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Arts & Culture

San Diego Italian Film Festival returns in person Thursday

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San Diego Italian Film Festival opens its 15th season with "Lacci," a film that looks to the troubled relationship of Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Vanda (Alba Rohrwacher).

feStivale showcases seven in-person films, two online films and 16 shorts

San Diego Italian Film Festival, or SDIFF, hosts its 15th annual feStivale with a return to in-person events at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) starting Oct. 7.

Reflecting what the world has gone through this past year-and-a-half, SDIFF has chosen Resilience as this year's theme. During October, the festival will showcase seven in-person films, two online films and 16 shorts for its third annual Ristretto Shorts Competition (for which I was one of the judges).

Antonio Iannotta, SDIFF's artistic director, was thrilled to return to in-person screenings for the monthly film screening in September at both MOPA and La Paloma.

"It was wonderful and also emotional finally to use our whole body, not just our heads in a screen," Iannotta said. "We try to be as safe as possible but being there and exchanging ideas, exchanging conversations, laughing together, terrorized together, crying together is one of the most important things when we go in a theater and share a story and emotion."

This Thursday, SDIFF will be sharing its opening night film "Lacci (The Ties)" with audiences at MOPA. The film ties into the festival's theme of resilience but with a twist.

"It's a movie about how a family can stick together if love disappears," Iannotta explained. "I'm not going to tell more in terms of the plot, but in terms of the structure of the movie. It's really interesting because we start in Naples at the beginning of the 1980s and all of a sudden, the characters, the father, the mother and the two kids, we are forward 30 years from now. So we have this time structure moving back and forth in the movie, where it seems that at a certain point it seems like a science fiction movie, but it's very rooted, family values and family pressures and how to try not to ruin too much the life of our children. It's a very powerful movie. It's a very strong movie."

That theme of resilience is also meant to be reflected in the the art of filmmaking, not just in terms of the content of the stories.

"We really believe that art and film, and cinema in this case in particular, can change our lives," Iannotta said. "And we can rely on that in moments where literally the world is falling apart. And so through the cinema, through our movies, we believe we can not only resist but even thrive and become hopefully better human beings."

The festival's focus is to highlight contemporary Italian films.

"We try to provide through our movies an Italian perspective on issues that are important for Italians and for San Diegans and Italian Americans here," Iannotta stated. "So we use that as a tool to foster discussion and conversation and having the filmmakers, producers, screenwriters, editors from Italy."

During the pandemic, SDIFF kept its film community connected through online screenings and Zoom discussions every month. It took full advantage of the fact that it could bring in directors from Italy for discussions without incurring any costly travel expenses. Although Italian filmmakers may not be as readily available at the in-person festival, SDIFF is dedicated to creating discussions around all its films.

Another part of the festival is the annual Ristretto Awards, a showcase of short films.

"It's open not only to Italian directors from Italy but to everybody that can focus on an Italian theme or Italian American theme or something that deals with our culture or an interpretation of our culture," Iannotta explained. "So during the festival, this is one of the content available online, our audience can watch the 16 shorts that made it into the final and also vote for them. The jury already decided the main awards but there is still an award the audience can vote on and decide. Then during our gala on Oct. 23, we will announce the winners of the competition and we will screen the winners."

The 15th feStivale kicks off Oct. 7 and runs selects nights and online through Oct. 30. Check the online schedule for more details about screening times and film titles.