The very best in Italian contemporary film is the hallmark of Cinema Italian Style, a film festival that runs November 12–19 in Seattle. In just a few years’ time, this popular series has become one of the city’s most exciting and talked-about cultural events, attracting 6,000 to 7,000 film-goers over eight days.
The festival was launched seven years ago, when Donna James, former director of the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Film and Music and long-time member of the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association, approached the staff at Seattle International Film Festival to gauge their interest in a festival celebrating Italian cinema. SIFF is well-known for its spring film festival, the largest in North America, where 450 films are screened over 25 days.
“SIFF was very enthusiastic about the idea of an Italian film festival,” said James, whose Sicilian roots inspired her to explore an Italian-themed series. “But before they would commit, they asked us to bring some money to the table. We secured an introduction to Matt Galvin, CEO of Pagliacci Pizza, who agreed to sponsor our very first Italian film festival. SIFF contributed some funds as well, and we were in!”
The festival’s November time frame gives organizers access to films that played at the Venice Film Festival in late summer or were recently released for Oscar consideration. SIFF collaborates with Luce Cinecittà, whose film festival in Los Angeles is scheduled around the same time, allowing the two cities to share films and guests. Each festival, however, is independently produced.
Some 14 to 16 films are selected each year. “We usually have six or seven films in common with the Los Angeles festival, and the rest are our selection only,” said Beth Barrett, SIFF’s director of programming. “It’s so expensive to bring in the films and the directors from Italy. This collaboration helps us maximize our festival budget and gives us more access to visiting directors and producers.”
Cinema Italian Style is notable for its focus on contemporary film. “The films we offer are usually brand new to North American audiences or have not been shown a great deal,” said Barrett. “They give a range of what is happening cinematographically in Italy and span all films types―comedy, Mafia dramas, war dramas, thrillers, documentaries. There’s something for everyone.”
Comedy features large in this year’s festival. Two of the comedies to be screened include “Latin Lover,” directed by Cristina Comencini, a film that includes the last screen performance by the late actress Virna Lisi. Also on the slate is “An Italian Name,” directed by Francesca Archibugi.
“The Ice Forest,” a stylish new thriller by Claudio Noce, will be shown, as will the documentary “Palio,” which takes a behind-the-scenes look at the yearlong preparations made for the famous horse races in Siena. The festival’s archival selection this year is “The Night of the Shooting Stars,” a war drama by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, released in 1982.
Seattle’s growing Italian community has rallied behind Cinema Italian Style. “We are seeing an influx of young Italian professionals in Seattle who are changing the profile of the local filmgoer,” said James. ”This community is very supportive of our work and has made the festival what it is today. They are excited to see the newest films from their native country.”
To help SIFF identify what films should be considered each year, the staff relies on an international team of film experts. Advisers include Angelo Acerbi who programs film festivals in Turin, Italy, and Dr. Claudio Mazzola, senior lecturer in Italian studies at the University of Washington.
During festival week, Mazzola, who teaches university classes on contemporary Italian cinema, invites the visiting Italian directors to his classroom to discuss their films and the art of filmmaking with his students. The discussions are always lively and often inspirational, a real treat for these young film aficionados.
“We are lucky to work with such a great team,” said Barrett. “Claudio is in Italy for several months each summer, talking to directors, discussing interesting film titles, looking for the smaller films that were not made by the big studios or don’t include a big-name star. We like to discover new talent and hear from new voices.”
Joining SIFF as a co-presenter of the Italian film festival each year is the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association. During festival week, sister city board members and volunteers transport Italian VIPs to and from the airport, to screenings and special events, and in the past, the mayor of Perugia has been on hand to help open the festival. The last night culminates in a raffle drawing for a free trip for two to Italy—a major fundraiser for the sister city program.
It is this community participation that sets Seattle apart from other film festival cities, said Barrett, who characterizes Seattle film audiences as smart, selective and receptive. “Cinema Italian Style is definitely the strongest of the mini-festivals that we produce,” she said. “There’s an excitement about it and a depth of commitment. For that, we thank our sponsors, our community supporters and, of course, our great audience members.”
For more information, visit: www.siff.net.