Philip Cecchettini: Backstage at the Italian Film Festival

Philip Cecchettini. Photo courtesy of Joyce Konigsberg

Philip Cecchettini. Photo courtesy of Joyce Konigsberg

Fall is around the corner in the Bay Area, and with it comes Lido Cantarutti’s Italian Film Festival of acclaimed comedy and drama directly from Italy. The Festival is an abiding favorite, eagerly awaited by Marin County residents as well as San Francisco natives. Now in its 39th year, the Festival showcases the works of contemporary, talented Italian filmmakers: Roberto Andò, Pierfrancesco Diliberto, Riccardo Milani, the Manetti brothers, actor Claudio Amendola debuting as movie director, and the late Carlo Mazzacurati, to name but a few. Bay Area’s Italian film enthusiasts will enjoy a series of eight movies that will run from September 26th through November 7th 2015 at the Showcase Theatre in Marin Center.
The selection of the Italian films is hand-picked by Lido Cantarutti, who, over the thirty-nine year span of the Italian Film Festival, has developed a time-tested approach to selecting the films for the Festival.  In spring, Lido begins researching new Italian films with the help of trusted colleagues, attempting to surmise which films deserve a spot in the Festival. Based on their recommendations, he starts previewing those films as soon as possible.
Rather than a specific theme or genre, his concentration is on finding films that exhibit quality: quality in the story line, in the acting, and in the writing.  He also concentrates on whether or not the audience of the Italian Film Festival is likely to find them entertaining.  After many hours of screening, he narrows the field down to the ones that he thinks would be the best.  So far this approach seems to be working well.
The making of this special Festival is conceived by Lido’s creativity, tenacity, and passion, along with the support of a five-star team of volunteers and collaborators. The technical and operational aspect of the Festival is developed by a group of Lido’s long-time associates: Philip Cecchettini, Rich Denney, and Mark Smith; within the Showcase Theatre, the box office is managed by Chris Haeuser and Bonnie Yuen, whereas the stage management is supervised by Grania Flanagan. Alongside, is the welcoming and catering arrangement “Squad” composed by Leilani Carrara, Jennifer Francica, Katie Koelle, Melanie Leavitt-Cantarutti, Joy Massa, Joy Phoenix, and Donna Sidel.
Among the most devoted and unfailing presences at the Italian Film Festival “backstage” is Philip Alan Cecchettini, who has been collaborating with Lido Cantarutti for almost twenty years. Philip wears many hats: researcher, copy writer, marketing manager, website coordinator. Philip is of Italian heritage and still maintains solid ties with his overseas family. 
Philip, how did your collaboration with Lido start?
Twenty-two years ago, my wife and I met Lido as students in his College of Marin Italian language class. When I learned about the Festival, I offered to develop a festival website. The web was very new then! That led to recommendations about marketing, for example, replacing the posters with a detailed printed program brochure and a more intense public relations campaign. That work continues to this day, with graphic and web design done by Mark A. Smith of MAS Creative in Emeryville. 

Lido Cantarutti with his Italian Film Festival team . Photo courtesy of Stuart Lirette

Do you find that your Italian heritage influences your work at the Festival?
My involvement in the Festival and the friendship with Lido intensified my interest in all things Italian and especially my Italian roots. My brother Eugene is the family’s genealogist : he has traced the Cecchettinis back to 1620 through intensive work in Lucca archives; so, contacting my family was relatively easy. My relatives live in Piazza di Brancoli near Lucca. My father’s first cousin Italo lives in the village as does his son and his family. Around the turn of the last century, many emigrated to Sacramento. The possibility of employment with the Southern Pacific Railroad was a magnet for them and other relatives from Pisa. I travel to Italy frequently and always visit the family in Brancoli. Twice my paths have crossed with Lido, and now I know his family in Friuli too. In 2000, we even joined Lido at his traditional family’s Befana dinner!
How do you think the Festival has changed over the years?
There is less of a classical/contemporary mix of films and almost exclusively contemporary films. Lido has helped fill the gap left by the demise of art film theaters, having established excellent relationships with Italian distributors. The Rafael and Lark theaters in Marin County are allies in the effort to screen contemporary European films. In addition, the Festival audience has grown to where most shows are sold out well in advance.
The Festival and the draw is Lido! The audience and his students (Lido teaches at the College of Marin) love him. I call him my Italian Life Coach.
Info & Tickets: http:// - (415) 473-6800

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