Friday, July 21, 2017

The SIC (Short Italian Film) Lineup of the 32nd Venice International Film Critics’ Week is Announced

The second edition of SIC@SIC (Short Italian Cinema @ Settimana Internazionale della Critica) once again puts forth a selection of seven short films by Italian directors, and two special events, all screened in world premiere.

Le visite by Elio Di Pace
The short films program is part of the 32nd Venice International Film Critics’ Week, an independent and parallel section organized by the National Union of Italian Film Critics’ (SNCCI) during the 74th Venice International Film Festival (August 30 – September 9, 2017). The selection is curated by the General Delegate Giona A. Nazzaro with the members of the selection committee Luigi AbiusiAlberto AnileBeatrice Fiorentino and Massimo Tria. The program was created by the National Union of Italian Film Critics’ (SNCCI) and the Istituto Luce-Cinecittà as one of the initiatives supporting the development of the new Italian cinema and promoting young filmmakers.
SIC@SIC 2017
The Lineup
Adavede by Alain Parroni
Due (Two) by Riccardo Giacconi
Les fantômes de la veille (Ghosts of Yesterday) by Manuel Billi
Il legionario (The Legionnaire) by Hleb Papou
MalaMènti (MeanMinds) by Francesco Di Leva
Piccole italiane (Little Italian Girls) by Letizia Lamartire
Le visite (Visiting Day) by Elio Di Pace

 Special event – Opening short film
Nausicaa - L’altra Odissea (Nausicaa – The Other Odyssey) by Bepi Vigna

Special event – Closing short film
L’ultimo miracolo (The Last Miracle) by Enrico Pau

"Non gioco più" shot in Basilicata premieres at the Giffoni Film Festival

The 47th edition of the Giffoni Film Festival is coming to a close. Over the last week, the signature Blue Carpet has been graced with filmmakers who have come from all over the world to celebrate cinema dedicated to children and teens.

The first edition of the Giffoni Film Festival took place in 1971 in its namesake city of Giffoni Valle Piana, which is located in the region of Campania. The festival has served not only as an event to watch films, but also as a place for youngsters to learn about the filmmaking process. The French master François Truffaut is quoted saying “Of all the film festivals, Giffoni is the most necessary.” Perhaps that has something to do with its renowned Masterclasses. This year's festival goers were treated to lessons and discussions by some of the biggest names in Italian cinema including Marco Giallini, Gabriele Salvatores and Gabriele Muccino. The festival has hosted numerous extinguished guest over the years including Robert De NiroSergio LeoneMichelangelo Antonioni, and Alberto Sordi. 

After years of reading about this festival, I was finally able to experience it firsthand. I made the trip to attend a special screening of a short film shot entirely in Basilicata with regional actors. Non gioco piu’ is set in 1994 Maratea during a championship soccer game between Italy and Brazil. It’s a coming-of-age story marked by adolescent love between teenagers Alice and Martino. Directed by Sicilian-born filmmaker Sebastiano Luca Insinga, the film is a poetic homage to the innocence and curiosity of adolescence set against the natural force of the majestic sea. Both worlds blend in this mystic summer tale.

Sebastiano Luca Insinga was born in Catania in 1984. He studied literature in the northern city of Trentino, where he began experimenting with photography and video. Then in 2008, he shot his first short on Super8 video. Four years later, his documentary Nulla è Accaduto was selected for the Berlin Film Festival's "Talent Campus." A year later, he co-directed Italian actress Cristiana Capotondi in the short film Hands

I caught up with Insinga just before he presented the film at the Giffoni Film Festival. We talked about his inspiration to tell this story and the experience of shooting in the paradise setting of Maratea along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Our interview was done in Italian, so both versions are included.

The director and cast of Non gioco piu' at the Giffoni Film Festival
Tell me about the story and why you wanted to tell it in light of this championship game between Italy and Brasil.
The film takes place during a single afternoon on a special day, July 17, 1994, the day of the World Cup finals between Italy and Brazil. It remains an unforgettable day for us Italians because of all those who could make a mistake in the penalty shot, it was Roberto Baggio, our greatest talent, to kick high above the crossbar. Often in life, it's the difficult times that make us grow. Martino, the protagonist of Non gioco più, wants to grow up and shortly after the game ends, he will move away from his hometown with his family and he will be far away from Alice, a special girl that he does not want to leave. I thought the story of the penalty kick was similar to Martino's because they both lost a great opportunity forever. 

