Film festival brings Italian community to Yale

On Friday, a full house of film enthusiasts gathered to watch “Cesare Deve Morire (Cesar Must Die)” (2010), the most recent work by renowned Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.

This weekend marked the eighth year of Yale’s Italian Film Festival, an annual event open to both Yale students and the greater New Haven community. The festival, which took place in the auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center, featured five films produced in Italy in the past two years. Millicent Marcus, the director of graduate studies for the Italian Department, said the event seeks to make contemporary Italian films available to American audiences who would not otherwise have access to them, by both new talents such as Ferzan Ozpetek and veteran filmmakers like Nanni Moretti.

“There is an idea that the Italian film industry is dying, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Marcus, who led a committee of graduate students in selecting this year’s films and teaches a class on contemporary Italian cinema. “We are trying to create a culture of receptivity in which people can learn about these films and talk about them.”

Marcus said the festival serves to connect the New Haven Italian community with the University, adding that Yale professors and students can learn from the greater community’s perspectives on recent Italian cinema productions.

One of the most original films at the festival was the docudrama “Cesare Deve Morire.” The film features a cast comprised largely of criminals incarcerated in the high-security prison of Rebibbia near Rome. Portraying themselves in the film, the actors stage Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in their own dialect and introduce the heft of their life experience into the famous history.

After the screening of “Cesare Deve Morire,” Kyle Skinner ’11 GRD ’17 led a discussion, in which members of the audience explored the relation between art and imprisonment, fiction and reality. The film is tied to the Italian tradition of neorealism, a practice born out of World War II, in which films featured non-professional actors.

“When the number of prisons have doubled, what roles do committers of crime play?” Skinner asked the audience to spark the debate.

Audience member Talia Leon ’13 said she feels that Hollywood dictates the selection of movies available in the United States.

“The movies we see usually have happy endings,” Leon said. “It’s nice to see films that are more realist and yet enjoyable.”

During the Q&A, other members of the audience questioned that same realism. One audience member said she thought the issues of criminality and prison life in “Cesare Deve Morire” and of gay culture in Thursday’s “Magnifica Presenza (Magnificent Presence)” (2012) were highly stylized and portrayed too lightly.

Teresa Notaro, who attended the event for the fourth consecutive year, said she thought the themes of politics and religion explored by Saturday’s “Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope)” (2011) are extremely relevant today. Moretti’s film, in which a newly selected pope runs away from the Vatican, became the focus of heavy media attention after Pope Benedict XVI relinquished his post in February. All 10 audience members interviewed said they enjoyed “Habemus Papam” and hoped to return for following years of the festival.

Natalia Quintavalle, the Italian consul general in New York, visited campus on Friday and introduced “Cesar Must Die.”

“I cannot imagine a better place than Yale to present the Italy of the future,” Quintavalle said.

The joint conference “A Controversial Identity: Cinema in Contemporary Italy,” which took place on April 19 and 20, brought Italian academics together to add a scholarly dimension to the festival.

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