Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Keeping Apulian Food Traditions Alive with Rossella Rago

  • Facts & Stories

    Launches an Award for the Mediterranean Diet

    Like hundreds of Italian manufacturers, the Casillo Group (Corato, Bari), a leading Italian company in the production of wheat, semolina, flour and typical products, participated in the big Fancy Food, where everything (and the opposite of everything...) gathered for three days, involving over 180,000 between visitors, exhibitors and professionals. 

    Casillo’s approach, despite a juicy turnover of one billion Euros per year, was simple and elegant. At their booth, Apulian flavors and traditions were showcased live by showgirl Rossella Rago, young Italian American lover of good food and host of “Cooking with Nonna” (coming with a baggage of true grandmother to knead orecchiette) and a superb chef, Mauro Pansini, appreciated around the world for his sexy interpretations of Apulian cuisine.

    “I had the great pleasure to do cooking demos in the Selezione Casillo booth at the Summer Fancy Food Show. Together with Nonna Romana and Nonna Rosa, we were able to create some authentic pasta and desserts which were made all better by using the fine flours and semolina flours crafted by Selezione Casillo. They are indeed masters at creating traditional products so that we can all maintain our old school traditions,” Rossella told i-Italy.

    In the three days it is was a feast of salty specialties and sweets treats, including Homemade Orecchiette with Cime di Rape and Bocconcini di Nutella on Day 1 and Maccheroncini ai Ferri with Fave e Cicorie and Almond Semolina Cookies on Day 2, spotlighting old and new products, including "Stone Father Mother Grain," a line of stone ground wheat, and a "pin up" girl collection, with eye-catching retro packaging.

    But the real news, was the launch of the first "Casillo Award for the Mediterranean Diet," which took place outside the context of the trade fair in a breathtaking location for a "Fuori Fancy" experience. Presented by the fascinating Manuela Rana, a Molfettese transplanted from time in the Big Apple, the initiative is seeking to establish a strong identity of the Group with the values of the Mediterranean Diet, where flour is of course the most important component.

    "The award is meant to establish a strong tie between the Casillo Group and the Mediterranean Diet values and traditions, which heavily capitalizes on the presence of wheat-based products, a hallmark of Casillo’s portfolio.We wanted to recognize the dedication of some individuals and organizations that, with passion, commitment and determination, bring luster to Italy, Apulia and promote the Mediterranean diet, of which our products are epitome," Mimmo Casillo, president and CEO of the Group, told i-Italy and then added, "It is thanks to them that the Group and the family Casillo will soon be at home in America."

    The prize, a symbolic ceramic plate hand-decorated by master Agostino Branca, is intended to recognize in a simple but significant ones that are real "ambassadors" of Italian cuisine (and of Apulia in particular), who have distinguished themselves for their excellent contribution in the spreading of the Mediterranean Diet. The 2015 winners were: Sara Baer Sinnott, president of the non-profit Oldways, an organization promoting in the U.S. the appreciation and diffusion of the Mediterranean Diet for over 20 years; Pino Coladonato, renown chef and restaurateur (La Masseria, both in NYC and in Rhode Island); Dino Clemente, the owner of an industrial bakery renown (Clemente Bakery, in New Jersey); John Mustaro, beloved president of the important United Pugliesi Federation; Rossella Rago, gracious host of the program "Cooking with Nonna"; John Sciancalepore, distributor and passionate organizer of the Feast of Our Lady of Martyrs to Hoboken; and Mauro Pansini, renowned Chef de Cuisine from international experience, who gave guests the delicious tastings of the evening.

    “Apulian cuisine is quintessential of the  Mediterranean: durum wheat, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, rich in polyphenols, fish, legumes and almonds,” Mimmo Casillo continued, “Durum wheat is at the base of this diet, it has  a higher protein content than soft wheat. Our region is known for its durum wheat which we use in the preparation of several dishes: orecchiette pasta, pane di Altamura  Dop, Focaccia Barese, Taralli, Frise, Puccia and Pizzi (bread dough knead with black olives, tomatoes and onions then baked in a stone oven.”

    At the event, a poetic video by director Carlos Solito was shown “Light, Wind, Tradition”: colors and atmospheres of Apulia, between sea, olive trees and wheat fields up to the Alta Murgia National Park, proud home of the Casillo Group. An annual event, therefore, that will contribute, strategically, to the Made in Italy on American tables.

  • Facts & Stories

    Calabrian Sauce Tales: Nonna Carolina's Unique Sauces Conquer the SFFS

     It is common belief that the cuisine of Italian grandmothers is the most authentic, flavorful and healthy of all. No matter what your grandma sets on the table you know it's going to be good.