Dimmi della storia e perché volevi raccontare questa storia nello sfondo della finale dei mondiali di calcio tra Italia e Brasile?
Il film è ambientato in un unico pomeriggio di un giorno speciale, il 17 luglio 1994, il giorno della finale di coppa del mondo tra Italia e Brasile. Un data rimasta indimenticabile per noi italiani, perché tra tutti coloro che potevano sbagliare ai calci di rigore, fu proprio Roberto Baggio, il nostro più grande talento, a calciare alto sopra la traversa.
Spesso sono i momenti difficili che fanno veramente crescere. Martino, il protagonist di Non gioco più, ha voglia di diventare grande, poche ore dopo la partita lascerà il suo paese e andrà lontano. Lontano anche da Alice, da cui non vorrebbe separarsi. Ho pensato di legare la storia di quel calcio di rigore al momento in cui Martino, come Roberto Baggio, realizza che ha  perso per sempre una grande occasione. 

Pasquale De Giacomo in the role of Martino
The film has a beautiful, poetic ambience. Tell me about the style in which you shot in order to achieve this atmospheric beauty.
Although the film is set at a very precise moment, we tried to create a stage that has little adherence to the reality of those years. The scenic work of Nicola Ciuffo was very precise and careful in making sure that all objects, furnishings, and scooters really belonged to those years. The same research was done in relation to costumes and hairstyles. Despite this, the film does not look like a costumed movie and the historical setting does not weigh on the film. I tried to make a clean sweep of nostalgia and especially of any imitations. Then with Leone Orfeo, the director of photography, we created a triple narrative and aesthetic, one that is absolutely dreamlike in each frame of the film. This is where Martino and Alice are close to their similar intentions and these moments have been constructed with the utmost purity and candor, such as the love that is born at 13-years-old. Then comes something that breaks the balance between them and from that moment on, everything becomes less stable and calculable. This was a bit of a risk and I realized it. When you condense such aesthetic jumps that may be unjustified or less obvious, you take the risk of confusing the spectator. In the end, however, I am convinced that we did well to experiment, because we were free within the rules we made.

Le foto che ho visto del film sono belle e poetiche.. raccontami lo stile in cui avete girato per ottenere questo atmosfera di fantasia.
Nonostante il film sia ambientato in un momento molto preciso, abbiamo cercato di creare una messa in scena che avesse poca aderenza con la realtà di quegli anni. Il lavoro scenografico di Nicola Ciuffo è stato molto preciso e attento nel fare in modo che tutti gli oggetti, gli arredi, i motorini fossero veramente di quegli anni. La stessa ricerca è stata fatta in relazione ai costumi e alle acconciature. Nonostante questo, il film non appare come un film in costume e l’ambientazione storica non pesa sul film, non risulta così evidente. Ho cercato di fare in modo che quella suggestione arrivasse, ma che fosse soltanto tale. Ho cercato di fare piazza pulita nella nostalgia e soprattutto dello scimmiottamento.

Poi con Leone Orfeo, il direttore della fotografia, abbiamo creato un triplo registro narrativo ed estetico. Un primo assolutamente onirico che è la cornice del film. Da questo si passa ai momenti in cui Martino e Alice sono vicini ai loro intenti comuni e questi momenti sono stati costruiti con più pulizia e candore possibili, come l’amore che nasce a 13 anni. Poi arriva qualcosa che spezza l’equilibrio tra loro due e da quel momento si passa ad un terzo registro dove tutto diventa meno stabile e calcolabile. Questo è stato un pò un rischio - me ne rendo conto! -  perché condensare in pochi minuti salti estetici di questo tipo può risultare poco giustificato o non comprensibile o fare perdere le coordinate allo spettatore. Alla fine però sono convinto che abbiamo fatto bene a sperimentare, perché siamo stati liberi dentro le regole che ci siamo dati.

