Thursday, June 24, 2010

Salina Film Festival: An Aeolian Treasure


The Aeolian Island of Salina, close to Sicily, is the setting for an intriguing event: SalinaDocFest, Immagini, Suoni e Realta’ del Mediterraneo (Images, Dreams and Realty of the Mediterranean). Now in its fourth year, SalinaDocFest presents the best in narrative documentary filmmaking on the beautiful island of Salina.

The Festival’s theme in 2010 is Il Mio Paese: L’identita’ (My Country: The Identity), the concept of identity in all its forms: male and female, private and public, individual and political. The Festival will begin with an international contest of narrative documentaries whose subjects are connected to the countries and people of the Mediterranean Sea and contemporary social issues.

The entire island joins in the Festival, with different small towns hosting various events. Click here for an interactive map of Salina, complete with photos of the towns and locations of hotels and B&Bs.

Click here for a description of the accommodations, contact information and websites. More information can be found at SalinaIsolaVerde.

SalinaDocFest runs from September 12-19, 2010. To learn more about the Festival, go to

Giovanna Taviani

The Art Director and creative force behind the Festival is Giovanna Taviani, a talented documentary filmmaker in her own right. In 2004, her film I Nostri 30 Anni: Generazioni A Confronto, debuted at the Torino Film Festival. In 2006 her second documentary, Ritorni, appeared at the Rome Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize at the Potenza Film Festival.

A student of cinema and literature, she has written various works on the subject published by the University of Calabria and G.B. Palumbo Editore. Since 1997 she has been the editor of Allegoria magazine and a contributor to Cinecritica and Eidos.

Though born in Rome, Giovanna describes herself as a “Sicilian by heart”. The island of Salina has long been one of her favorite destinations. Like so many places, Salina’s economy is tied with tourism, which surges during the summer months and drops off drastically in the fall. “This is a shame, because September and continuing into the fall are so beautiful on the island. It’s our harvest season and shouldn’t be missed.” This sentiment was echoed by her long time friend, Alberto Oliviero, who is the President of SalinaIsolaVerde, a tourism association focusing on the cultural and natural beauty of the island. Oliviero encouraged Giovanna to create a cultural event that would bring tourists to the island on the off-season. And so SalinaDocFest was born.

I had the pleasure of meeting Giovanna Taviani recently while she was in the US. She is intelligent and warm with a distinct point of view. For those who may not know, Giovanna Taviani is the daughter and niece of the enormously successful Italian directors and screenwriters, Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, known among their devoted fans as I Fratelli Taviani (The Taviani Brothers). Their narrative films tell stories wrapped in fable-like elements where the laws of Nature don’t always apply.

Giovanna, in contrast, is building her career with documentaries, specifically, narrative documentaries. This type of film blends both genres; real people, not actors, tell a true story while archival footage, reminiscence and perhaps clips of past films are added to bring depth to the story. When I asked her why she chose this type of filmmaking she explained, “The more personal reason is that I needed to create my own distinct style, and not just copy that of the Taviani Brothers. I had to find my own space within the world of filmmaking. But at the same time, I am my father’s daughter and I love to tell stories. So by blending the realistic style of documentaries with story-telling elements of narrative films, I present stories with my personal point of view, my own voice.

The other reason is I believe that as human beings, we really need return to reality. We are saturated with false stories and what we call Reality TV is not reality at all. It is a world of controlled images and events pretending to be reality. Real stories are not being told. With documentaries, we can get inside what is really happening.” Like the American film The Truman Show, Giovanna says we are living in a constructed environment and we don’t even know it. She believes in the power of the narrative documentary to break through our collective fantasy into reality.

Giovanna’s point of view is strong and clear and she doesn’t shrink from controversial topics. Her current focus is Italy’s immigration policies, which she finds regrettable and wrong-headed. She can’t help but marvel at the irony of the issue: the Italians who immigrated to America were looked down upon and had to struggle for every aspect of a decent life. And now Italy’s strict policies treat those from other countries with the same suspicion and marginalization. “When we harshly repel immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea, we forget both our past as emigrants and our present as a country of emigrants, where the young are forced to leave their land looking for a job and to escape from their dreadful and uneasy situation…Sicilians, as well as other Italians, were created from the blending together of ethnic groups from different countries. We cannot forget this.”

Cinematic Inspiration Comes Full Circle

Just as the Taviani Brothers influenced Giovanna’s love of film, Giovanna’s techniques and ideas have now inspired them. Because of her passion for the narrative documentary, the Taviani Brothers are making plans to film their first narrative documentary. Their chosen subject is an Italian prison where the inmates perform productions of Shakespeare. The Taviani Brothers give Giovanna full credit for their newfound fascination with the genre, but stopped short at allowing her to be involved in their filmmaking process. “I told them that I would love to help them with this project, but they said, ‘No, we’ll do it ourselves.’ So I have to wait and see what they will create.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Visions of Verdi – October 1 - 28, 2010 - Parma, Italy Invites Us to Celebrate Its Favorite Son

Nestled on the ancient Roman road between Milan and Bologna, the city of Parma and its surrounds harbor treasures far beyond its diminutive size. For food, it offers mouthwatering Prosciutto di Parma, Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese, Colli di Parma wines, and balsamic vinegar aged in antique barrels from nearby Modena. For history, ancient castles grace its countryside and the beautiful Palazzo Ducale, its interior. For music, the birthplace of Arturo Toscanini, Paganini’s Studio and resting place, and of course, Giuseppe Verdi.

One of opera’s most influential and best loved composers, Verdi was born in Roncole, a village outside of Busseto on the outskirts of Parma. Every year, Parma itself becomes an enormous stage as it erupts in celebration of Verdi’s birthday. This October, Parma’s streets will be filled with movement, sound and colour for 28 days through music, artistic exhibitions and colourful puppet shows. Cafes, bars and restaurants will showcase the Tastes of Verdi. If past Festivals are any indication, many a patron will burst into spontaneous operatic song, inspired by the sheer joy of the experience.

On October 13 and 16, the Arturo Toscanini Conducting Competition will be held at the Auditorium Niccolo’ Paganini di Parma. As described by Giancarlo Liuzzi, the Communications Director for Teatro Regio di Parma, the excitement of the Competition is “…to see a new career born in that precise moment.”

And we haven’t even discussed the Festival’s 15 days of operas yet! This year, the Main Events are:

Il Trovatore at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Featuring Marcelo Alvarez, Norma Fantini, Caludio Sgura, Marianna Tarasova, Deyan Vatchkov, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.

I Vespri Siciliani at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Featuring Fabio Armiliato, Daniela Dessi, Leo Nucci, Giacomo Prestia, conducted by Massimo Zanetti.

Attila at the Teatro Verdi di Busseto and Teatro Magnani di Fidenza. Featuring Roberto De Biasio, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Teresa Romano, conducted by Andrea Battistoni.

To learn more about this amazing Festival, download the Festival booklet in English. (Although the webpage is in Italian, I assure you that the booklet is in English.)

Please keep in mind that the city of Parma is small, and rooms fill up very quickly for the Verdi Festival. Luckily, nearby cities like Milan and Bologna are about a half hour’s drive away and offer many more accommodations. For travel arrangements, contact