    So it's no surprise that City Saucery's Nonna Carolina sauce line won NYCEDC's (New York City Economic Development Corporation) Third Fancy Food Competition. The Taste of NYC: Fancy Food Fellowship is “ a City-sponsored competition designed to send New York City-based specialty foods manufacturers to an internationally recognized trade show in New York City (the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show), connecting small business owners to a global audience.” The 2015 competition focused on immigrant entrepreneurs in the City: Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen (from Malaysia), City Saucery (of Calabrian roots), Port Morris Distillery (of Puerto Rican heritage) and Spoonable (of French-Moroccan heritage).

    City Saucery is  a modern family business based in Staten Island, co-owned by Michael Marino, a Brooklyn native, Jorge Moret of Venezuela and Nonna Carolina, Michael's mother, who emigrated from Italy to the United States in the 1970s.  The sauce  is inspired by Nonna's traditional recipes coming from her native region of Calabria. “This artisanal tomato sauce is  made using regionally sourced ingredients to create unique, delicious and healthy sauces for the discerning palate,” co-owner Michael Marino has said. “We prepare it the old-fashioned way using locally-grown ingredients like 100% New Jersey vine-ripened tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and aromatic herbs that bring out flavors reminiscent of home-cooked meals from Nonna Carolina's kitchen.” The company's motto? “Inspired by Calabria, Handcrafted in NYC.”

    “My partner Jorge Moret  and I started the business to share our love for delicious, authentic and healthy food. Our tomato sauce captures the freshness and flavors of Grandma's home-cooked specialty and is devoid of GMOs, chemical additives, or preservatives.”

    “Nonna Carolina has always been an amazing cook,” Jorge Moret has said, “At first she was working in the kitchen of a local restaurant where she prepared delicious and unique dishes from her native region of Calabria. She immediately acquired a following, which gave Michael and I the idea of promoting her dishes on social media with local classes and demonstrations to teach fans traditional techniques on handcrafting and preserving foods. This is where we saw tremendous potential in Nonna Carolina's sauces.”

    Citty Saucery opened in September 2011, in just a few months. A lot of people think 'Nonna' is a fictitious name for City Saucery's products. Just a marketing stunt. “Little do they know that she is a real Italian grandmother (of five),” Moret has added, “She's City Saucery's ‘sauce boss’, inspiration, and a real spark plug in the kitchen! Standing at only five feet tall, she has a little step-stool to reach over the stove and a three-foot wooden spoon to stir her sauce—and you better not mess with her sauce!”

    Through the Fellowship, City Saucery had a chance to share its unique and healthy line of tomato sauces at the 2015 edition of the Summer Fancy Food Show, where over 22,000 buyers from more than 100 countries go to discover top-of-the-line specialty food products. The Show is North America's  leading showcase of industry innovation, bringing together specialty food's top manufacturers and buyers. This was an unparalleled opportunity.

    "I don't have many words to explain what this means to me but I do know that this opportunity tells me all my efforts to put good and clean food on the American table has been recognized,” Michael Marino has added. Nonna's sauces are not just for pasta but they pair perfectly with a number of fish, chicken, meats and vegetable dishes like Sloppy Saucey Joey made with Nonna's Smoky Sauce or Minted Peas & Farro made with Nonna's Sweet Sauce.

    One thing Michael wants to clarify for all: they do not jar Marinara or Puttanesca or Arrabbiata or Bolognese or  or Alfredo sauce: they jar tomato sauces with a unique twist, what Nonna would cook up for her own family.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Italy Shines as first First Partner Country and Sponsor at 2015 SFFS

    Everybody going to the New York City’s 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show is Italian. Indeed, as you walk around the busy corridors of the Jacob Javits Center you realize that all badges, no matter what country you are from, no matter what type of food you sell, are sporting the Italian flag and a logo designed on purpose to announce that Italy is the first Partner Country and Sponsor of the Summer Fancy Food Show, since the days of its inception.


    Italy is indeed the main protagonist of the 2015 edition of Summer Fancy Food, the largest 
    marketplace devoted exclusively to specialty foods and beverages in North America. For the first time in the 61 years of show history, the organizers, Specialty Food Association, a not-for-profit trade association based in New York for food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs, have elected a partner country as well as the sponsor of the great event.
    “We are very proud of the work we've accomplished in these recent months,” Donato Cinelli, President of Universal Marketing, the exclusive show agent for Italy, has said. “The 2015 Summer Fancy Food is our icing on the cake. Not only is Italy the first-time partner and sponsor of the show, Universal Marketing gets the honor to work with the Specialty Food Association at one of the most important commercial events in the world and this, to us, is not only an immense pride and satisfaction but, also, the confirmation of our growing reputation in the industry, that we have been steadily building all these years in North America and beyond.”

