The current legislature is inadequate, we could do more. This government and the one before it have created a Commission in charge of improving the law of confiscation of property. Two proposals have been presented at the Senate. The first important element is that not only assets of the Mafia should be seized but also assets of any criminal association.”

    Don Ciotti started his fight against the Mafia in the early 1990s in a period when the Mafia was responsible for several massacres and bombings. But mostly it was responsible for the killings of two key anti-Mafia campaigners, judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. “The Mafia is a social and cultural evil that causes injustice, abuse of power, and corruption. It is a mentality, it isn't just a criminal organization,” he has said.

    The film captures how hundreds of cooperatives can blossom from what comes from corrupted realities. It captures the hope and the strength of those in Calabria, Sicily, Campania, as southern Italy is generally known to be most afflicted by the Mafia, but also in Lombardy, Piedmont and other Northern Italian cities where organized crime is spreading quietly. The North is particularly appetizing because it does better economically. Even there farmhouses and fields have been confiscated and work has been given to many, especially immigrants and people who haven't been so lucky in life and need to start over. “If there's something that really bothers these criminals is the sharing of private goods,” Don Ciotti explained.

    In Castel Volturno, in the province of Caserta, Massimo Rocco has founded “Le terre di Don Peppe Diana” a dairy farm that produces amazing mozzarella di bufala. The farm stands on the land confiscated from a member of the Camorra, Michele Zaza. The vineyards of the Sicilian cooperative helmed by Valentina Fiore, who attended the screening, were erected in honor of Placido Rizzotto, an Italian socialist peasant and trade union leader who was kidnapped and killed by Cosa Nostra in 1948. Others produce honey or olive oil, pasta or any sorts of vegetables.

    But aren't people afraid to work this land? “The fight against the Mafia, is done with work first, as work gives humans their dignity back, and then with laws. Through the years there have been several incidents of vandalism, arson, or damage but assaults directed at people are rare,” Don Ciotti has said, “What's important is not to leave anybody alone and work together at this common goal.” Meanwhile the Mafia does not stand aside and watch, there's still a serious corruption problem.

    “Looking back at these twenty years it just seems impossible,” Don Ciotti concluded “and even if it is a little we have done a lot. What we need are responsible citizens and in order to have them, we need to work on education. Educating them to be responsible.” Sono Cosa Nostra, this powerful film, is part of this education strategy. Indeed at the screening, in a conversation with writer and professor Antonio Monda, Don Ciotti admitted how this film sends out a positive message and is in contradiction with many other films and TV shows that glorify the Mafia and criminality. It’s good to have positive cinema that tells true stories, mostly stories of success towards the fight against organized crime.

  • Art & Culture

    The Films of the Pietrangeli Retrospective at MoMA

    Many say that Antonio Pietrangeli has been forgotten but his films, movies featuring innovative narrative structures and fine psychological analyses are here to stay and prove them wrong.

    They are more than enough to earn him a prominent position in the history of Italian cinema, even though many, including the most cultured aficionados tend to bring up other filmmakers' names when talking about Italian cinema in the 1950s & 1960s.

    His work falls in the category of Commedia all'Italiana, a style of Italian comedy centered on the misadventures of the unfortunate in the period of poverty that followed World War II.

    The most notable names of directors representative of that cinema are Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi, Luigi Comencini, and Ettore Scola.

    MoMA celebrates Pietrangeli's cinema, and a career that spans from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s with Antonio Pietrangeli: A Retrospective (December 3–18, 2015). Presented in collaboration with Luce Cinecittà, the program is organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, MoMA, and Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero, Luce Cinecittà.

    The program features 11 films, from Pietrangeli’s best-known work to a number of rediscoveries. The retrospective opened with his last completed film before his sudden death in 1968, I Knew Her Well (Io La Conoscevo Bene).

    A comedy featuring Stefania Sandrelli, in the role of Adriana, I Knew Her Well features an apparently liberated woman who has to deal with men and career. 

    Maids, starlets, prostitutes, women with a lot to say but nobody who'd listen to them, women from the countryside coming to the big cities, women who try to keep up with the change of times... they all captured Pietrangeli's attention.

    The aforementioned Adriana, moves from the province to the big city of Rome with the dream of becoming a celebrity. A dream Adriana had back in the sixties, when the movie was made, but that many girls still have today, and that makes Pietrangeli's cinema also “timeless.” Acting classes, fashionable parties and superficial affairs:  Adriana had to deal with them, what gilr doesn't hae to deal with them now?

    Pietrangeli was a major father of the Commedia all'Italiana genre but also a leading figure of Neorealism. He was among those who wanted the renewal of Italian cinema,and observed carefully what Italy was going through.He explored the ever changing role of women in Italian society after the fall of Fascism. They had to deal with a new freedom that is attractive yet at the same time ambiguous and somewhat dangerous. Adriana embodies innocence, she thinks that despite the humiliations she is going to make it. The film embodies the society’s moral double standards.

