Italian-American Cinematheque: Italian Cinema in America with Maximilian Law

Maximilian Law

Maximilian Law

In an effort to raise awareness of the influence Italian-American cinema has had on American cinema, the Italian Tramer Art Lounge in Los Angeles hosted the first of educational series by the Italian-American Cinematheque. The event was presented by actor, screenwriter, and producer Maximilian Law, accompanied by UCLA cinema professors Thomas Harrison, and Alessandro Pirolini.
 
Maddalena Patrese, founder of the Italian Tramer Art Lounge, reached out to Law with the idea of using the art lounge as a place for cinematic events. Guests enjoyed learning about Federico Fellini’s “8 ½”, and among them was actress and writer Romina Caruana.
A few days before the event, Maximilian Law shared with us his opinion on the relationship between Italian and American cinema, as well as his creative process and working ethic.
 
What influence do you believe Italian cinema has contributed to American cinema?
The Italian cinema industry was the second most important in the world after the U.S. in the fifties and sixties. In those decades, Italian and American cinematography were getting inspired by each other. That is why I want to raise awareness through this event, the Italian American Cinematheque, because contemporary filmmakers the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and many others are directly influenced by filmmakers of those times. As of today, the Italian movie industry has changed. It’s not that relevant anymore, even though there are some special occasions, such as last year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film to “The Great Beauty,” directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
 
Why do you believe Italian Cinema is not as relevant?
In Italy, about eighty percent of all the films are produced thanks to government funds. Even though there are two or three private investors who produce the same type of movies. Secondly, filmmakers don’t take risks anymore. After WWII, Italy had a voice in films: there was a very strong sense of telling stories because of the war. For fifteen to twenty years after the war, a lot of things were changing and were implemented into the filmmaking. That’s why that genre is called “neo-realism”.
 
What is your hope for Italian Cinema in the U.S.?
It’s actually a good question now. There are some good filmmakers, but sometimes it is difficult for their work to be distributed outside Italy, especially for economic reasons. Now the Italian Film Commission has a bit more power than in the past, but I don’t think it will ever go back to the fifties and sixties, it’s impossible. To me, Totò is my comedic mentor. His movies were profound and funny at the same time. They had heart. Without heart you don’t go anywhere. You can make people laugh, but without heart, without a message, they would forget the movie thirty minutes after walking out from the theater.
 
How has your Italian background helped become who you are today?
From an acting point of view, my comedic style it’s kind of unique. It’s a blend of Italian and American elements that are usually separated. Either you’re an Italian comedian or an American comedian, but because I’m bilingual, I can play in America and I can play in Italy. From a filmmaker, writer and producer point of view, the connections that I have in Europe are actually helpful, because within the European Union you can actually ask for funds.
 
How do you come up with an idea for a feature or short film?
I already have three movies, which have been with me for many years. They are stories that I want to tell. Two of them I already wrote. I’m trying to do one a year. That is why I founded my own production company “Perpetuus” and went away from my previous partners, because they were doing other things. I want to do just movies. I will write one movie a year, pretty much like Woody Allen does. Now I’m doing “Jack Zero”, which is slightly processed. Of course I’m also doing “Souls” now, which is not a movie that I wrote but I’m producing it. It’s based on a book of a dear friend of mine, Romina Caruana.
 
You are currently working on two feature films, would you say you know how to do more short films than feature films?
That’s a very good question. The big question mark is when you are ready to jump from the other show themes you produce, to the feature film. So the answer, of course, is that when you start a process in doing a feature film you’re not alone. You surround yourself with colleagues, other producers. It’s a group effort. Hopefully, I will be more experienced after doing these two and able to handle the next one better on my own.
 
Do you not consider yourself an Italian producer, because you are in America?
Cinema doesn’t belong to a country. All the films that I will do, as the things that I’m doing now, are meant for the world. I said I’m not an Italian producer because my production company is based in America, and so my approach to work is American. But I’m collaborating with Italian producers. Definitely, I am becoming a bridge between these two countries.

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