Film Festival aims to explore the best (and the rest) of Italy this weekend

>"Return to the Aeolian Islands" trailer in Italian (Films at the festival will be shown with subtitles.)

Anna Bonavita says the US has been missing out, and this weekend, along with her friends at the Italian Cultural Center, she hopes to change that a little.

"Italian film has been under-represented in the United States for years," she told me the other day.

She says while there was huge interest in Italian film in the days of Antonioni and the like, the modern marketplace means it's rare for contemporary Italian movies to appear in US theaters.

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"And there has been this vacuum, after the great Italian Cinema which reached America there was this silence, emptiness," she said.

Bonavita grew up in Europe and says she was aware of the great film-making still going on in Italy.

"And especially now with the economic crisis," she said. "There are a lot of problems in Italy, there are some fantastic movies which never reach America. So we see this gap and we see this opportunity to introduce Italy, not the glossy one, but the real one with all it's problems but also all it's beauties to Americans."

To that end the lights will go down Friday for the opening of the short but intense program of movies Bonavita, who co-chairs the festival, has put together with her colleagues. The event features film, music, a visiting director and expert speakers to round out the program.

Friday night features the Angelo Longoni's 2007 movie on the life of Renaissance painter Caravaggio, famed for the way he used light in his paintings, and infamous for his use of prostitutes and vagrants for his models in religious paintings.

"And this is the time when the Cardinals were all collecting art, and they were competing for who will have the best painters," said Bonavita.

The painter was also known for his violent outbursts, which led to accusations of murder and a life on the run.

"A very difficult, very volatile personality, and at the same time very talented," said Bonavita. "It's just amazing to see how calm and concentrated he could be when he was working on a piece, and how volatile and aggressive he could be the moment he finished a piece of art. So he had to run from city to city to save his life, and even though he had protectors he eventually ran out of chances."

The evening will feature music of the period performed by Consortium Carissimi, a talk on Caravaggio and his times by U of M Visiting Associate Professor Roberta Bartoli, and a display of Baroque clothing on loan from the Guthrie and the CTC.

Bonavita is also very excited about the screening on Saturday of "Return to the Aeolian Islands" a documentary by Giovanna Taviani, who will be present. (See the trailer above.)

"It's a journey in a beautiful boat with red sails though this archipelago of volcanic islands off Sicily," said Bonavita who goes on to stress that this is much more than a travelogue.

"So here comes history," she said, "Of immigration, of exile. And the history of Italian cinema is there. Antonioni shot movies there." She continues that Rossellini first met his future wife Ingrid Bergman when he took her to the Islands to film "Stromboli." "And 'Ill Postino' which the American audience knows very well and loves a lot what shot there."

Taviani, who is the daughter of one of the famed Taviani brothers, will lead a master class in film making on Sunday.

Bonavita also admits to a special liking for "20 Cigarettes" a movie being shown on Sunday about a politically active young man whose life is changed radically when he gets a job on a crew filming a documentary about an Italian army unit in Iraq.

"20 Sigarette" trailer in Italian (Films at the festival will be shown with subtitles.)

The full details of the festival can be found here.

While this is the fourth festival in the Twin Cities, it's the first time the Italian Cultural Center in Minneapolis has arranged pretty much everything by itself. Anna Bonavita is hoping for great things.

"This is where we see the value of the festival," she concluded. "Look at Italy, look at the real problems that people encounter there: laugh, think and feel enriched through the whole experience."