    Pietrangeli was often described as “The Director who Loved Women,” as his cinema often has them at its center. The majority of films coming out at his time, films like westerns and even comedies, were more centered on male characters. Pietrangeli's profound psychological insight seemed to be more directed at women. 

    This transpires from the selection of films presented in the retrospective, most of them feature women looking for their spot in the world and finding their humanity.

    Il Sole Negli Occhi (Empty Eyes). 1953. With Irene Galter, Gabriele Ferzetti, Paolo Stoppa. 

    Celestina (Irene Galter) is a naïve peasant girl who leaves her small village to look for work as a maid in Rome, where her innocence is rapidly exploited by thoughtless employers and predatory men. She places all her trust in a handsome plumber (Gabriele Ferzetti), who vanishes the minute she discovers she is pregnant. Shown with Fata Marta. 1966. With Alberto Sordi, Capucine, Olga Villi, Gigi Ballista, Anthony Steel. Pietrangeli’s episode from the omnibus film Le Fate (The Queens), which is comprised of four episodes. When Marta (Capucine) drinks too much her sex drive goes crazy and she can't keeps her hands off the new waiter and driver Antonio (Alberto Sordi).

    WED, DEC 9, 4:30 T1

    Lo Scapolo (The Bachelor). 1955. With Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Rossana Podestà, Virna Lisi, Sandra Milo. Pietrangeli’s second feature is a classic example of Commedia all’Italiana, starring the genre’s defining figure, Alberto Sordi, as a self-absorbed small businessman who prides himself on his dubious abilities as a ladykiller. But when the menace of loneliness finally looms, his search for a wife quickly turns desperate. 

    THU, DEC 10, 4:30 T1

    Souvenir d’Italie (It Happened in Rome). 1957. With June Laverick, Isabelle Coreyu, Ingeborg Schöner, Massimo Girotti, Vittorio De Sica. 

    Three beautiful, female, foreign hitchhikers are experiencing a ravishingly idealized Italy. Along the way through the beautiful countryside, each of them encounters their fair share of amorous Latin lovers before finding true love.

    FRI, DEC 11, 4:30 T1

    Nata di Marzo (March’s Child). 1957. With Jacqueline Sassard, Gabriele Ferzetti, Tina De Mola, Gina Rovere. 

    A teenage girl (Jacqueline Sassard) falls passionately in love with an older architect (Gabriele Ferzetti), but finds she isn’t prepared for the depth of emotion and unwavering commitment of a real marriage. 

    SAT, DEC 12, 2:00 T1

    Fantasmi a Roma (Ghosts of Rome). 1961. With Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo, Eduardo De Filippo, Tino Buazzelli, Vittorio Gassman, Claudio Gora.

    Life is still sweet for the aging aristocrat Prince Hannibal Roviano (Eduardo De Filippo), although he lives it alone among the ancestral ghosts who haunt the family mansion. But when the prince dies and ownership passes to his dissolute nephew (Marcello Mastroianni, in one of his three roles in the film), the ghosts must intervene to prevent the decaying palace from being turned into a disco. Their solution: recruit the ghost of a 16th-century painter (Vittorio Gassman) to whip up a hidden fresco magnificent enough to certify the building as a national treasure. 

    SUN, DEC 13, 5:30 T1

    La Parmigiana (The Girl from Parma). 1963. With Nino Manfredi, Catherine Spaak, Salvo Randone. 

    Forced to leave her village because of a scandalous love affair with a seminarian, Dora (Catherine Spaak) looks for work and refuge in Parma, where she becomes involved with a petty criminal (Nino Manfredi).

    MON, DEC 14, 4:30 T1

    Il Magnifico Cornuto (The Magnificent Cuckold). 1964. With Claudia Cardinale, Ugo Tognazzi, Bernard Blier, Michèle Girardon, Gian Maria Volonte. 

    A happily married businessman (Ugo Tognazzi) allows himself to be seduced by the wife of a colleague—a meaningless affair that makes him realize how easy it would be for his young and beautiful wife (Claudia Cardinale) to betray him as he betrayed her. His unfounded suspicions grow into madness, as he obsessively imagines her in the arms of other men. 

    TUE, DEC 15, 4:30 T1

    La Visita (The Visit). 1963. With Sandra Milo, François Périer, Mario Adorf. 

    Adapted from a story by Carlo Cassola (La ragazza di Bube), Pietrangeli’s exquisite miniature describes the daylong encounter of two would-be lovers who meet through a lonely-hearts ad. Adolfo (François Périer) is a fussy Roman bookstore clerk who travels to the Po Valley to meet Pina (Sandra Milo), who works for an agricultural supply firm. Worried that their marriageable days are coming to an end, the two have already decided to fall in love with each other—but first they have to get acquainted.

    WED, DEC 16, 4:30, T1

    Adua e Le Compagne (Adua and Her Friends). 1960 With Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva, Marcello Mastroianni. 

