Barbara Klein (President of the Italian Film Festival USA)

Il cinema italiano nel Midwest con l'Italian Film Festival USA

Mar 26, 2014 3257 ITA ENG

Movies are a wonderful way to tell stories, and in the US many millions of people – either of Italian heritage or not – love to be told stories about and from Italy. That is why cinema is one of the most important tool of the promotion of our culture in America.

Every year, hundreds of events involve the showing of an Italian movie somewhere in the USA. Very often they are on the two coasts. That's why the Italian Film Festival USA is so important: because it fills a vacuum, in other places of the US. Let's talk about this with the President, Mrs. Barbara Klein, the one who had this wonderful idea, ten years ago.

Mrs. Klein, there are several Italian Film Festivals all over the US. Yours is different from every other one ... it actually involves 11 cities! Please, tell us something more about it

Yes, the Italian Film Festival USA occurs in eleven cities in the Heartland of the United States. The Festival's objective is to promote Italian cinema in cities where people would not otherwise have the opportunity to see Italian film. Unlike the East or West coasts, few foreign films are shown in local theatres during the year.

The festival began in 2005 in St. Louis and added a couple of cities every year. The 2014 Festival is in St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Memphis, Cleveland, Boulder, Kansas City, Phoenix and Chicago. We start from Pittsburgh, on march 27: the program is available at http://www.italianfilmfests.org.

The festival is organized entirely by volunteers whose goal is to encourage people to appreciate the Italian language, culture, and cinema.

In your public you have either Italians who live and work in the USA but were born in Italy, and Italian Americans born there from a family of Italian heritage. Is there a different approach towards the new Italian movies between these two categories?

Yes, there is. When we screen films that depict historical events, we invite a professor to introduce the film in order to give the American public a background to help them better understand the film. An Italian audience does not need that kind of introduction.

Ten years have passed from the first edition of the festival. From your point of view, which are the main differences – in terms of the response of the public, of the quality of the movies, of the general perception of the Italian cinema - between 2005 and now?

The public really enjoys and appreciates the movies as demonstrated by the audience ratings of the films. The number of festival attendees has grown every year, and in 2014 we hope to top 10.000 spectators.

We select the best of Italian cinema, films with different subjects, and a variety of drama, comedies and documentaries. All are excellent movies.

Are the movies in Italian language with English subtitles?

Absolutely, we can't do it otherwise. Although many of the Festival organizers, such as myself, are instructors of Italian language who encourage the study of the Italian language, we realize that to reach a larger audience, we must show all films with English subtitles.

Have you thought about introducing some Italian television fiction into your contents? Some of them could be very interesting and useful in explaining important persons and facts regarding the Italian history.

One of the first movies we screened was "La meglio Gioventù", which is fiction for the Italian television.

You also have a section called "Meet the directors" ...

Yes. We have two directors that are coming to the festival this year: Saverio Di Biagio with his first feature film "Qualche Nuvola", and Massimo Ferrari with his documentary "The Women Workers' War".

Which movies won the previous editions of the festival?

We have a page on our web site www.italianfilmfests.org that lists the audiences favorite film by year, determined by feedback from ballots handed out to attendees at each screening. From 2005 on, the winners have been "La meglio gioventù" (The Best of Youth) and "I cento passi" (The Hundred Steps) by Marco Tullio Giordana, "Alla luce del sole" (Come Into The Light) by Roberto Faenza, "Rosso come il cielo" (Red Like The Sky) by Cristiano Bortone, "La giusta distanza" (The Right Distance) by Carlo Mazzacurati, "Si può fare" (We Can Do That) by Giulio Manfredonia, "18 anni dopo" (18 Years Later) by Edoardo Leo, "Benvenuti al sud" (Welcome to the South) by Luca Miniero, and "Terraferma" by Emanuele Crialese.

This year, an Italian movie has been awarded either with a Golden Globe and with an Oscar. Which impact will this have on your festival, and on the circulation of the Italian cinema in the US?

There certainly will be more people interested in Italian cinema. "La grande bellezza" (The Great Beauty) has had a wide theatrical release in the US. Our festival is about Italian films that people haven't had the opportunity to see, so we did not include "La grande bellezza", but we are very proud that the film's star Tony Servillo is in two of the films in our Festival: "Il gioiellino" and "Viva la libertà". Our audience will be interested in coming to see these films starring Servillo.

What's the idea of Italy that your audience has had from these ten years of Italian movies? Is that any different from the one coming out from the news and the web?

For many of our viewers, our festival is a way to see images of Italy and connect with the land of their ancestors. Many of them have an idea of their old country built on the stories the grandparents told them about Italy, so this is a way to see modern Italy. It is a way for others, who have no ancestral connection with Italy, to become interested in the country and its culture. Many, after viewing the films we show, are interested in travelling to Italy.

Through the films, the public learns about Italian culture and history. When we screened "Buongiorno, notte" (Good Morning, Night) about Aldo Moro, or when we showed "Noi credevamo" (We believed) about the unification of Italy, we had discussions about the content of the movies to make people more aware about important events in Italy's history.

You are based in St. Louis, Missouri. What's the story of the Italian emigration in that area?

Although there are Italian-Americans who can trace their heritage to all regions of Italy, there were primarily two groups of immigrants: from Sicily (many from Termini Imerese) and from western Lombardy (many from Cuggiono and Arconate).

These Italian immigrants established not one but two Little Italy neighbourhoods in St. Louis. The Sicilian area was downtown, and the other, founded by immigrants from western Lombardy, is referred to as "The Hill". It includes the church of St. Ambrose where a Mass in Italian language is celebrated once a month.

Unfortunately, the Sicilian area was destroyed for downtown redevelopment and to build a stadium. Many of the Sicilians moved into "The Hill", which today is a thriving neighbourhood noted for its restaurants, shops, ethnic supermarkets, and strong sense of Italian pride. Unfortunately, not many of them speak Italian anymore. I teach Italian and many of my students are of Italian heritage, and they want to learn the language of their grandparents.

Is there a big presence of Italians today?

Yes. There are many native born Italians who now live in St. Louis. They own business, work for multi-national corporations, in the fields of education or medicine. For example, there are several researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. All attend and support the film festival. For them it is an opportunity to see the latest Italian films on a big screen.

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