    Chris Nemchek, SVP, Business Development & Member Relations Officer at The Specialty Food Association had more to say. “We at the Specialty Food Association are pleased and proud to announce that Italy has been named our first ever Partner Country for the Summer Fancy Food Show. We have partnered with the Italian Trade Commission and with Universal Marketing for many years to build programs that would bring more and more Italian specialty foods to the US consumer. Italy has brought some of the highest quality foods to the US through the Fancy Food Show. The Partner Country Program has given Italy the opportunity to further promote these brands to the US buying community.”

    Through the years the Italian pavilion has always been the largest yet this year, sponsored by PGI Gragnano Pasta, Fratelli d’Amico, Kimbo and De Nigris, there are 375 food companies spread out on more than 26,000 square feet of exhibit area, carrying the finest in pasta, cheese, olive oil, cured meats, rice, vinegars, pastries and more from all regions of Italy.
    The sense of pride is not only that of the organizers but of the exhibitors as well, pride of participating and pride of presenting some of the best, high quality products Italy produces. “This is the first year we participate in the show,” Cristina Lucera, Business Development Manager of Sotto il Tetto della Puglia said, “And we are here to introduce the American consumer to the simplicity of Italian ingredients.” At their booth a welcoming Italian “mamma” is quietly making fresh orecchiette, Puglia’s typical pasta. “It’s hard to believe but not many consumers are familiar with this ear-shaped pasta which traditionally is paired with cime di rapa (broccoli raab) but is also delicious with tiny meatballs or just ricotta salata (a variation of ricotta that has been pressed, salted and dried). Orecchiette do make an appearance on some menus here in New York, but they are not known in other states. The Fancy Food show gives us the right exposure to buyers across the US.”
    Along with newcomers, there are companies who are leaders back home and that often attend the Fancy Food Show as it is an important promotional tool, as well as a unique opportunity to “conquer” the North American market. Roberto Ravanelli, Sales Manager at Delicius, talked about the benefits of attending. “Buyers from top names in specialty retailing, restaurants and food service, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Dean&DeLuca and Fresh Direct among others, are all here. The Fancy Food brings them all together and in three days we have maximum exposure. Today Delicius is the Italian leader in the anchovy, mackerel, sardine and prawn markets. We work on a global scale and we have widened our product range by combining great attention to today’s consumer and great tradition.”
    Tradition is a key element to the great quality of all Italian products, not only the ones presented at the show but always. And as always all Italian producers participating at the show are bringing over the best.

  • Art & Culture

    L'Amore Corto, a short about time, living abroad and expectations

    Just presented at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in Toronto, right after a successful screening at the Short Film Corner in Cannes, L'Amore Corto, a short film by Valentina Vincenzini, is an Italian-New Yorker project brought to life, thanks to the contribution of some of the Big Apple's greatest Italian restaurants (Numero 28, I Trulli, Sfilatino, Ribalta and Fabbrica), by a crew of young Italian professionals living in New York. Produced by Jack Boar Pictures and supported by Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, L'amore Corto tells the story of Giulia and Lorenzo, the two characters brought to life by Nicole Cimino and Iacopo Rampini, who have moved to the City hoping to live in a feature length film but they are trapped in an independent and low budget short.

    Their love story is a tool to analyze, with irony, important social issues, such as “the difficulties young people face when planning their future, the short film format as the only form of expression for small independent productions, the decision to live in a foreign country as well as the fine line between expectations and reality for immigrants.”


    Valentina Vincenzini, lived in New York for eight months back in 2013. That's when the film was shot. She now lives in Rome and works as Creative Producer for the communication agency Save the Cut. This is what she had to say about the film.


    How did you get the idea of L'Amore Corto?

    I had the idea “L’Amore Corto” as I was riding the New York City subway. I would observe the people around me, people who spent their commute watching videos on their cell phones. That made me think of turning things around and come up with the story of two characters who would love to live in a feature length film but who actually live in a short youtube video with the consequential anxiety of the timeline that constantly marks the remaining minutes. I thought this was the perfect way to describe what so many kids who move to New York feel. They get here with great dreams but they end up having to reappraise their expectations, while, day by day, the expiration date of their visa is getting closer. The independent cinema told by the two protagonists therefore becomes a metaphor of the condition of our generation, adults in their twenties and thirties, who have grown up thinking they'd “make a film just like the one or parents made,” but the end up finding themselves in a completely different context. They have no certainties and their future has to be completely reinvented.


    What are the challenges of telling the story you had in mind in only a few minutes of film?

    In this case, telling a short story in only a few minutes was not my biggest challenge. As the title reveals, Giulia and Lorenzo's story is deliberately short. The biggest challenge though was to come up with a good product with meager resources. Out budget was limited so each cost had to be optimized. At the moment of shooting the entire crew found they were actually living the situation I was describing in the film! Giulia and Lorenzo are racing against time, and it was the same for us. We ended up shooting all scense in only a day and a half, despite the rain and several other issues.