    Reluctantly liberated when a reform movement closes the legal brothels of Italy in 1958, four Roman prostitutes (Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva, and Gina Rovere) are forced to take their work underground, opening a restaurant on the outskirts of the city that will, under the orders of their shady sponsor (Claudia Gora) serve as a front while they practice their former profession in the rooms upstairs. But the restaurant proves to be a success, and the women find new loves and new happiness—until the sponsor decides that respectability isn’t profitable enough.

    THU, DEC 17, 4:30 T1

    Io La Conoscevo Bene (I Knew Her Well). 1965. With Stefania Sandrelli, Mario Adorf, Jean-Claude Brialy, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi. 

    Pietrangeli’s best-known film stars Stefania Sandrelli as the 15-year-old winner of a provincial beauty contest. She’s a hairdresser who arrives in Rome as the protégé of a dubious promoter (Nino Manfredi) and finds herself drifting from man to man as she circles the periphery of modeling and show business. Indifferent to her own exploitation, she experiences a measure of material success without understanding what, if anything, she wants from life.

    FRI, DEC 18, 4:30 T2

  • Paolo Carignani, a Conductor and a Philosopher

    “Try to cross the street in the middle of an intersection with incoming traffic. If with your eyes you are able to stop the driver coming towards you, then you are a conductor. If you don't succeed, then you aren't.” This truth disguised as a joke was told to the enthralled audience of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò by Milanese conductor Paolo Carignani, guest of honor of the third Adventure in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin.

    As always, Plotkin, one of America’s foremost experts on opera (Italian food and much more), has hosted a compelling night of opera that featured clips of some of Carignani's past performances followed by the maestro's comments and anecdotes. Carignani, who has graduated in organ, piano and composition at Milan's Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, has worked in Italy's major opera houses and theaters yet, most of all the maestro has been invited to play abroad. He has worked at the Staatsoper of Vienna and of München, at the Deutsche Oper and Staatsoper Berlin, at the Met in New York, at the War Memorial in San Francisco, in Tokyo, in Zurich, in Paris at the Bastille, at the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, at Covent Garden in London, in Amsterdam at the Glyndebourne Festival, Hamburg, Oslo... and the list continues.

    From 1999 to 2008 Carignani was Generalmusikdirektor at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt and musical director of the Frankfurter Museumsorchester. “After having worked in opera houses like La Scala and the Met where the pressure to be perfect is incredibly high,” Carignani explained, “During my years in Frankfurt I had more freedom to make some artistic choices, I had more room to experiment and therefore even for errors. Artistic freedom is vital to any artist, it's the liberty one has to produce art to his/her own insight, and that was a full time joy, and job, for me. It was not just showing up for a concert,” he joked, “It consisted on auditions, finding the singers, the musicians, the music. It was all day, every day. Now things are different... I just show up.”

    At the moment Carignani is in New York City at the Metropolitan where he will be conducting all of the Puccini operas in the calendar: Turandot, Tosca, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly. In answering Plotkin's questions, the maestro gave the audience further insight into the conductor's role and his approach to music. “Music comes first,” he explained, “When I look at a piece I look at the music and focus on that. The narrative will follow. I don't really care about who composed the music, I don't care about her personal life, experiences or else, I just look at the music and what I give to it does not depend on who wrote it. Conducting is giving and receiving energy, between you and the musicians, but also between you and the audience. You are in the middle yet together you all experience a real adventure.”

    Carignani is “ widely admired for his incisive performances and ability to make familiar repertory sound fresh and relevant,” Stefano Albertini of Casa Italiana has said, and indeed conductors not only choose the works to be performed and study them, but they are responsible for making certain adjustments regarding tempo, articulation, or phrasing to the scores, thus giving them their interpretation and vision. Carignani explained how he uses the right hand to give the tempo and the left to signal entrances, adding that a baton is not really necessary. “A conductor can guide the musicians with  his eyes (and that takes us back to the joke mentioned a the beginning of this article), with his shoulders, with a finger or even a pencil. What's important is that he/she is able to communicate and attract the eyes and minds of all musicians in front of him.” Carignani uses a baton, a baton made by his father.

    Through the videos selected by Plotkin tha audience at Casa Italiana was able to observe that at the beginning of his career Carignani moved much more, his movements were big and grandiose in order to catch attention and appear imposing. Now his movements are much smaller and fluid, a lot can be said with a little. And a secret that makes Carignani move the way he does is swimming. “In order to do a good job on that podium I have to be happy,” he explained, “endorphins make people happy and movement produces endorphins. Swimming makes me happy and also gives me fluid movements. At this moment of my life I could not live without sports. And if it were possible we all, the orchestra and I, should go swimming, or hiking, together. It would improve our communication and make us all happier.”

    “A conductor and a philosopher,” Plotkin concluded.

  • Amara Lakhous: Tackling the Issue of Immigration a Novel at a Time

    "In 2011, I moved to Turin, in Northern Italy, to write my new novel that takes place in San Salvario, a multiethnic district located near the central train station. Turin has been in a transitional phase for many years now.