 AliceVerrastro in the role of Alice
What were your reasons for choosing Maratea as the location for the film?
Many years before shooting Non gioco più, I ended up in Maratea on vacation almost by accident. It was easy to fall in love with that place because somehow it brought me back to the contrast of the land where I was born, a gorgeous sea with rock peaking over it. During that holiday, I found a deserted hotel in total decay, the Marisdea - a beautiful name. When I wrote this story, I thought of the group of kids also finding themselves in an abandoned place away from everything. So it was natural to set the film in Maratea. I needed the sea but a sea away from the typical reverberation. In fact, we turned to a beach where the sand is black, always in the idea of creating a world out of the world. Thanks to these elements, we created a suspended universe and in the film, these guys are totally abandoned in a space without references.
Perché hai scelto Maratea come il set cinematografico?
Molti anni prima di girare Non gioco più, ero finito a Maratea quasi per caso, in vacanza. Ed è stato facile innamorarsi di quel posto, perché in qualche modo mi ha riportato al contrasto della terra dove sono nato, un mare splendido fatto di roccia a picco sul mare. Durante quella vacanza sono entrato in un albergo abbandonato in totale decadenza, il Marisdea – nome bellissimo. Quando ho scritto questa storia ho pensato che il gruppo di ragazzi si ritrovasse in un luogo abbandonato, lontano da tutto e soprattutto dai “grandi”. Quindi è stato naturale ambientare a Maratea il film. Avevo bisogno del mare, ma di un mare lontano dalla tipica rapprensentazione, infatti abbiamo girato in una spiaggia dove la sabbia è nera, sempre nell’idea di creare un mondo fuori dal mondo. Grazie a questi elementi abbiamo creato un universo sospeso e nel film non appare nessuno e niente fuori dal mondo di questi ragazzi che sono come abbandonati in uno spazio senza riferimenti 

Spiaggia Nera (Black Beach) of Maratea
Tell me about your experience shooting along the beautiful sea.
Shooting in beautiful places is easier because even when the fatigue arrives and the forces begin to fail, you can lose yourself in the beauty around you recharge your energy.

Raccontami la tua esperienza com'é stato lavorare in un posto cosi bello.
Girare in posti belli è più facile, perché anche quando la fatica affiora e le forze iniziano a mancare puoi sperdere lo sgaurdo nella bellezza tutt’intorno e ritrovare la carica.

Director Sebastiano Luca Insinga and his crew in Maratea
Without giving too much away, the film ends with a special appearance by the journalist and former professional soccer player Bruno Pizzul. He was the commentator for that infamous match in 1994. The director's choice to have Pizzul in this role adds a unique touch to the film and makes the experience of watching it that much richer. 

Non gioco più will be shown next in the "Spazio Italia" section of the Lucania Film Festival in Pisticci, Basilicata, which will take place August 9-13. Click here for more information.

Insinga's short film Hands starring Cristiana Capotondi is available on Vimeo. Click here to watch the film.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Interview: AD Jon Fortunato shares his memories of Di Palma, Scorsese, Coppola and De Niro

On the occasion of Carlo Di Palma's upcoming retrospective hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, I am republishing an article I wrote for Fra Noi Magazine in 2007. The interview is with Jon Fortunato, a former colleague from my video editing days at CBS News in New York. He worked as an assistant director and the two of us would talk for hours on end about his early days in the film industry. He had some great stories about filmmakers like Di Palma, Martin Scorsese, Frances Ford Coppola and Roberto De Niro that I wanted to share with our readers. We still keep in touch, so he gave me a few updates to add to our interview.

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma
Jon Fortunato grew up in Bensonhurst, an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. His grandmother was one of 13 children. He was always surrounded by "family, pastries and cannoli." Most of his family members lived within in a five block radius and he saw them often. Fortunato always loved cinema and remembers as a boy, sitting on his father's lap watching movies. One day in 1963, the magic of the big screen came right down to earth. Fortunato was in Manhattan with his father. They were walking through the old market district on 14th Street and 10th Avenue when they passed a film being shot. As they weren't in any hurry, he and his father stopped to watch the filming. The movie being shot was  Love with a Proper Stranger starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen. The director, Robert Mulligan, spotted the father and son and invited them onto the set and allowed the young Fortunato to stand behind the camera. He was so mesmerized by what he saw, he knew that one day, he'd be the one looking into the lens.