    How difficult is it for Italian filmmakers to make films in a foreign country, in this case in NYC?

    Paradoxically, I believe that for an Italian filmmaker it is now easier to shoot abroad rather then in Italy.  New York specifically offers more opportunities to all independent filmmakers: whoever has a project and wants to make it come to fruition won't have a hard time finding great professionals, locations, tools and so forth. They just need to take their job seriously and work hard. In Italy, where there is a lack of a strong market for independent filmmaking, both short and feature length independent films are seen as a hobby, just something to pass time, so there are very few professional opportunities. I think that in Italy there is no lack of talent, but there is a lack of “the right conditions” that facilitate production. My personal experience with L’Amore Corto is indeed emblematic: in just five months I was able to turn my project into a reality. Everybody who worked with me is Italian, the only difference is that we all were Italians living in New York.


    Are we really seen as "Sfigati italiani?" (“Italian losers”)

    No, I don't think so. When Giulia tells Lorenzo that they are “the next Italian losers who end up doing only independent shorts” she is just scared to play the game. She would love to live in a feature film, but she pushes him away because she is afraid of failure. Her frustration is the frustration of many young Italian professionals who are forced to leave their country because there are no other alternatives... but at times even abroad her talent is unrecognized. Obviously, that line, as well as the rest of the dialogue is strongly autoironic, considering that at the moment all of us were Italian professionals in New York shooting an independent short.


    How did you chose to convey your message in a romantic comedy format?

    The idea to use the romantic comedy genre to tell a meta-cinematographic story was an obvious choice. There was no better way to tell my story, a metaphor of contemporary life as the love story of two young Italians in New York.


    What's next for L'Amore Corto, and how important is it to be in all these festivals?

    As of now L’Amore Corto has been in over 50 film festivals, in 8 different countries. Thousands of people have seen it and this certainly is both a great achievement and an opportunity to compare our work with that of others. I believe that, film festivals are a must, especially for independent shorts. Unfortunately competition is very high and it is not always easy to be among the select few.

    For a filmmaker, festivals also are an opportunity to meet their audience and other professionals in the same field. Winning an award selected by the jury or by the audience is vital recognition; it means you have worked well, you are appreciated and encouraged to continue down that path.  After the festival circuit, L’Amore Corto will end up on the web. Online distribution is on a global scale, it reaches a wider audience and more diversified audience that the film festivals. It's all about exposure.


  • Art & Culture

    Taddrarite: Theater as a Tool of Public Condemnation (but with a Smile)

    After a successful run at the celebrated Piccolo Teatro in Milano and a tour throughout northern and southern Italy, the show Taddrarite, brought by Accura Teatro, has had its North American debut (during the In Scena! Italian Theater Festival).

    Winner of the Roma Fringe Festival 2014, one of the largest multi-arts festivals, the play, 
    written and directed by Luana Rondinelli, is the story of three women, victims of violence, told with irony, intelligence, theatrical skill and superb acting.

    As per Sicilian tradition, three sisters vigil beside the body of the husband of the youngest one. All due silence, respect and decency are torn by a whirlwind of confessions. It's like an explosion of emotions: the women can't stop talking, can't keep lying and are dragged into a surreal atmosphere. Franca, Rosa and Maria find the courage to face, with sarcasm, the violence they have been victims of and they have never dared to confess. Starring Anna Clara Giampino, Claudia Gusmano and Luana Rondinelli herself, the play is a grotesque and hilarious presentation of the dramatic life experiences of these women who make us smile but also think.

    As per tradition, after a night of vigil, the dead man's soul has left the house and life goes back to normal. The three sisters go back to their life but with a new and renewed sense of identity, with a drive to fight back and stop being victims. Luana Rondinelli had the time to answer a few questions that help us understand more.

    How was Taddrarite conceived and what does the title mean?

    From an idea, a need, an intuition... a memory... that's how the text was born. A memory from my childhood that has grown into an idea, an idea drivenby a writing need and embellished with some insight. One of the very first lucky “intuitions” was the title, since the beginning I was certain of my choice. Taddrarite is a Sicilian word that means bats (the pronunciation varies from Sicilian region to region). It was a word that I often heard my mother say to my sister; she used to say “mi pari una Taddrarita” (you look like a bat) when she was scolding her because she could not stop moving. It's a word that I use in its feminine and plural form, because I speak of female creatures who are able to survive in the dark, just like the three sisters of the play. An idea of directing the show that I developed as I was writing it; I saw it develop right before my eyes, word by word, image by image...

    The stage used against violence on women, how useful is theater in denouncing something?