    In the past, it was the destination for Italian migrants from the south, and recently it has  become a city of new immigrants that arrive from all over the world.

    In this current literary phase, I have begun to experiment with new contexts and have taken the perspective of a southern Italian man as my main character to understand the issues surrounding old and new immigration in Italy.

    In two years I wrote two novels: A Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, published in an English translation by Ann Goldstein last year, and The Hoax of the Little Virgin in Via Ormea, which came out last year in Italian and will be published in English by Europa Editions in May 2016.”

    The narrator, or rather, the author of these words is Amara Lakhous, an Algerian/Italian writer who presented his work at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, in an enlightening conversation with the Casa's director Prof. Stefano Albertini.

    Lakhous is currently working, in addition to researching his next novel, at the Department of Italian Studies at NYU, where he is teaching a course on Narrating the Immigrant Experience.

    Immigration, a phenomenon that has played a major role in Lakhous' life, who has moved from Algeria to Italy, to New York and who knows where to next, is the main character in the writer's novels. “I believe that emigrating is an act of rebellion and courage as well as a new birth,” Lakhous told the audience.

    “You leave the place where you were born, where your parents raised you for a new place, with a new language, different people and culture. I have had three births and my multiculturalism makes me the person I am today.”

    Amara Lakhous' novels have become literary sensations in Italy. Among them, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is a murder mystery set in Rome where, with humor, different people from different countries give their private version of the truth about Italian life (the Iranian refugee hates pizza while the Milanese professor thinks southern Italians are barbarians).

    Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet, is also multiethnic mystery that uses the issue concerning Gino, a small local pig who has been brought to the neighborhood mosque, to tell a larger story. The unique titles of Lakhous' novels definitely attract the readers' attention, but what keeps them reading are the equally unique worlds they describe. Worlds that at times may seem absurd but are actually based on reality.

    Italy is a magnet for immigrants from all different countries. There are the Senegalese, the Moroccans, the Albanians, Croats,  Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Syrians and Tunisians, and Lakhous uses them all to tell his unique accounts, between literature and immigration. “I was mostly influenced by the Commedia all'Italiana,” Lakhous explained to the audience at Casa Italiana, “Brilliant comedies, often set in a middle-class setting, which tackled most serious issues.

    I find it more effective than drama, with a laugh you can tell much more and analyze serious but real issues. But I was also influenced by mystery novels and above all by the work of Sciascia, with the difference that my stories are always left with an open ending.”

    Lakhous writes in both Arabic and Italian at the same time, he does not translate one into the other but writes two texts that mirror each other. “I am obsessed with being original and this is my unique way of writing,” he confessed, “Now that I am in the States, my 'American Dream' is to begin writing in English as well, and in the future I want to write in Berber, the language I used growing up.

    A language I can speak, but I cannot write in yet. I will have to study. I have used the metaphor of a walking tree to describe myself... with roots going everywhere.” And the roots keep growing.

  • Events: Reports

    N.I.C.E. ­ Discovering the Talent of New Italian Filmmakers

    Before its official start on November 20th with the screening of Partly Cloudy (with Sunny Spells) by Marco Pontecorvo, N.I.C.E.-New Italian Cinema Events was introduced to the public at a press conference held at the Italian Cultural Institute and at a special preview of the film at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.

    The organizers, Viviana del Bianco (Director) and Maya Breschi (US Executive Director), and some of the talent, directors Marco Pontecorvo, Matteo Bini and Alessia Scarso took the time to celebrate with the audience the festival's 25th edition. “N.I.C.E is the longest running Italian film festival in the US,” the Institute's director Giorgio Van Straten said, “and its mission has been to bring around the world, not just the US, Italian cinema by new talents, specifically directors at their first or second feature.”
    “Lasting this long has not been an easy feat,” Director Viviana del Bianco has responded, “Sorrentino, Archibugi, Mario Martone, Edoardo Winspeare, Matteo Garrone... we are proud to have discovered their work and having promoted it around the world in the past. Young filmmakers are our strength and motivate us to continue with down this path.”

    Marco Pontecorvo, a Rome-based cinematographer at his second feature film, participates with Partly Cloudy (with Sunny Spells) a comedy starring Luca Zingaretti, Lillo and John Turturro. His is a film  on the effects of unexpected wealth on a friendship and, on a larger scale, on a small town. Matteo Bini, an editor and documentary maker, participates with the drama, I, Harlequin, co-directed with Giorgio Pasotti. The film focuses on the relationship between a father and a son, identity and tradition. Harlequin is a famous stock character from the Commedia dell'Arte with incredible physical agility and the ability to always tell the truth. In the film, both father and son, wear his mask.

    Alessia Scarso, in the company of a cute stuffed animal, introduced her Italo, a drama starring a sweet Golden Retriever, which is based on a true story. This is the story of a Sicilian village which seems to be ruled by a dog able to make everything right.

