film festivals

Celebrate Italian cinema at MOVIEMOV 2022: An interview with Fabia Bettini

Jason Tan Liwag
Celebrate Italian cinema at MOVIEMOV 2022: An interview with Fabia Bettini
We speak to MOVIEMOV festival director Bettini about celebrating Italian culture through film and the process of introducing new voices and luminaries in Italian cinema

From revolutionaries such as Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni to genre masters such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci to contemporary voices such as Alice Rohrwacher and Piero Messina, the world owes much to Italian cinema. However, as commercial theater franchises prioritize Hollywood blockbusters and local commercial releases and small cinematheques focus on local titles and independent films, there have been few avenues to discover and rediscover Italian cinema in the country.

As an answer to this, the MOVIEMOV Italian Film Festival has annually provided free access to Italian cinema to curious moviegoers in the Philippines. The festival is hosted by Play-Town, in partnership with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), the Philippine Italian Association, Embassy of Italy in the Philippines, and the Italian Ministry for Culture and Tourism (MIBACT) and is primarily youth-centered and educational. Now in its 11th year, MOVIEMOV continues its traditions by presenting eight Italian movies through a virtual theater, most of which are followed by a talkback session with the filmmakers and the actors involved. This year’s edition is made special by a tribute to luminary filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, in celebration of his 100th birth anniversary.

Though we were thousands of miles apart, I sat down with festival director Fabia Bettini to talk to her about developing this year’s program, celebrating Italian culture through cinema, and the future of the festival now that the cinemas are reopening. The interview was arranged by Marian Torre from FDCP and was translated with the assistance of Rachel Ann Greenwood.

What were your considerations when you were programming this year’s festival?

For us, it’s always important to promote new Italian cinema. So we chose a lot of first films but also big masters. So we can mix what is the history of our cinema with important directors like Marco Bellochio and Mario Martone [who’ve gone to] a lot of important festivals like Venice, Berlin, Cannes. But it’s also to promote new directors. So that’s why we always like to mix a selection of both.

It’s very easy for us because the festival in Rome, with us in the city, we made the same things. We would like to discover new Italian cinema and we would like to underline the talents. We’d also like to speak about the tradition of our cinema. It’s something we made with our work, all events during the year.

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Your opening film this year is Qui Rido Io (King of Laughter) by Mario Martone (2021). I know that the film first competed at Venice in 2021 and most recently screened at Rotterdam in 2022. Why choose this as your opening film?

Martone is one of the greatest masters that we have in Italy at the moment and he’s got such a wide range of culture which is deeply rooted in our traditions. Especially in Naples. We decided to open with King of Laughter because we’re showing with this film the evolution of Martone: from when he first came out with his film The Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician (Morte di un matematico napoletano, 1992) and showing how his filmography has grown to be such a masterpiece. King of Laughter is really one of the apexes of his career. So we thought we would celebrate his cinematography but also his growth throughout the years by opening the festival with this movie. 

Your closing film this year is Diario di Spezie (Diary of Spices) by Massimo Donati (2021), which is a noir thriller centered on a spice connoisseur and a restorer of paintings. By the title and the synopsis, this film seems to be tonally and thematically different from your opening. What made you want to close the festival with this film?

Yes indeed! It’s a very different kind of movie and we’re juxtaposing the great tradition of Martone’s films with a first piece. This is the director’s first movie and we thought it would be interesting to show how styles can evolve: from opening the great director and closing the festival with a newcomer with a new film that is totally different in tone and direction.

We also wanted to end with this because the protagonist Lorenzo Richelmy is not only the godfather of the MOVIEMOV this year but also he was seen as the main cast in Marco Polo from Netflix [created by John Fusco]. So it would be quite nice to show him and his career and how he’s developing in this movie.

This year has a retrospective tribute to the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose 100th birth anniversary is being celebrated all around the world. I was wondering, of his entire filmography, why choose Mamma Roma (1962)? And why the documentary La Rabbia Di Pasolini (2008) alongside it?

So it was very, very difficult to choose [from] the films of Pasolini because there were so many to choose from but we didn’t have the space to choose [everything] so we had to choose only a few. As this year was celebrating a hundred years from his birth not only in Italy, but around the world he is being celebrated.

Mamma Roma was very interesting because it was the film that he did doppo cartone and there was a recurrence [in] these themes that he did from 1962 onwards. And Mamma Roma especially recounted how people lived in the suburbs of Rome in that time. It was very touching for me but also for everyone from our generation because it showed our city, showed how Rome used to be, and how now we can celebrate it thanks to him.

Talking about the documentary, it would’ve been easy to have chosen another movie, another feature, by Pier Paolo Pasolini. However, we thought it was better to choose a documentary about his life to show how he got through his work, how processed his creativity, and also how he had to face so much anger and how he had to use his anger to get through his job in that time, and how he managed to be the Pier Paolo Pasolini that we know today.

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For audiences who may not necessarily be as familiar with Italian cinema, what do you hope they take away from the festival?

From the festival, I hope that any audience will be able to take away an appreciation for Italian cinema. But also, be kind of educated by it because our Italian cinema really does recount how Italians are, how we live in the social demographics of the world and our own social demographics, our sentiments, our emotions. Of course, Italian cinema isn’t big on special effects. But the profound sense of Italian cinema really does dig deep into the human psyche of the Italians and that’s what we want to share with our audience.

Prior to the pandemic, I know that the festival screened in cinematheques around in the Philippines. Now that cinemas are slowly reopening in the country, is there a chance at an in-person or hybrid festival in the future? Or have you found something you want to keep with the online format?

The idea is to be totally in presence. I’m in festivals and I completely agree with a lot of directors. All of the directors and actors that worked with us in past editions also say it’s different: you know the culture, you know the people, you know everything when you’re present. It’s something different. It’s not something cold. It’s something else.

For sure, [we’d want it to be] in present, if it would be possible. And maybe, also a digital edition. Maybe if we are in the Philippines, we can have [virtual screenings] in Thailand and Vietnam. But the idea is to travel around. We were born with this idea and we would like to continue with that. –

The MOVIEMOV Italian Film Festival will be virtually screening its films from March 31-April 4, 2022. To attend the film screenings, talkbacks, and masterclasses, click here.

Jason Tan Liwag

Jason Tan Liwag is an openly gay scientist, actor, and writer. As a film critic, he is an alumnus of the IFFR Young Critics Programme 2021, the FEFF Film Campus 2021, the Yamagata Film Criticism Workshop 2021, and the CINELAB Workshop 2020 and has served as a jury member for film festivals locally and internationally.