Fast forward about 20 years later. Fortunato moved out west to begin his career in film but found people illusive and contacts hard to make. It seemed that unless you knew someone, it was nearly impossible to break into the business. So he moved back to New York and before long, found himself working with the best filmmakers in the business. During our countless conversations, he shared memories of that exciting time in his life. 

With Assistant Director Jon Fortunato and Producer Jennifer Niejadlik at CBS in New York
So how does one become a camera operator for feature films?
Well, I first volunteered at Panavision in New York. Panavision is where film companies rent camera equipment. I volunteered there twice a week for two years, learned the equipment inside and out. Then I took the union test, IATSE 600, which is very involved. The test is divided into two parts: a written test, which has to do with set etiquette and a practical hands-on test, which lasts for about 12 hours. When you pass the test, you pay an initiation fee, which back in 1991 was $4,000. Then, you enter a trainee program.

The trainee program was where you had your first brushes with Italian filmmakers?
Yes, I worked on Woody Allen's film, Husbands and Wives. Carlo Di Palma was the director of photography.

What was he like?
Carlo Di Palma was very intense, very quiet.  I worked with him twice, also on Manhattan Murder Mystery. He was very intent on the movie having a certain look while also doing what the director wanted. He collaborated closely with Woody Allen. He was a nice man. I wasn't intimidated or scared around him. I also remember that he liked to have a little paper cup of red wine while lighting his sets. He would always say "Porco Dio" when things weren't going well. I saw him on Broadway a year or so before he died. He was walking, deep in thought but I was too shy to go up to him to say hello. So sorry I didn't.

Carlo Di Palma and Woody Allen
After the two Woody Allen films, you worked on The Age of Innocence... What was it like working with Martin Scorsese on that film?
Martin Scorsese was super professional. He always knew exactly what he wanted. He did 5 to 10 takes on every scene. He would say that every scene was great but always wanted to shoot another because he felt that he could get one more better take out of his actors. It was clear to me that family is very important to him. He always had his mom and dad on the set and his daughter worked as a production assistant.

Although you didn't technically work with him, tell me about your experience with Frances Ford Coppola on the set of The Godfather III.
I just had to deliver equipment to the set, but Frances Ford Coppola invited us to stay while they were filming a scene. It was the scene in The Godfather III, which takes place in Little Italy. They closed one street there and recreated the San Gennaro Festival. I remember Frances Ford Coppola directing from his 13-inch screen while eating from a plate of zeppole and Italian pastries.

Tell me about your work on A Bronx Tale and what made that experience so special.
Robert De Niro was the director on A Bronx Tale. There were eight cameras for that shoot and I was working on camera D. Robert De Niro came over to check the shot. He looked into the eye piece of the camera, then to us, the assistants and cameraman. He introduced himself and wanted to know our names. So, we each said our name; Dick Mingalone, camera operator, Mike Caracciolo, first assistant and Jon Fortunato, second assistant. He laughed. It was obvious he was pleased that a bunch of Italians were operating his camera!  I love and respect his work, so meeting him was really special. It was the greatest moment of my career.

Robert De Niro on the set of A Bronx Tale (Photo: Savoy Pictures/Phillip Caruso)
Now, you work as an assistant director for network news and programs.  Why did you leave the film industry?
Well, I had a young family and my son was born with a rare lung affliction, so I needed something more steady and secure. Today, I get a nice feeling when I watch the credits of a film and I recognize the names of people I trained who are now at the top of their field. Who knows what the future holds... I still have a love for film. I still have my union card and I still pay dues!

Perhaps Jon Fortunato will one day return to film. But in the meantime, he is watching the next generation bloom as his daughter Francesca is picking up where he left off. She recently worked on the new Woody Allen film starring Justin Timberlake, and her proud dad couldn't be happier. "The really neat thing is that she's working with a lot of the folks I worked with years ago. They all remember me and have really taken her under their wing!"

"Shot by Carlo Di Palma, From Rome to New York" begins July 28 at Lincoln Center. Click here for more information.