    N.I.C.E. is a festival of quality films that represents Italy abroad; it doesn't only promote its cinema but it also invites audiences to reflect on Italy and its reality. All three films mentioned above, are a slice of Italy in their own way: “ I, Harlequin represents the importance of culture and a certain cultural tradition in Italy. Italian Theater and, more specifically, Commedia dell'Arte are known worldwide. Keeping culture alive can be challenging at times but there are those who work hard to do it. In the film the father is an actor who is used to transforming himself into Harlequin.

    The son, works in a reality TV show, and even though he does not have to wear a mask, he plays a character even more tan his father does. It will actually be at the moment that he puts the mask on that he can finally find himself. Our cultural tradition is often forgotten and it is important to keep it above, locally and internationally.”

    “In Partly Cloudy (with Sunny Spells) the small town represents a bigger reality where wealth is used to enhance the differences between people,” Marco Pontecorvo explained, “While featuring a series of funny sketches , this directly references the tragic death of Enrico Mattei, an Italian public administrator who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1962, likely caused by a bomb. At the core of the film, though, there is friendship.” The reality of a small town is also presented in Italo, where a dog teaches people to love each other. “The town is a place where people gossip all the time, they know everything about each other and can't get enough if it,” Alessia Scarso said, “Of course I exaggerated in the film just to make it all more obvious and fun, but growing up in the area, that's the way things are.”

    Now more than ever, Italian cinema is living through a moment of great development and recognition abroad. American audiences are responding with enthusiasm. “You get the impression that they don't sit down to judge you,” Marco Pontecorvo explained, “American audiences are there to welcome what the film is giving them for pure enjoyment. I sat down and watched my film, which was screened in San Francisco before coming to NYC, with them, just to hear their reaction, something I don't usually do, but the experience was particularly gratifying and I could not get out of that room.” Both Bini and Scarso agreed with Pontecorvo. Audiences aside, in Italy, all three films were well received, but distribution still seems to be an issue. That is something that N.I.C.E. is working on.

    N.I.C.E. is not just a showcase of films, but it is also a competition. In addition to the three aforementioned films, we find Chlorine by Lamberto Sanfelice, Mediterranea by Jonas Carpignano, My Name is Maya by Tommaso Agnese,  and God Willing by Edoardo Falcone.

  • Art & Culture

    25 Years of N.I.C.E., New Italian Cinema Events

    Every fall for the past 25 years, N.I.C.E., New Italian Cinema Events, has brought an important selection of Italian films by first time and second time directors to New York. Directed by Viviana del Bianco N.I.C.E. has a mission: supporting and promoting contemporary Italian cinema on an international level. Through the years the festival has discovered many talents, including Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino.

    Before its official beginning on November 17th, we had a chance to speak to Maya Breschi, US
    Executive Director who talked us about this year's special edition and about the condition of Italian cinema in general.

    This year marks an important anniversary for N.I.C.E. How have you planned to celebrate it?

    This year marks N.I.C.E.’s 25th festival in the USA, which is certainly a big achievement for a not-for-profit Italian organization committed to showcasing first and second-time Italian directors out of their homeland and “comfort zone”. For our 25th celebrations, we are taking our annual film showcase to 4 major US cities, such as San Francisco (November 11 to 15), Washington D.C. (November 16 & 17), New York City (November 17 to 22) and Philadelphia (December 3 to 6).

    The festival in NYC, the first to have ever been organized by N.I.C.E. back in 1991, will be inaugurated at the Italian Cultural Institute this coming Tuesday, November 17th in the presence of a selection of this year’s competing filmmakers, to then move on to another long-lasting partner of the festival, the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo - New York University, where director Marco Pontecorvo will meet with the students and members in attendance.

    On Friday, November 20th, during a gala evening at SVA Theatre - School of Visual Arts, director Marco Pontecorvo and actor John Turturro will introduce the screening of Partly Cloudy (With Sunny Spells) (Tempo instabile… con probabili schiarite) to be followed by the screening of Edoardo Falcone’s box-office hit comedy God Willing (Se Dio vuole) starring Alessandro Gassman, Marco Giallini and Laura Morante. Four additional films will finally be screened at historic Anthology Film Archives over the weekend of November 21-22.

    As part of this year’s celebrations, all NYC screenings will be free and open to the public upon registration here >>>.

    How did you select the films and how do you discover new talents?
    N.I.C.E.’s selection committee, featuring well-respected international festival programmers and film critics, does an incredible job every year in going through the latest Italian film production to select the seven most valuable and deserving new voices in contemporary Italian cinema to be showcased internationally through N.I.C.E.’s annual festivals. Our long-lasting challenge and mission is to offer a diversified and high-quality programming in tune with the taste and sensitivity of our international audiences, while showcasing and supporting Italian newcomers and their first or second feature-length films across the United States, Russia and China.

    How is Italian cinema exported to the US?

