Writer’s Recap: Unifying cultures through cinema at the Italian Film Festival Manila

Cinema can speak to the hearts of audiences from diverse backgrounds and build deeper intercultural connections, as the Italian Film Festival attested to.

The Italian Film Festival Manila (IFFM) returned to the Venice Grand Canal Mall for its second edition last October 21, rekindling the spark of witnessing the magic of films in theaters and bringing the splendor of Italy to life once again. Spearheaded by the Philippine Italian Association (PIA) with the Film Development Council of the Philippines, the festival’s primary aim was to strengthen cultural ties between the two nations. One could witness this harmony in the universal language of film, as audiences from diverse backgrounds came together to experience the magic of cinema—the Italian way.

From October 21 to 24, a meticulously curated selection of six Italian films captivated cinephiles and culture aficionados alike. The festival opened with filmmaker duo Marco and Antonio Manetti’s Diabolik, a crime action adaptation of the iconic Italian comic series of its namesake. The lineup also explored themes of love, loss, and self-discovery through films such as Leonora Addio and Il Ritorno di Casanova. Each film offered a unique perspective on the universal aspects of human experience.

Two sides of the same coin

During the press conference, IFFM director Antonio Terminini shone a light on Italian artistry, especially on the opportunity to unravel a connection with Philippine cinema through the film festival. He offered insights into how Italians perceive Filipino films. “Italians love the acting [and] the actors even if they don’t remember their names,” he shared. Through the years, Italians have become fully invested in the compelling performances of Filipino actors, developing an appreciation for Philippine cinema as they are bound by a shared love for storytelling. 

This warm reception has translated into well-deserved accolades for Filipino actors like John Arcilla being the first Filipino to have won the Volpi Cup in 2021 at the Venice International Film Festival. Terminini also commended Filipino filmmakers such as Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza, acknowledging the impact of their notable works that have also bagged multiple awards in Venice in the past years. 

Italian craftsmanship, on the other hand, has also made an indelible impact on the world, not only in cinema but also in the realm of fashion. “We are well-known for design, fashion,” Termini pondered. “In every airport I go to, I see Armani, Gucci, [and] Prada. It’s not the same for our cinema, [though it] used to be,” he says, referring to the age of Italian neorealist cinema that once inspired many film movements across the globe. Terminini spoke of the Italian side of a parallel desire for recognition in their burgeoning contributions to contemporary cinema—two distinct facets of cultural expression, two sides of the same coin.

A breath of fresh air

One of the PIA’s visions for IFFM was to offer the Filipinos—and other foreign audiences alike—a glimpse of this undiscovered side of Italian cinema, different from the romantic classical films that the Mediterranean country was typically known for. To this, it only seemed fitting to recognize and honor the creative minds and hearts behind these Italian works. “The selection [of films] is really an attempt to put together different kinds of contemporary movies to discover new faces, new actors and filmmakers, that are basically unknown outside of Italy,” Terminini expressed.

Gracing its Filipino audience with a diverse selection of Italian films, the film festival’s opening film Diabolik brought the viewers along the “diabolic” adventures of Italy’s most notorious criminal, from his most ambitious heist yet to meeting and falling for a certain Eva Kant. The second day, October 22, featured Paolo Taviani’s Leonora Addio, a film that explored legacy and mortality by following the story of a deceased writer, Luigi Pirandello; before his death, he wished to have his ashes thrown off a cliff overlooking the Sicilian Sea. In a similar fashion, protagonist Marco Carrera took a trip down memory lane in Francesca Archibugi’s Il Colibrí. It focused on retelling the life of a man known as “The Hummingbird,” whose life can be considered an ode to enduring love and human resilience.

Continuing the cinematic journey, Gabriele Salvatores’ Il Ritorno di Casanova and Giulia Louise Steigerwalt’s Settembre were shown on the third day of the festival. Il Ritorno di Casanova delved into the pursuit of purpose and adventure despite the limits imposed by an aging body. Meanwhile, Settembre explored the pursuit of happiness for three of its characters amid their unfulfilled dreams, all within the span of a single September day. 

Wrapping up the festival on October 24, Diabolik Ginko All’Attacco, the Manetti brothers’ sequel to the Diabolik franchise, revisited the intricate dance of love and crime. The film follows the enigmatic master criminal Diabolik and his cunning accomplice Kant in a new adventure, where they fight against a more scheming Inspector Ginko, planning to permanently capture Diabolik. Navigating these heightened challenges, the characters deliver a riveting conclusion, revealing the heart of Italian cinema at the IFFM.

Aside from providing a new and refreshing film experience to its Filipino audience, the association shared its hopes for Italy to be once again recognized as one of the best countries for contemporary cinematic masterpieces. “We now need to compete with other cinemas from all over the world and have contemporary Italian films be known not just in Italy but all over the world,” Terminini proclaimed with conviction.

Embracing culture, bringing colors

Beyond the desire to showcase Italy’s prowess in the art of cinema, Terminini saw the festival as a means for the two countries to bask in their mutual fascination for films. From building on a shared admiration for acting and a sense of solidarity formed through relatable themes, IFFM has once again proven that cinema can bring countries together amid overarching differences in social and cultural dynamics. 

With that, Terminini believed that promoting Philippine cinema more extensively through expanded screenings in Italy would immerse the people in Filipino culture further. “We want [more] Filipino communities in Rome,” he conveyed.

It is safe to say that the IFFM will continue to be a momentous event worth anticipating for years to come. Peering into the future, Terminini envisioned a lasting collaboration between the Italian and Filipino film industries, as embodied by the IFFM. Parading and empowering both the Philippine and Italian film industries is an artistic tradition to uphold proudly. This bridges the cultural gap between the two countries, allowing a more profound perspective and appreciation of each country’s unique identities. 

Crysha Juliana Dela Pena

By Crysha Juliana Dela Pena

Anne Nicole Zambrano

By Anne Nicole Zambrano

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