We Americans can't be blamed for our "mob mentality" when we think of Sicilian and Italian culture. The ubiquity and mass appeal of gangster movies like the Godfather trilogy, Scarface, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and of course The Sopranos series would convince anyone that the number one industry in all of Italy is organized crime.
But those in charge of the seventh annual Sicilian Film Festival, based largely at the Miami Beach Cinemateque and running from April 11 to 17, are on a mission to expose audiences to a well-rounded film culture that puts those gun-toting gangster caricatures out to pasture.
"We try to support all of the Italian initiatives, cultural initiatives, which can enhance the Italian image in Miami," said Adolfo Barattolo, Consul General of Italy in Miami. "And I think that the cinematography is one of the main arts that can be presented to introduce American friends to Italy. And as you know, the cinematography in Italy is important to the [overall] history of cinematography," he said.
Oddly enough, there is no Sicilian Film Festival in the actual land of Sicily (though there is a gay and lesbian film festival there). Festival president Emanuele Viscuso, a native of Italy who now resides in Coral Gables, started the tradition in Miami seven years ago, and beams with enthusiasm about how it's grown. Its list of sponsors is now about 50 businesses long, and there are nearly as many luncheons, galas, and dinner parties as there are films.
"It's very exciting this year because we're involving all the diversities of the community, in town and out of town," said Viscuso, who is also an accomplished sculptor. "We have Italian guests, but even more American guests than Italian, because we're like an embassy of Italian culture. We have the Turkish film here, we are involving the Jewish community ... it's not just cinema. It is a lot of community spirit and culture in all the different fields, a lot of communication and a lot of love," he said.
This year's festival will also showcase a photography exhibit and film from Cuba, one short and one feature-length film from Turkey, and five shorts that fall under the category of the "Sicilia Queer Film Section," which were originally shown at the Sicilia Queer Film Festival Palermo.
Among the festival's highlights will be I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino, which will screen at 8 p.m. on Wednesday April 11, at the Miami Beach Cinemateque. The film has won awards at festivals from San Diego to Dublin. In it, Eduardo Sr., patriarch of the wealthy Recchi family, has decided to name the heir to his massive industrial company. He surprises everyone by splitting power between his son Tancredi and his grandson Edo, the latter of whom would rather open a restaurant with his pal Antonio. Meanwhile, Tancredi's wife Emma (Tilda Swinton), a Russian immigrant who has adopted the culture of Milan, accidentally falls deeply in love with Antonio, and things get rather complicated.
There are also a number of throwback films at the festival, the most remarkable of which is The Leopard, a film directed by Luchino Visconti which premiered in 1963. The film is based on a book by the same name (Il Gattopardo in Italian) by Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, which is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature. The film stars Burt Lancaster as Fabrizio Corbero, Prince of Salina (a.k.a. the Leopard) whose reign is fading while that of enormously wealthy ex-peasant Don Calogero (Paolo Stoppa) is just picking up. The film won awards at Cannes and other festivals, and is being shown this year as a tribute to Visconti, who died in 1976.
On Monday the 16th, five gay and lesbian-themed short films ("queer shorts," hehe) from Italian directors will run starting at 9:15 p.m. Loose Cannons, a feature-length film screening on Friday the 13th at 8:15 p.m., explores homosexuality in the family; it follows two brothers in the large Cantone family who both want to come out to their parents. To put it mildly, their reception is less than ideal.
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"What I noticed about this film festival is the intimacy that I don't see with bigger festivals, so that people who come to the screenings, they also come to receptions before and afterwards," said Nikki Goldbeck, operations coordinator of the festival. "They get to go behind the scenes and meet directors and producers who are here. By the time you're done, you're part of the Sicilian community. I like that and that's why I got involved with the festival. It's unique in Miami," she said.
To see the full schedule of films and events (which includes photo exhibitions, book signings and VIP luncheons) and to buy tickets (which start at $10) and all-access passes, go to the festival's website.