    Italian comedies are traditionally very appreciated in the US and worldwide, but when it comes to actual US releases of any foreign content, there are a number of parameters affecting the distributors’ decision other than simple genre, the first of which being whether the film has received any recognition at a major international festival (ideally Cannes, Berlin or Sundance), the presence of any direct connection to the US film industry (whether it is a US prize, a location, or a cast or crew member) and finally the extent of the promotional effort provided by any stakeholders, both Italian and local. In this regard, showcases like N.I.C.E. represent a precious opportunity to think outside of such parameters, while trying to broaden the audience’s expectations and the local distributions’ strategies.

    Which directors are the most know in the US right now and how is current Italian cinema promoted?
    The very nature of the N.I.C.E. competitions is to feature the work of first and second-time directors who are as talented as they are often unknown to the local public and industry. Three our of this year’s USA competing films are comedies: God Willing (Se Dio Vuole) by Edoardo Falcone, Partly Cloudy (With Sunny Spells) (Tempo instabile… con probabili schiarite) by Marco Pontecorvo and starring John Turturro, and Italo by Alessia Scarso. In addition, we have included four dramas: Chlorine (Cloro) by Lamberto Sanfelice, Io, Arlecchino by Matteo Bini and Giorgio Pasotti, My name is Maya (Mi chiamo Maya) by Tommaso Agnese, and Mediterranea by Jonas Carpignano.

    N.I.C.E. homeland, Tuscany, does also have a special place in this year’s programming, being the setting for films such as Wondrous Boccaccio by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and Leopardi (Il Giovane Favoloso) by Mario Martone, and other special events in San Francisco feature Mia Madre by Nanni Moretti and Youth (La Giovinezza) by Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino. These established directors are among the most appreciated and recognized Italian film authors in the US at the moment, whose films usually land a US distribution. Predictably, when it comes to newcomers, we need to go back to the above-mentioned “parameters”, which explain why only two out of this year’s seven competing films have a US distributor so far: Mediterranea (which is a two-time SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant recipient) and Chlorine (which was originally presented in Sundance and Berlin).

    All in all, our challenge and objective as festival programmers is really to find a good balance between what our international audiences seek and expect from our showcases and what we believe is worth watching and supporting, with the aim and hope to ultimately higher the chances for our annual film selections to be released worldwide. For that only, let’s toast to 25 more years of New Italian Cinema Events in the US!

  • Art & Culture

    Ammaniti & Bertolucci: Adapting Novels into Films

    Me and You, Io e Te, is a film about the turmoil of adolescence. 14-year-old Lorenzo (played by Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is a shy outcast. He fakes his departure for a school trip and decides to spend a week holed up alone in the basement of the family’s apartment building. He’s in the company of music, books, and an ant farm.

    His Garden of Eden is then invaded by his heroin-addicted older half-sister Olivia (played by Tea Falco). 

    She needs a place where she can hide from drugs and to go cold turkey. the two grow closer and make a mutual pact that they will stop hiding: Olivia will stop looking for refuge in drugs and Lorenzo will stop hiding from the world.

    Me and You, Io e Te, is a film from 2012 by Bernardo Bertolucci, his last one for now.

    The film, based in the novel by the same title by Niccolò Ammaniti, was screened at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò as part of The New Literature from Europe Festival “an annual celebration of writing from across the European continent, featuring readings and discussions between leading and emerging literary voices from Europe.” Among this year’s representative there was Roman writer Niccolò Ammaniti.

    Ammaniti is an award winning, prolific author whose novels are often turned into internationally successful films, including Me and You. This was the first film directed by Bertolucci since 2003, and the first directed after being bound to his wheelchair.

    After a screening of the film, Ammaniti was interviewed by Stefano Albertini, director of Casa Italiana, and professor and writer Antonio Monda.

    “When I met Bertolucci he hadn’t made films for a while, years… because he was looking for a film that was right for him. I met him briefly at the time of I’m not Scared, because it seemed he was interested in making it into a film.

    Yet he was busy with some other project so we just stayed in touch. I thought this would be the right story for him especially because he was in a wheelchair. I sent him the book and he was interested right away but he needed to find the right location. A basement. He related to the story, as when he was a child he also sought refuge in a basement, so he immediately asked me to work on the film. As far as the basement is concerned, the basement we see in the film was basically built next to his home, so it was easily accessible to him and he could easily go to work.”

    Despite the fact that Bertolucci thought that the main character was based on Ammaniti himself, he immediately grasped the story and filled the blank spots of the story with his imagination. In Ammaniti’s words, “The literary experience is made 50% by the author and 50% by the readers who fills spaces with their own personal experiences. I think this is unique and only literature can do that.” Bertolucci had been one of the readers and was about to become the cinematic translator of the story.

    “As an author, I believe that it is interesting when someone takes your story and and “translates” it into his own language, wether cinematographic or not. This process is not easy though and I believe the best films are the ones that somehow betray the original story. Apocalypse Now comes from a book, (Francis Ford Coppola's film is based on Heart of Darkness but set in the jungles of Vietnam.