    Theater can, and must, still fulfill the function of revealing something and offering a solution. When I wrote Taddrarite I never would have thought that my words were going to touch the hearts of so many people who are aware of the importance of the issue or who, unfortunately, have been subjected to or know someone who has suffered because of domestic violence. Actually, unlike with many other dramaturgical texts which are immediately given more depth by careful research, interviews, studies and so forth, I did it all at the end. When I was done, I had an explosive revelation: I realized that what I wrote   perfectly mirrored reality, I realized that Franca, Rosa and Maria really exist, they live in the North, in the South and in Central Italy. I realized that those words have a message. Our responsibility of denouncing the issue of violence grows with us day by day, every time we are on stage and say those lines. We want people to know that starting over is possible and that we should never keep silent. The message comes clear, from the stage to the viewer, it's there for the audience to grab and take along with them.

    Taddrarite uses irony to shed light on a serious matter, what's behind this choice? 

    The choice was not intentional but instinctive. Something that came up as I was writing and it was the perfect choice, perhaps it was the key to success of this show. I could not talk about such a dramatic theme without trying to lighten or mitigate it; irony has always helped me in life, I had to use it. Talking about violence but with a smile has allowed the audience to be more involved and to  open their hearts to the deeper meaning of the text.  

    How much room is there for Sicilian Women Theater?

    There is plenty of room but opportunities have to be created. There is considerable excitement since the days that Emma Dante (a Sicilian writer and actress) was accepted by the general public. Today there is a less utopian possibility to find an opening, but we need a certain drive and that higher gear that all women have and must use. We have the right to be here! 

    How was the show welcomed in NYC?

    In Italy our show is always embraced, here in NYC we were a little apprehensive. But we let ourselves be and the audience really welcomed us. We are shocked. Despite the Sicilian dialect, all language and cultural barriers, emotions have no limitations and at the end of each performance there was not a dry eye, either theirs or ours.

  • Art & Culture

    Open Roads. Italian Cinema in Today's Cultural Scene

    Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò's director, Stefano Albertini, closed the season of cultural events with a successful round table with the directors and actors of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln center.

    “This is a unique opportunity to listen to such a rich and diverse group of Italian filmmakers
    talk about their films and about what seems to be a great moment for Italian cinema,” Albertini mentioned in the announcement of the evening.

    The delegation included: Francesca Archibugi, director of Il nome del figlio/An Italian Name; Duccio Chiarini, director of I dolori del giovane Edo/Short Skin; Cristina Comencini, director of Latin Lover; Eleonora Danco, director of N-Capace/N-Able; Ivano De Matteo, director of I nostri ragazzi/The Dinner; Adriano Giannini, actor in La foresta di ghiaccio/The Ice Forest; Claudio Santamaria, actor in Ermanno Olmi's Torneranno i prati/Greenery Will Bloom Again; and Sara Serraiocco, actress in Cloro/Chlorine.

    With the initial help of writer and professor Antonio Monda, who is also one of the founders of Open Roads, Albertini led an insightful conversation on the variety of films presented this year and the general situation of Italian cinema in today's cultural scene.

    “There are comedies, thrillers, avant garde films, shorts and the latest work from one of the historical masters of Italian cinema: Ermanno Olmi,” Monda said in his introduction, curious to know how working with a living legend is. “It was the most intense and enjoyable working experience of my life,” Claudio Santamaria, who plays an army officer during the Great War, “As a director he destroys the actor because he wants to see the human being capture on camera.”

    The film captures a single snowy night on the Italian front, on the Cimbrian Mountains, as soldiers in trenches deal with their loneliness, the hardship of war as they try find pockets of hope where they can. 

    The master's latest endeavor is typical of his style, with measured pacing, sparse dialogue and a haunting meditative element, and this fact brought on a discussion on genre. Newcomer Duccio Chiarini explained that “at the moment everybody runs his own show. Directors find their own specific way to tell their stories, they don't really follow a genre. Things in Italy are not that easy but something mazing can come out of necessity and/or poor means.” His Short Skin, a dramedy, if we have to chose a genre for it, which has already earned distribution in the US, is a hilarious coming-of-age tale that captures the turbulences, physical and emotional, of adolescence. A jewel made with a limited budget and a short amount of time. 

    Eleonora Danco's film N-Capace is, instead, something completely unique. “I created my own genre. The film defeats genre, it is not a documentary, it is a sort of surreal tale” the director said of her autobiographical story. “I had the necessity to work on what I saw around me.” Shot in her seaside hometown of Terracina, Danco involves the locals through interviews  and by encouraging them to participate in her drama. Adolescents and old people sing and dance in a series of theatrical tableaux. 

