With today's official announcement of Carlo Chatrian having been chosen as Artistic Director of the Berlinale starting in 2020, the Italians have truly taken over world cinema. Now, let me explain.
Apart from, obviously, Alberto Barbera at the Venice Film Festival, Giona A. Nazzaro at Venice Critics' Week, Antonio Monda at Rome FF and Emanuela Martini in Torino, there are several more Italian cinephiles sprinkled around, now heading film festivals around the world. Take Marco Müller in Pingyao China and Eva Sangiorgi who was appointed head of the Viennale back in January of 2018, after former director Hans Hurch suddenly passed away last July. Then, just a couple of months before the Cannes Film Festival was set to kick off, another announcement rocked the film world when it was made public that Paolo Moretti would replace Edouard Waintrop as General Delegate of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs starting with the 2019 edition of the beloved sidebar on the Croisette.
So why are so many Italians snagging the top spots at these most coveted of film festivals? Well, I have a couple of theories.
For one, Italian culture is as much about food, fashion, antique architecture and art as it is about cinema. Ever since WWII, from Roberto Rossellini's 'Roma Città Aperta' to Vittorio De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves', from Federico Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' to Luchino Visconti's 'Il Gattopardo' and all through the wonder-works of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pietro Germi, Francesco Rosi, Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci, growing up Italian has always meant growing up a cinephile.
When I contact Moretti and Sangiorgi by email, they offer their own version. "I believe it's a general energy of exchange, that sets forward a new generation of professionals in various positions. It's not limited to just Italians but it involves cinema events in many places, like Switzerland and France for example," points out Sangiorgi.
Moretti first sets me straight on the extend of this movement, by adding many more names to the list of Italians who head, curate and program great cinematic organizations, "Andrea Lissoni is the curator for Film and International Art at the Tate in London, Luciano Barisone has directed for 7 years Visions du Réel in Nyon (2010-2017), Maria Bonsanti has directed for 5 years Cinéma du Réel in Paris (2012-2017), Nicola Mazzanti is the director of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique; and there are many more like Davide Oberto who co-directs Doclisboa in Lisbon, Francesco Giai Via at Annecy and Rebecca De Pas who has worked for the past 11 years at FIDMarseille."
Then Moretti also begs to disagree with my grouping all Italians in one basket, so to speak. He begins by stating that what they have in common, perhaps the only thing is "we are all, [Chatrian, Sangiorgi and I] from the same generation, 1971-1975... But we have education and have taken paths that are all quite different." He does surrender that they all share in common "a passion for images in movement."
Personally, I remember going to the local theater to watch 'Ludwig' by Visconti along with the token Disney 'Dumbo' before I could figure out, or wanted to, Helmut Berger's sexuality. I knew I liked cinema, and the way I felt while watching those intricate stories, which always made me dream bigger.
But then things seemed to stop. They came to screeching halt in the late Seventies and until Nanni Moretti's work in the early Nineties, and the Taviani brothers always of course, we Italians were stuck in a cinematic limbo that included a lot of cine-garbage and missed tries,. I once stood in line behind an older gentleman, a former critic, in Venice while he waxed poetic about Pasolini's responsibility for this fall of Italian cinema and I remember wanting to slap him, while smothering him using his ugly red cap. But I pretended not to speak Italian and listened on, as he made himself sound more and more foolish. I know deep inside that the responsibility of the fall of Italian cinema stood much more with the tired critics like him and a public hungry for silly entertainment than with the actual filmmakers. It always does.
Another theory is that we have a clear "brain drain" in Italy -- or as I call it the "Nemo propheta in patria" syndrome -- where most people with talent and a vision have needed to escape to foreign lands to make it. Sangiorgi calls it "a [pre]disposition to accept opportunities with enthusiasm; and what perhaps we have in common, all of us Italians you are mentioning here, is a certain willingness to move." This is obvious with each of the trio of newly appointed directors.
Carlo Chatrian whose fame as Locarno Film Festival artistic director came after years of curating and programming cinematic events both in Italy and throughout Europe, as well as writing extensively as a film critic and commentator. He is a champion of indie quality cinema and his work in Locarno has put the tiny, elegant town on the cinematic map of must-attend events.
With Eva Sangiorgi, she's been a film programmer as well as a respected producer in Mexico City since 2003 and founded FICUNAM, the International Film Festival of the National University of Mexico in 2011, all the while promoting work by cinema's contemporary auteurs.
And Paolo Moretti comes most recently from the Roche-sur-Yon Festival, where he's been since 2014 and before that the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Filmoteca Española in Madrid, the Leeds International Film Festival in Britain, the Portuguese Film Library in Lisbon and One World in Prague. He's also been a programmer for Venice's Orizzonti section and the Rome Film Festival.
With those levels of resumes, it's no wonder world class organizations come calling, and the Italians are answering with a resounding YES.
Their prestigious appointments are also helping find an audience for the new wave of cinema that has been revolutionizing the way we look at Italian movies. Filmmakers like Matteo Garrone, Alice Rohrwacher, Gianni Zanasi, Laura Bispuri, Valeria Golino, and the more inveterate talents like Moretti and the Tavianis, but also Paolo Sorrentino and Giuseppe Tornatore are finding more and more ground to tread upon, and this year's grand Italian presence in Cannes confirmed my theory.
Moretti does caution me about this kind of thinking, though, because "for the media, Italian cinema is often punctuated with recurring 'rebirths' which are often tied to one award or another." Instead he believes that this current Italian cinema is passing through "paths still unseen unfortunately, which incorporate and develop around experiences closer to documentaries and visual arts." He is positive about the outcome though when he points out that "there are many Italian artists who are achieving good results on the international scene, and who carry with them a spirit of research and a determination that arouse enthusiasm and reassure us about the future of Italian cinema."
So, last yet not least of the qualities that I think make Italian cinephiles the best candidates for these jobs at the top of cinematic powerhouses is one I try to remember each and every time I watch a film: our belief in the magic of the movies, which is part of our DNA. Because in Italy, when politics fail and our leaders speak out of turn, we can always look to our cinematic heritage, remember films like Oscar winners 'Life is Beautiful', Fellini's '8 1/2' and Tornatore's 'Cinema Paradiso' and realize that we can and should believe in dreams and that those dreams sometimes do come true. At the movies, of course.
All photos and logos used with permission.