Speaking with College of Charleston professor Giovanna De Luca, there's no question where she's from. She has that passionate, authoritative, and slightly seductive accent that could only be Italian. And those traits describe not only her accent, but her personality as well. As the founder of the Nuovo Cinema Italiano, she's taken control of the festival from day one, working for its success and expansion over the past seven years.
"When I go to Italy in the summers, people know about the festival. When I go to conferences, people know," she says. "People want to be a part of it ... and they say, 'Why didn't you invite so-and-so?'" This awareness shows the growth not only in the Italian film industry, but the larger film community as well. This is also the second year that the festival has been awarded a grant from the Italian Ministry of Culture.
De Luca handpicks the films that participate in the festival, and she hopes that the selections showcase a different side of Italy. "Italians are complicated — foreigners have one vision but by watching three or four films, you get more of an understanding of why Italians react like they do," she explains. "A deeper understanding that goes beyond stereotypes." We're all familiar with them — the hot-headed, meddling mother who only exists in the kitchen, the Mafia father, or the womanizing Lothario. To help American audiences move past these, De Luca chooses films that represent the new Italian society. This year's films specifically examine the lack of leadership that Italy is dealing with post-Berlusconi. But not all films are serious. There's some comedy and lots of irony.
Director Luca Ragazzi, whose film Italy: Love It or Leave It is part of the festival, hopes his film highlights the new Italy. "We hope that people understand that Italy — despite of all its problems — is still a country that is worth visiting. We hope that they will discover things that they might have not been aware of. We wanted to update the image of Italy — show that it is not only the country of pasta, pizza, and Berlusconi, but it is a place where engaged people try to make it a better place," he says.
This engagement is something Ragazzi has been searching for as he's shown his film across the world. "We had the opportunity to meet different kind of audiences, and we could see how they react. And so we came to the conclusion that the American audience is the best. They really live the film as an emotional experience and that's a great satisfaction for a filmmaker to see how they enjoyed the film," he says. De Luca wants the festival to highlight "the unheard thoughts and voices of Italians who want to rebuild the country after these 20 years of economic, political, cultural crisis," she says. "It visualizes and reflects on this new unique Italian situation [a new prime minister and cultural changes], giving the country a national consciousness. That's why new Italian cinema is so important for Italy and the world today."
The 13 films examine an array of subject matters, from Italy: Love It or Leave It's look at being gay to Reality, which delves into the effects of reality television on a person, to Immaturi's exploration of how friendships change and grow over time. The rest of the films include Girlfriend in a Coma, Nessuno Mi Puo Giudica, Terraferma, Ali Blue Eyes, The Lost Kisses, Viva la Liberta, The First on the List, Good Bye Mr. Zeus, My Tomorrow, and Caesar Must Die. All films are in Italian with English subtitles.
The festival, which runs from Nov. 7 through Nov. 10, will show all of the films at the Sottile Theatre and will also host seminars and discussions. Many of these discussions feature the directors themselves or specialists in the subject area. There's even a coffee and conversation event — perfect for an Italian festival — with Ragazzi, Roberto Andò (Viva la Liberta), Marina Spada (My Tomorrow), and Bill Emmott (Girlfriend in a Coma).
And at least one filmmaker is excited for some Southern hospitality. "We have been to North Carolina and so we are thrilled to come now also to South Carolina. As South Europeans, we always sympathize with anything that includes 'South'," Ragazzi says.