    Cristina Comenicini's Latin Lover, the film that opened the festival, is instead a classic comedy set in the microcosm of a large, atypical family that pokes fun at the traditional concept of the Italian latin lover and pays homage to the Italian cinema of the great masters. “These maestros had total freedom of expression,” Comenicini revealed, “They made whatever film they wanted to make. This freedom is lacking now, due to budget issues or else.” “The more I work,” Francesca Archibugi added, “The more I realize that the story itself is not important, it is the way you tell it that is.” An Italian Name is a crowd-pleaser that can be seen as an Italian variation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    Unique are also the other films in the showcase and that is what makes Italian cinema special. The Ice Forest, the thriller by Claudio Noce starring Giannini, is the only one that has been compared to a Hollywood thriller, although its majestic Alpine setting, the issue of human trafficking on the talian-Slovenian border and its shooting technique make it incomparable to anything else. Each film has its personality.

  • Art & Culture

    Promoting Italian Cinema on an International Level

    If festivals of Italian Cinema like Open Roads, currently taking place at Lincoln Center, exist, it is thanks to institutions like Istituto Luce Cinecittà – Filmitalia.

    Open Roads was created to promote Italian cinema on an international level, and to increase


    the distribution of Italian films on the foreign market. Istituto Luce Cinecittà functions under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Culture-Direction Cinema, and its activities include “the collaboration with all of the major International film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Shanghai, Locarno, New York and London, the organization of the national selections, the presence of Italian films and artists in the various festivals, and providing its own expository and promotional space within all the major international film markets designed to provide support to the distributors and other Italian film industry professionals so as to increase and maintain the industry’s visibility and distribution abroad.” 

    During the Open Roads Festival, between a screening and an appointment with a distributor, we had the chance to meet with Carla Cattani, Head of Contemporary Cinema Promotion at Istituto Luce Cinecittà – Filmitalia. 
    Please tell us about the importance of festivals like Open Roads.
    In addition to celebrated international festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto, where Italian films are presented with films from other countries, it's important to create specific moments of visibility only for Italian cinema.

    We at Istituto Luce – Cinecittà do that in territories that we call “strategic,” meaning those countries where it's important that our cinema finds distribution. Such countries are the United States, Japan, the UK, Korea and France. We create these “moments” hoping that what we offer is noticed by distributors and then bought and distributed in their country.
    Why New York versus Los Angeles, the capital of American Cinema?
    New York is the American city that is the closest to Europe so the companies that buy European cinema are all here. Los Angeles is the American City where cinema is made and sent out to the world, while New York is the city that welcomes cinema, in all its different shapes and forms. 
    How do American audiences see contemporary Italian cinema? Was there an increase of interest after the victory of The Great Beauty at last year's Academy Awards?
    People's interest did not grow after the Oscar win. That victory was the culmination of a process that had been happening for a while. In the past three or four years, Italian films have won several important awards – the Golden Lion in Berlin (Taviani), the Golden Lion in Venice (Sacro Gra by Rosi), the second-place Grand Prix at Cannes (The Wonders by Alice Rohrwacher in 2014, Reality by Garrone in 2012, Gomorra by Garrone in 2008).

    So this growing interest and appreciation for Italian films has been going on for awhile. If you think about it at Cannes, this past May, there were five Italian films: three in competition and two in other sections. That's a huge number. Italy produces less that 100 films a year, and 5% were at Cannes.

    That's amazing, and it means that Italian cinema is appreciated. It's able to speak to people and it has its own identity. Of course, the Oscar was important but let's look at it as a soccer game: the Oscar was a goal! Great, but still the game was also well-played. One player scored a goal, but the other players have done a great job too. 
    How are the films presented at Open Roads selected?
    We are not the ones who pick and chose. In New York, it's the director of the Film Society at Lincoln Center. The director comes to Italy and watches 50 or 60 films and selects what is found appropriate. The choice is personal and diversified. This year, for example, a small, independent movie, like Short Skin by Duccio Chiarini, was picked and it was an immediate success.

    The film has already been bought by an American distributor. But they also picked great star-studded films, like Cristina Comencini's Latin Lover, which captures on camera the last performance of the great Virna Lisi. We trust this person to know what the local audience wants to see, always keeping in mind that we have to fill up the cinema. In the fifteen years of Open Roads we moved, year after year, to bigger theaters. Even at lunch time, a time where people don't really go to the movies, we are able to fill up the space. 

    This year there was a strong presence of female directors. How much room is there for female directors in Italian cinema?

    Five years ago, a colleague, Rossella Rinaldi, completed a research project and Italy was at the bottom, followed only by Greece, as per presence of female directors. Things have definitely changed. I mentioned Alice Rohrwacher winning at Cannes, but there are others like Laura Bispuri who won at Tribeca, as well as Hong Kong Film Fest, with Sworn Virgin. At Open Roads, we have Cristina Comencini, Francesca Archibugi, Eleonora Danco, but also the directors of the shorts of 9 X 10 Novanta (Alina Marazzi, Sara Fgaier, Costanza Quatriglio, Paola Randi and the aforementioned Alice Rohrwacher). We have not done a new research project but it is obvious that things are changing.