    The novel, instead, is set in the heart of Africa)  but the written and the cinematic stories are very different, even the setting is different. That was one of the best betrayals ever in the history of cinema. When we worked on I Am not Scared with Gabriele Salvatores he asked me where we should set the film and I told him “between Puglia and Basilicata.” The novel is set in a fictitious town called Acqua Traverse. He went looking for the right place, he found it and he was able to satisfy my imagination completely. It was exactly what I had in mind. He did not betray my imagination.”

    As readers, it often happens that when we see a film and then read the book, and not necessarily in that order, we realize soothing is off. We feel that the book was violated by the film. We feel that our experience was spoiled because what we see is different from what we imagined. And that is how many readers of the novel felt when they saw Io e Te. The endings are different.

    “In the book the end is sudden,” Ammaniti explained, “while the film ends with the two siblings separating and each one goes their way. It’s more open ended,  yet literature per se is more open ended than cinema. When you write a sentence it is not as definite as when you see an image, and a very sad or pessimistic image at the end of a film might somehow change your perception of everything you have seen up to that point. In the book the story is told by the protagonist when he is an adult. That implied working on him, having him age and recall past events, and I don’t like to see an adult version of a character tell his story through flashbacks.

    We tried to write an ending that was more similar to the one in the book , we worked on it for months but we were never happy with it. We sort of found one but we already knew it would not work. Bertolucci showed me a pre-edited version of the film and we realized that the ending was already there, so we didn’t have to shoot anymore.”

    Ammaniti has just released a new book, Anna, a novel with a dark vision of life. Will it become a film too? At the moment we don’t know but why wait for a director to give us his vision? Readers can see their own images, in their mind as they read.

  • Life & People

    "Dealers of Souls" & the Importance to Keep Theater Alive

    Head to the Theater for the New City for a mystical play that dramatizes the struggle, real and supernatural, to block the appropriation of a theater for a supermarket. “Dealers of Souls” by Italian playwright Alberto Bassetti is having its American premiere from November 12 to the 29th. Written in 2001, the three character drama received a staged reading in 2013 at Casa Italiana as part of Kairos Italy Theatre's In Scena! Italian Theater Festival.

    Presented by Theater for the New City in collaboration with Kairos Italy Theater (KIT),“Dealers of Souls” is a supernatural drama in which two men are negotiating the sale of an old theater.

    The buyer, a clearly corrupt theater entrepreneur, promises to restore it but actually, he intends to turn it into a supermarket.

    Can his intrigues be stymied by a strange actress who squats in the building, who seems to be part hobo and part phantom of the theater? Laura Caparrotti, Artistic Director of Kairos Italy Theatre, will be acting in the role of the Actress, while Vito LaBella plays the Old Man and Francesco Andolfi plays the Younger Man.

    In Italy, theaters are under real estate pressure; their precious locations and spacious buildings are eagerly sought by developers who try to convert valued cultural assets into commercial buildings and the situation in the US is not that different. Ms. Caparrotti has indeed said that the play presents a situation that the Theater for the New City itself narrowly avoided in real life. Of course, it is also the story of many other theaters: some who survived and some which unfortunately we have lost.

    This clash of artistic idealism and commercial opportunism has been dramatized by Bassetti in “Dealers of Souls,” and he took the time to answer a couple of questions.

    How did you get the idea to write “Dealers of Souls”? Does it describe a big problem?

    My father, whom I lost really early on, shared ownership  of a Cinema-Theater in his native town. The place was about to close down, therefore leaving the whole area without a performing arts center. I worked hard and I was able to open a multiplex, leaving the stage totally untouched. The place had always fascinated me because it was a gathering place that attracted all sorts of people.

    Later on, as I entered the world of the arts I started meeting lots of passionate people but also many exploiters. That really perplexed me as I think that is a passionate world. Indeed the message of my play is that it's important that love for the Arts always wins. I wanted to write something that denounced a lack of respect for places, their history, the labor of those who designed and built them, and the ghosts that inhabit them.

    “Dealers of Souls” deals with a present day issue because it doesn't focus only on the issue of thetrical spaces, but mostly on the passion that human beings who see it as a place of confrontation, of fun and of learning that involves everybody no matter of what social class, sex or religion. A critic has written that mine are “moral fables.” I appreciate this definition, it takes into consideration my studies in philosophy. It is important to never forget the Spectator, thus creating mystery, plot twists, pathos or amusement even in the most dramatic stories.

    Who are the dealers of souls?

    The “Dealers of Souls” I am writing about are the Actors, who transform and sell themselves, becoming someone else for the audience sitting across from them. Yet I don't think this is negative, because it is an exchange that starts from the desire to communicate, to please, to be liked, and to be appreciated.

    It comes from the needs and insecurities that we all have: that is why I don't call them dealers of voices, bodies or memories but I call them dealers of souls, because actors bare their souls and that is an act of pure love. The Woman, the Actress, is the symbol of ambiguity, volatility and deception, but she is also extremely faithful to her absolute choice: the Stage.

