For once, it’s not all about the food

Maureen O'Reilly, Staff Reporter

This week marks the beginning of the 2013 Cleveland Italian Film Festival. Although food will be used as a fundraiser, it will take the backseat to other distinguished aspects of Italian culture.

At the helm of the festival is Joyce Mariani, a film enthusiast who started the first independent film festival in Northeast Ohio. Seven years ago, Mariani embarked on a journey, one that she said she was glad she entered blind. It was one of those things, Mariani said, that if she knew what the undertaking would be to found a professional, independent film festival, she may not have attempted it. A self-described quick learner, Mariani has mastered the logistics, from tracking down film distributors, to getting local sponsors and, of course, screening the films beforehand.

Italy, Mariani says, is a “Western country that has given a lot [to culture]”. In America, she feels that cuisine and a sociable dinner table overshadow Italian contributions to modern culture. The Italian Renaissance cemented Italy as a country with significant contributions to science, math, architecture, fine arts and music—contributions which continue to shape our global society today. “Culture is a luxury,” Mariani says, “I tell my friends, culture isn’t only cannoli and it isn’t only a pizza pie.”

This film festival is not revolutionizing Italian culture in Cleveland. Instead, it’s jogging Cleveland’s memory of Italian influence. Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Cleveland Opera Company brought the Italian art form to those who could afford it. After a hiatus, the Cleveland Opera opened in 1976. For the past five summers, the Italian Cultural Garden Foundation sponsors a night of opera in the Italian Cultural Garden. Mariani has a hand in this too; she is the Italian Garden Foundation director.

Following this city’s tradition, the Cleveland Italian Film Festival is selective. “I don’t just take films that win awards,” Mariani says. It’s not that Oscars—either American or Italian—aren’t good enough. The purpose is for the audience to lose themselves in a good story. Likely, the story will be a funny one, as “Italian actors have a knack for comedy.”

This year, moviegoers will be treated to four unique films. Opening the festival at Cedar and Lee Theater is “Nessuno Mi Puo Guidicare” (Escort in Love). Shot in Rome, this film details a widowed housewife’s change in profession to support her young son. Also at Cedar and Lee is “Si Puo Fare” (We Can Do That), a comedy about a trade unionist whose new job entitles working with former patients thrown out of area mental hospitals. This year, the festival will be hosting the Cleveland premier of “The Missing Piece,” a film shot all over the world. This film, to be shown at Atlas Cinema, is a mystery based on a true story of the man who stole the Mona Lisa in the early 1900s. Wrapping up the festival at Capitol Theater is “Pane e Cioccolata” (Bread and Chocolate), which stars Nino Manfredi as an Italian immigrant working in Switzerland who encounters a number of strange situations. All films have pre-parties at sponsoring restaurants.

Around campus, there is excitement for the festival. Carson Dorsey, a fourth-year soprano at CIM, is in her second year of studying Italian at Case.

In her travels to Italy, Dorsey remembers people from Milan lamenting Italian stereotypes in the US. “The Italian stereotype in the US is mostly of Sicily,” she says, citing a large influx of Sicilian immigrants to America.

Denise Caterinacci, the section head of Italian in the Department of Modern Language, agrees. “There are long histories behind different regions,” with dialects from places like Milan and Naples so different, they’re almost like separate languages.

The films shown at the Cleveland Italian Film Festival have the opportunity to be a window into regional history. For a Roman film like “Nessuno Mi Puo Giudicare”, Caterinacci says, “[The film is not showing] what it’s like to live in Rome, but about being a Roman,” emphasizing the tradition of a specific lifestyle.

Film is an opportunity to show the elements of being Italian, Caterinacci adds, whether these elements be enduring themes that are cross cultural, or even aspects of lifestyle that may be obsolete due to advances in technology or globalization. “[Film] is an opportunity to glimpse into the past, a [topic for] exchange in the present and a window into the direction of the future,” Caterinacci states. She recommends going in open minded, to learn something about the culture.

“In the world we live in, of technology, we look for the fifteen-second sound byte,” Mariani says, but the festival is a time to step outside of the capsule of food stereotypes and get lost in a delicious story.