  • Art & Culture

    Celebrating 90 Years of Istituto Luce Cinecittà with 9X10 Novanta

    Istituto Luce Cinecittà is the state­owned company whose main shareholder is the Italian Ministry for Culture who subsidies its activities on an annual basis. Its institutional work includes promoting Italian cinema both at home and abroad focusing on great directors of the past as well contemporary ones. 

    Istituto Luce Cinecittà holds a film and photographic archive of its own productions, and private collections and acquisitions. This historical archive ( collects a more than 12.000 newsreels, 9.000 documentaries, 3.000.000 photos, and several other titles, ranging from films, dating back to the origins of cinema, to collections and film clips of 20th century events. This is one of the largest audiovisual footage collections in Europe concerning the history of the twentieth century, and it has also been nominated by UNESCO ­Italy for the membership registration in the “Memory of the World registry.” 

    Istituto Luce Cinecittà is also one of the organizers of Open Roads along with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and with the collaboration of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.

    9 x 10 Novanta, which was previewed at the Venice Film Festival, will have its North American Premiere at Open Roads on Tuesday, June 9, 6:30pm. 

    Istituto Luce's archival images were made available to nine filmmakers in the creation of a collective film in memory of the institute's 90 years of activity. Each director was given full freedom to pick any footage that inspired them and to paste together a film focused on any topic they wanted and shot in any style. The only limitation? Time. Each short had to last ten minutes.

    As each director, Marco Bonfanti, Claudio Giovannesi, Alina Marazzi, Pietro Marcello, Sara Fgaier, Giovanni Piperno, Costanza Quatriglio, Paola Randi, Alice Rohrwacher and Roland Sejko, gives their personal spin on the past, “their collective effort emphasizes the striking contrasts that comprise Italy’s recent history: from wartime to peace, from ruins to reconstruction, and from Fascism’s lost promised futures to the present day. Startling, moving, and, above all else, inventive, this omnibus reshapes and gives light to rare material unseen for decades,” representatives of the Film Society at Lincoln Center have said.

    The first short of 9x10 Novanta is by Giovanni Piperno and it is titled Miracolo italiano (Italian miracle). It is a montage of images of the different Madonnas and saints that have been worshipped through the decades all over Italy. Some of these statues have cried, some have bled, others have appeared in a vision and they have even spoken to people. Their message? To keep believing, because there is always room for hope, no matter how your personal life is going or how your country is doing. Italy needs faith to go on, and this was valid now as it was back then! 

    The last short of the film is by Pietro Marcello and Sara Fgaier. It is titled L'umile Italia (Humble Italy) and it brings together images of landscapes and people working in the country, day after day. These are images of poverty but also of dignity. These are images of rules, secular traditions, harmony, and respect for nature. Something that built Italy and that give a reason to live and fight to people then... something that Italy needs now. The past comes to teach us how to live the present.

    Una canzone (A Song) is the title of the ten minutes authored by Alice Rohrwacher, who travels through memory thanks to favorite songs... songs that are linked to places, situations and feelings. Images of the Great War inspired Alina Marazzita to come up with Confini (Borders). Never ending lines of soldiers carrying in the snow heavy artillery show the physical but also the internal fatigue of the men of that time. They are men of the trenches who are working on an epic and absurd quest: they are building a border on top of a snowy mountain. 

    L'entrata in guerra (Italy goes to War) by Roland Sejko reconstructs different moments of life of the day June 10, 1943, as per the beautiful autobiographical tale by Italo Calvino. The narrative style shifts for Marco Bonfanti's Tubiolo e la Luna (Tubiolo and the Moon), a fairy tale that tells the popular story of a boy who, all through his life, with Italy's history in the background, dreams of getting to the Moon.

    Two shorts by two women directors particularly stand out: Progetto panico (Panic Project) by Paola Randi imagines that a group of archaeologists come from the future to discover a dramatic phenomenon of our time: feminicide through the institution of marriage in Italy from the 1900's to today. In Il mio dovere di sposa (My duty as a bride), Claudio Giovannesi uses archival images from 1934 to 1943 to illustrate the diary of a Catholic woman, Vittoria, who expressed all her anxieties and guilt because she could not be a good wife... she could not make love.

    9X10 Novanta is a look at Italy's past: despite their differences, unique stories, individual styles and narrative voices all come together in one message. Italy is one, has always struggled and the struggles continue. Strength can be found in anything as long as people believe.

