Translate

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Director Toni D'Angelo's Nostalgic Reflection - "Filmstudio, mon Amour"


Toni D'Angelo in the center with members of his cast and crew of "Filmstudio, mon Amour"
In his latest film, which premiered at this year's Festa del Cinema in Rome, filmmaker Toni D'Angelo documents the history of Rome's legendary movie theater, Filmstudio. "Filmstudio, mon Amour" reconstructs nearly half a century of the first Italian film club- from 1967 to today. D'Angelo explores not only the evolution of this iconic Roman landmark with all the film movements that took place within its walls, he also explores the evolution of cinema itself and the way in which we see it today. "The post-theatrical era has begun, meaning the era after cinematography," declares Bernardo Bertolucci. The documentary is filled with the perspectives of interesting people like Bertolucci, Nanni Moretti, Vittorio Taviani, Carlo Verdone and Wim Wenders- who were all there when its doors opened in 1967 and lived through its many phases.


Armando Leone and Carlo Verdone
"Via degli Orti d'Alibert.. the name of this street seemed mysterious to everyone. When we came here to look for it, it was difficult to find. In that hall, it was proclaimed, 'Today, something new is born' and we were there to baptize it." -Vittorio Taviani

"In that period, culture was behind the scenes. Small groups of kids got together and played music. While you walked around Rome, you heard it. That's how you knew there was a club with music. So you went down into it. Prati (the neighborhood) was full." -Carlo Verdone


On October 2, 1967, Filmstudio opened its doors and Rome's bustling quarter of Trastevere was transformed from a working class neighborhood into a boundless stage. "It was as if an atomic bomb of creativity had fallen on Rome and the Roman culture, which had been almost dormant," recalls composer Alvin Curran. Armando Leone, Filmstudio historian, describes Italy in 1967, explaining how the political unrest in the United States caused "an air of confusion and excitement." That air provided the perfect climate in which information and creativity met in the theater in the form of arts and poetry. It was a brief time in history when artists and filmmakers managed to free themselves from censorship, opening the floodgates to new artistic standards and a wealth of experimentation.  


Norman McLaren
Filmstudio's founders Annabella Miscuglio and Amerigo Sbardella shared a passion for cinema. The inspiration behind Filmstudio came after the two attended the "Exhibit of New Cinema" in Pesaro during the summer of 1967. The exhibit featured a new style of visionary cinema that was being made in America. Miscuglio and Sbardella were profoundly moved by what they saw and left the exhibit with a renewed energy. "The film studio was born as a place to present experimental films and militantly political cinema," explains Sbardella.
Bernardo Bertolucci recalls the diversity of films shown at Filmstudio. "We always walked to Filmstudio. In the beginning, it was known as a place where they showed things that weren't being shown anyplace else in Rome." In an interview shortly after Filmstudio opened, founder Annabella Miscuglio said that most of their films came from abroad. "They are films that are excluded from the commercial circuit in Italy. We also project Italian films that don't get shown in the commercial cinemas." One example shown is "Men Hop" by Norman McLaren, a Scottish-Canadian director and pioneer in animation and filmmaking. He won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1952 for his anti-war film, "Neighbours".

Jonas Mekas
"It was a magical moment. It was the highlight of experimental cinema activity, which was part of the incredible spectacle that was Rome during those years. It was a beautiful space both physically and humanistically with the organizers, with friends of the artists and whoever else was around.. with Jonas Mekas seated in the back row with a suitcase full of films. It was an extraordinary time," recalls director Alfredo Leonardi. Jonas Mekas, a Lithuanian-American filmmaker and critic, frequented Filmstudio in its early days. D'Angelo credits Mekas with initiating the Cooperativa del Cinema Indipendente (CCI), a project of expression, which integrated dance, theater and painting- introducing an independent esthetic relative to the American one. In the film, Mekas simply and beautifully describes his objective as an experimental  filmmaker: "to catch the moment of real life as it happens."

D'Angelo also revisits the experimental directors Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, and their controversial film, "Anna" which documents their relationship with a homeless, pregnant 16-year-old girl they met at Piazza Navona in Rome. Shot in the early 70's, the film is still relevant today. Recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, the nearly four-hour documentary was shown last year at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Art of the Reel" series. D'Angelo used soundbites from Grifi describing the production and the moment he and Sarchielli realized the seriousness of Anna's situation.

Toni D'Angelo and Nanni Moretti
I very much enjoyed Nanni Moretti's recount of how Filmstudio was pivotal in launching his career. Moretti's 1976, "Io sono un autarchico" (I am self sufficient) was his first feature-length film and he had his heart set on it being shown at Filmstudio. "I asked for two days. They asked me, 'Do you have enough friends and family for two days of programming?' I said I hoped so." Well, the news spread through word of mouth and of course the theater was packed beyond the two days he asked for. In talking about the new technology and all the different ways in which we can watch a film these days, Moretti said that both as a director and as an observer, he prefers to watch films on the big screen.

Perhaps my favorite quote from ""Filmstudio, mon Amour" came from director Tonino DeBerardi when he posed a question and offered the answer:
"What is experimental film?
All of life is experimental. If you don't live in an experimental way, you're screwed. Who gives a damn about you? I'm not interested in you. I'm not even interested in me if I'm not an experimental creature."


With my friend of more than a decade at his premiere
D'Angelo's film comes full circle in the end as he reiterates his melancholy for the days when Rome wasn't so "tired". He also narrated the film, and there is a sadness in his voice when he talks about the days when Rome offered this experimental haven for filmmakers. I want to console Toni D'Angelo by saying that sometimes we romanticize the past. Times change and so do energies and atmospheres. Our generation of filmmakers has the world at their fingertips with all of today's technology. There are film festivals dedicated to shooting movies on a cell phone. Cell phones weren't even around in the 60's.  I met D'Angelo in 2004, at the very beginning of his career and I have watched him grow as a filmmaker. "Filmstudio mon Amour" nostalgically embraces the ideology and intellectuality associated with experimental film but Toni D'Angelo's films never had that experimental feel. His first feature "Una notte" is a capolavoro, a masterpiece with a beautiful story of friendship, an outstanding cast and the streets of Naples as its set. I have to think that those experimental filmmakers would quite possibly trade their work any day to have Toni D'Angelo's vision and gift of storytelling. I do enjoy the whole discussion and freedom of interpretation that is the essence of experimental film, and the mere thought of all those amazing filmmakers in one small theater in the midst of its movement. But our generation of filmmakers is also pretty amazing and I believe that 45 years from now, a young director like Toni D'Angelo will be rewriting history and longing for the energy of 2015, interviewing our Verdone's, Bertolucci's and Moretti's aka Germano, Mastandrea and D'Angelo. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, if you have the opportunity to see "Filmstudio mon Amour", I highly recommend it. It is a fascinating and creative portrait of Rome's contemporary history and the evolution of this iconic theater and cinema as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.