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Italy in the limelight: The country’s film & culture is front & center in a festival that starts on Saturday

“Giorni e Nuvole.”

“Giorni e Nuvole.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Frank Capra, renowned Italian-born American film director, once said, “Cinema is, along with mathematics and music, one of the three universal languages.” Cinema can straightaway convey not only universal messages, but can also describe so much of the culture to which it belongs.

In this sense, that’s the bet of the New Mexico Italian Film & Culture Festival, which is ready to roll out its seventh edition from Saturday, Feb. 8-Feb. 16, promoting Italian culture and a view of Italian life through some of the best contemporary films, most of which will have their first premieres in New Mexico.

The festival was founded in 2007 by Ronaldo Patrizio-Steiner, and is now organized and produced by the nonprofit corporation Italian Festivals of New Mexico. Its primary purpose, along with promoting Italian culture, is to raise funds for the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital.

“Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $170,000 for the hospital,” said Maria Arancio Berry, managing director of the festival.

The 2014 edition will feature some first-ever events. The most significant is the visit of the award-winning screenwriter and director, Demetrio Casile, who will be guest director-in-residence during the festival, screening one of his best-known works, “Melina, with Anger and with Knowledge,” at the festival, as well as at four local high schools. The film tells the story of three youths in Calabria who fight for their dreams against the hardships of life. Casile will run motivational discussions with the students, focusing on the meaning of the movie, which is to not let obstacles prevent you from reaching your dreams. The schools involved in the project are Manzano, Cibola, West Mesa and Rio Rancho high schools, and all of them have Italian classes.

“We’ve dedicated the past year to putting together a program with broad appeal – to movie lovers, music and art lovers, foodies and Italophiles. There’s something for everyone,” Arancio Berry said.

“Shun Li and the Poet.”

“Shun Li and the Poet.”

The festival’s inaugural evening is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 8, with a colorful musical event at the KiMo Theatre. The stage will host the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus and Keshet Dance Company performing Italian traditional songs and dances and well-known opera choruses. There also will be a very special musical video greeting sent to New Mexico from the acclaimed Coro Illersberg of Trieste, Italy. Following the concert, the Hotel Andaluz will host a gala reception.

The film selection committee is offering an intriguing list of recently released films that portray Italy, its culture and the new challenges it faces from various and engaging perspectives. Among those films are:

  • “Immaturi.”

    “Immaturi.”

    “Shun Li and The Poet” (Io Sono Li), the festival’s showcase film to be screened on Sunday, Feb. 9 features the moving relationship between a young Chinese immigrant and a disillusioned poet in Chioggia, near Venice.

  • The Guild Cinema will host “Days and Clouds” (Giorni e Nuvole), displaying the struggle of an Italian couple trying to survive the sudden loss of the husband’s job, and the challenge to gain back serenity both economically and emotionally.
  • “Terraferma.”

    “Terraferma.”

    Italian-style giggly comedy, “The Immature” (Immaturi) fictionalizes a group of former classmates who are unexpectedly told by the Ministry of Education that, due to an administrative error, they must retake the high school exam.

  • Focusing again on the theme of immigration and associated with the painful tragedy of the thousands of people who cross the Mediterranean heading to Europe, is Emanuele Crialese’s “Terraferma,” a special award-winner at the 2011 Venice Film Festival.
  • The festival will expand to Santa Fe, where on Sunday, Feb. 9, “Li and The Poet” will be shown at the The Screen Cinema, followed by a dinner at Osteria D’Assisi.

The 2014 festival also will offer several special pre-film features to complement the films. Donatella Davanzo, the official festival photographer, will screen her photo exhibit “Tango Dancing in Venice” at the South Broadway Cultural Center, 1025 Broadway SE, on Sunday, Feb. 9. The exhibit features the popularity of tango in Italy in the charming setting of Venice.

“Melina con Rabbia e con Sapere.”

“Melina con Rabbia e con Sapere.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Davanzo will show another Venetian exhibit, “Carnevale in Venice,” at The Guild Cinema following a reception in her honor at Scalo Northern Italian Grill.

On Valentine’s Day, the African American Performing Arts Center is the venue for a special pre-film feature of Neapolitan love songs, performed by John Zito. Now an Albuquerque resident, Zito became famous in the New York area during 1960s with his Italian trio, The Valentinos. Another special pre-film feature will be the contemporary Italian music videos of Elena de Candia at The Guild Cinema on Wednesday, Feb. 12, Thursday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 15. De Candia is a young, award-winning director who lives and works in Naples.

Sport will also make its appearance during the Festival with the Marchiondo Family Bocce Tournament, presented in partnership with the Albuquerque Bocce Club on Feb. 15. The daylong indoor tournament at the Albuquerque Convention Center will be open to players and to spectators, providing them the opportunity to get acquainted with this increasingly popular game.

Tickets for movies, dinners and extra features are on sale on the festival’s website, italianfilmfest.org and through HoldMyTicket.com. Moreover, the festival’s site provides complete information about sponsors, events and films, along with movie trailers.

Davide Arminio of Torino, Italy, was a visiting journalist last fall at the Journal, where he documented the Italian influence in New Mexico.

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