  • Art & Culture

    When Art Gets Personal at LIC Arts Open

    “It is my great pleasure, once again, to welcome you to the LIC Arts Open. It's hard to believe that 5 years have passed since a seemingly innocuous conversation led to the funding of an arts festival that is growing in size and significance every year. 

     We are back with a fantastic program of exhibits, events and our annual Open Studios weekend, with hundreds of artists and performers taking part, and scores of venues participating.” This is how Richard Mazda, Executive Director of LIC Arts Open, welcomes visitors to the fifth edition of the grandiose show. Among the hundreds of artists participating there is an Italian, Annalisa A.I. Iadicicco, with two unique installations, both located in the Factory building (47th Ave).

    On the ground floor Annalisa has placed Seek side by side silently, a piece that brings together photography and sculpture with her typical use of reclaimed materials. “Seek side by side silently documents a walk through breast cancer, depicting the emotional turmoil and synesthesia symptoms of a caregiver. It honors the human body and what connects us all, blood.” In another gallery on the 4th floor, we find Studio 54, an installation that “celebrates the era of personal freedom and lost senses on the dance floor where texting and twitting didn't affect the soul and people lived in the moment. On a nostalgic note, it reminds us of the lost experience of the Record Store Days.”

    Hailing from Campania, with a stop in Lazio before arriving in NYC, Annalisa calls herself a Long Island City artist as she is true to the neighborhood's artistic spirit and tradition. In the past her installations (like Second Amendment and John Doe) have always had a powerful political message, this time the artist turned more personal.

    Seek side by side silently was inspired by Annalisa's own experience as a caregiver to her mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The installation can be seen as divided into three parts: at first there are two window screens. 

    They are covered with black and white images (printed on the glass itself) of Rosa going through diagnosis, treatment, moments of touching despair and others of strong faith, to the last image captured after her double mastectomy. Rosa is looking at herself in the mirror for the first time as her doctor stands by. 

    Between the two window screens, that seen from afar resemble two wings, there is a feminine figure: the slender bust of a woman where blood flows in the shape of red wool balls. Her head and part of her body are made of broken mirror pieces put together. She has come undone but she has had the strength to put herself back together, to heal, not alone but with the help of her caregivers, her faith, and her doctor. 

    Behind her there are three powerful images of Annalisa herself, when back at home, once she put her camera down and stopped documenting her mother's path, she was left with dealing with her own feelings and fears.

    “I used to take my mother to the doctor and then I would come home and have this emotional reaction,” Annalisa told us while explaining her work, “So I decided to take the camera and document both her struggle and mine. My mom was OK with me documenting it all. For me the camera was a sort of shield, to help me detached from what was happening. It was a really helpful tool: when I was at home and worked with the camera and its images I was able to turn all my feelings into an artistic project.”

    “All my previous installations are pretty personal, as they are about topics that have touched me somehow,” Annalisa continued, “When I read about something happening in the world that made me think I wanted to express something with my art. This time it's all more personal and emotional because it is something that has touched me directly. It's me and my mom, not something happening in the world... although almost everybody can relate to this because in a sense, the rest of the world is afflicted by cancer too.”

    In fact, at the opening of the show, which ends on June 14th, many people connected with the piece. “There is nothing more rewarding for an artist, when he/she creates something and people relate to it.” Annalisa proudly said, “At first people didn't really get it... they saw the blood, the color red..they thought of love...but then they saw the broken glass, so they realized she was somehow hurt... then when they look at the pictures too they understand and get the deeper message. A lot of people have family or friends who when through this same process when dealing with the disease so we all could sympathize with each other. Overall they appreciated the way I translated my feelings, and my mom's, into art.”

    How did Rosa react when she saw the installation? “I asked her in advance to not be overly dramatic,” Annalisa joked, “I told her she is a survivor and she had to be happy about that. As she has to be happy to have a daughter who is an artists and communicates through her art. Of course she was a bit emotional, but everybody was even people who did not know us personally.”

    By chance Annalisa's Seek side by side silently has been placed by a piece by Eung Ho Park, called Mother Natural. Another piece dedicated to breast cancer, where plastic bottles painted in all different skin tones become a filed of amputated breasts. “Participating in the show is essential for artists because they can meet and feed off each other. Not only do they get the chance to show their work but also to see what others do and get inspired.”

    Just to lighten things up a bit, Annalisa decided to showcase Studio 54 as well. A bunch of pants are having the time of their life on the dance floor as the disco ball reflects light on the wall and old vinyls cascade from the ceiling. “I wanted to celebrate the music industry and I used the era of Studio 54. I used old records I had, I recycled some old pants and sneakers, tape from cassettes … people were free and let themselves go on the dance floor... I believe now that is lost. And that makes me nostalgic... this too is personal.”

    Thw show ends on June 14. For more info <<<