    How important is theater and keeping it alive?
    Theater will never die! To be honest with you, there is not a real crisis. It is normal that with the advent of cinema and television, the internet and all other sorts of media, audiences are in decline but that only means that narration is possible in all different places. 

    The matrix is always the story of characters who talk to each other or to themselves, who confront each other and collide, who love and hate each other... in other words, they are alive. All of this is Theater. If there were no electricity or technology, there would not be any cinemas.

    But the theater is made by men, human beings who put themselves on stage; they can do it in daylight as in Ancient Greece, or in candle light just like when Molière was around, they can act on an immense stage or simply just standing on the ground in front of hundreds of people or just one person. The audience is the central element of the performance, without an audience there is no theater.This is the reality; theater is eternal and theaters are special places created so that this secular ritual can take place.
November 12 to 29, 2015
 Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street) 
Presented by Theater for the New City in collaboration with Kairos Italy Theater (KIT).
 Thursdays through Satudays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$15 general admission; $12 seniors and students
Running time: 60 minutes.

  • Art & Culture

    A Voice that Could not Be Silenced: Pier Paolo Pasolini

     “He is dark and somewhat frail, a handsome man with hollow cheeks and black circles beneath his eyes.” In just a few words New York Times journalist Guy Flatley described the Italian film director sitting across from him: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

    It was 1969, Pasolini was in New York participating at the New York Film Festival with the film 
    Teorema. “He was a lovely person, but I thought he was a bit stiff,” Flatley recalled on November 2, 2015, 40 years after the filmmaker's death, at a special celebration, Pasolini 1975-2015, held at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò.

    Organized by Casa's theater company in residence, Kairos Italy Theater, and co-hosted with the Italian Cultural Institute, the evening was a special treat for admirers of all ages. A surprise after the other provided additional insight into the life and art of the beloved director. 

    The first part, PPP: a Marxist in NY, a reading conceived by Marco Calvani, featured Antoinette LaVecchia in the role of Oriana Fallaci, Rocco Sisto, in the role of Pasolini himself, while Gabriella Maione read some of his poetry. Maione starred, at 17, in Pasolini's Decameron. 

    Journalist Oriana Fallaci met Pasolini when he was in New York and she invited him out for drinks and a conversation. That was the beginning of their friendship. The interview was masterfully used to  provide details about “his private figure and his public persona.”

    More details were provided by actress Gabriella Maione, who was discovered by the director at the airport on her way to Paris where she was a student. She had never acted before, as the majority of “actors” in his films, and she was afraid of not being to do so. But Pasolini was very gentle and let her do whatever she wanted to. “He was very trusting,” Maione said, “he made you feel free to do what you felt like doing but that didn't mean he had no control.

    On the first day they made me write my own part and I never really saw a script.” Maione played the role of Madonna Fiordaliso, the diabolical but beautiful Sicilian woman who seduces Andreuccio. “They used me, a girl with an angelical face to play a diabolical role,” Maione continued, “Faces were so important to Pasolini. He liked lack of harmony, lack of proportion: the people who worked for him were actually scared of who he will cast.”

    During the fictional interview the Oriana Fallaci character describes Pasolini as a man always on the lookout, fascinated by the people of New York, the way they looked, they dressed. He would go everywhere, in Harlem, Williamsburg and areas where even the Police was scared. She describes the fear that something bad would happen to him but his total unconcerned attitude. 

    During the evening's second part Interviewing Pasolini,  Guy Flatley spoke about the director's attitude as well. “He made an effort to be charming and interesting but I was afraid the interview was going to be a bore,” Flatley admitted, “I was instructed to ask only certain questions, very specific to the film, nothing personal or political. But then he started clowning around and that was one of the most memorable interviews of my career.”  Flatley also enjoyed the film, although people in the US didn't really understand it. 

    Still, he was loved. “He was not widely popular, but people did know him and his work. And that was enough.” Pasolini left New York in 1969, never to come back, although he definitely wished to.  His death came just a few years later. His death was briefly discussed but the evening's scope was to celebrate his persona and his work, his relationship with New York, his poetry and its influece on today's young poets. Not his death.  

    Indeed, the third part of the evening Free Verse Poets for Pasolini featured some of Pasolini's Roman Poems and poetry of young New York poets. Co-curated by Laura Caparrotti, founder and artistic director of Kairos Italy Theater, and Dave Johnson, poet, the final segment featured actors reading some of his verses while young poets from the Bronx read their own pieces. Most people know Pasolini for his films, but are not aware that he was primarily a poet, publishing nineteen books of poems during his lifetime. In his poetry his unmediated voice roars.

    “When he was killed, his voice was silenced,” Giorgio Van Straten, the new director of the Italian Cutural Institute of New York has said, “but now, forty years later was are here talking about him, his public persona and his art. This is proof that he is still speaking.”