'Fire At Sea' - Review by Vanessa Tedesco


Don’t go to Fire at Sea. Don’t go, that is, if you are expecting to see a documentary describing in detail the plight of the refugees who cross the Mediterranean to escape to Europe.

Yes, Fire at Sea is set in Lampedusa, the small Italian island closest to Africa, where most of the refugees who are lucky enough to survive the crossing make landfall. However, much of the film focuses not on them, but on the daily life of a 12-year-old Italian boy, Samuele, who is one of the island’s few permanent residents. Scenes of Samuele playing and practising his skills with a slingshot are only occasionally interspersed with shots of the tragedies taking place in the waters surrounding the island.

Do go to Fire at Sea, on the other hand, if you want to see a different side to Lampedusa; the one that does not make the news, but that is just as real, if not more so, than the news. Because what scenes there are of the refugees are eye-opening in their starkness. Director Gianfranco Rosi does not blatantly pull at your heartstrings: where the TV news adds, Rosi subtracts.

So, while we do see some shots of the laden boats floating adrift waiting for rescue, the images that have remained with me are the more mundane ones: refugees being inspected one by one by men in white hazmat suits and having their photos taken with a number as their only identification. No commentary is necessary – the eyes of these unnamed people say more than any voiceover could.

Do also go to Fire at Sea to see Rosi’s insight into the islanders’ lives in Lampedusa. Samuele, his friends and relatives appear to be totally removed from what is going on, apart from hearing the occasional report on the news of the latest numbers who have not made it. The one notable exception is the island’s doctor who, as well as ministering to the locals and the new arrivals, is called upon to identify the bodies of those who have not survived the trip. His matter-of-fact tired yet compassionate words chilled my blood.

Lastly do go and see Fire at Sea for its cinematography. Rosi shows us the barren scrubby beauty of the island; divers searching for seafood; refugees glowing in the dark in their crinkly space-blankets like lolly wrappers; the ominous grey waters of a Mediterranean Sea completely different from the vision of blue and gold that is portrayed in travel brochures.

Will you like Fire at Sea? I don’t know; but, if you are like me, you will walk out of the cinema a slightly different person. So, watcher, be warned.

Notes on 'Antonia' - Benita Gaddum


When you find yourself thinking about a film days after seeing it, what you thought about the film while watching it becomes irrelevant. The lasting impact of the story is surely the true measure of how effective the film was. The point being is that I have in fact developed a small obsession perhaps even a girl crush (unavoidable I guess) on Antonia Pozzi. I need to stop thinking about her.  May be these notes will help me let her lie.

I was lucky enough to have seen Antonia alone, in a dimmed and quiet home, fire blazing, my own sleep closing in. I woke in the morning and wondered how much I had dreamed and how much I had actually seen. I remember not wanting to wake up and ruin a perfectly strange dream. I felt like Antonia. The wild and bright young Italian poet who lived well before her time.

I rewound a small amount to see if I had missed some in my last nights hazy and dreamlike state.  My 7 year old daughter watched with me and asked why Italy had not been painted yet.  I really wanted to show her the scene where Antonia wakes in the morning, hot with life and energy and gets up to dance with wild abandon but we had to get ready for school.  Abandoning for us was disappointing.

Like a child Antonia’s imagination and passion was a force like gravity. She was fearless and restless. The fearlessness we feel in our twenties, remember?  She needed more time. She was intense but dreamy and like me she over thinks things. I suppress the melodramatic in me (most of the time). The ever so honest Antonia doesn’t.

The difference too is that she is a poet. A beautiful poet. Her words are strikingly pure, they are earnest and pared down. They become more and more woeful and peaceful up until her death.  I urge you to look up Antonia Pozzi. Her poetry is lonely yet sharp and transcendent. I would love to read what she would have to write today. I am not a poet but I did have to tell myself to take a breath while reading her poetry. Cringe but I guess that really is breathtaking. It’s true, her verses made me tingle like all great poetry does. I can only imagine how beautiful her words must sound in Italian.  If only to speak Italian.

One thing I know about myself is that I have an eye for beautiful things. I am 36 now and I have decided this is simply non-debatable.  The film Antonia is visually deeply beautiful.  The set and costume design, as well as the overall feel to the film is natural and stunning. I sit in my living room and feel pleased with our choice in linen coloured off white paint colours, I spy some soft smoky green but I wonder which part of it should I paint pretty muddy pastel blue. I have spent half a day chasing the goose which is the preferable shade of oatmeal  homespun knitwear.  It turns out this is because Fendi designed the costumes. Of course. Oh and I spotified a Pierro Ciampi song. A cool Italian rock song. Yip, this very stylish film has been quite a source of discovery.

It may look like a moving fashion shoot and it would be nice to understand Antonia’s Italian scribbles in the journal’s that we see her jotting away in (this is possible of course with some more research) but I liked it this way. It was meditative, a little bit hypnotising. Take it how it is, at face value if you must. Relax and enjoy the scenery not to mention her nude and sensual form. She wanted to love. She needed love. And you know the plot always thickens with a little more interrogation…

I can only think what a fair ground of symbolism there must be. If your looking for it.  Symbolism is another long conversation but I think that most of the time it’s boring when the artist is dead. A few cryptic or surreal film tricks for fun. Why not.  Symbolism can mean whatever one wants it to mean.  So bloody airy fairy. We could go around in circles and follow tangents forever with no one to say we are wrong right?  Take Art history if you want good results.

I’m impressed (easily impressionable I was thinking) and then I realise that Antonia was directed by Luca Guadagnino(that guy!).  He directed a favourite film of mine from last year ‘A Bigger Splash’.  Luca has an eye for beauty too.  I spent a wee sum on palm trees after that film. It has been the inspiration of our garden (to be) I intend on planting olive trees and scrub (Kanuka maybe). A large pergola is always close to the forefront of my mind and I’ll be needing a pool too.

Thank you Rotondo’s for bringing us the Italian film festival and showing me Antonia. We all love escapism in it’s many forms. Antonia dreamt of another life, a free life. One that wasn’t steered by sexism or convention. Nor a domineering and over protective father.  No matter how privileged and educated she was, a repressed life could never have lasted long in such spirit as Antonia.  My time spent with Antonia and soaking up the 1930’s Milan was the perfect escape for me.

Tragically there was only one escape left for Antonia. The tender young and sensitive age of 26.  RIP Antonia. You deserve your heaven among the stars. It’s been sweet getting to know you a bit. Looking out on this grey wintry day in Hawke's Bay I think of the unpainted Milan and the freezing cold old day you decided to do the unthinkable.  Instead I am re-directing my mind to your poetry. ‘The Scent of Green’ your lost childhood. So much promise and potential.  2017 would have suited you better.

I am guilty of wanting to sway my children into thinking like me. I sometimes use manipulative techniques but they are just children in search of good guidance. We have in our home 2 wild, stubborn, strong willed and intelligent girls, 1 brilliant boy, whom for some reason rarely feels the need to be stubborn.  As they grow and form their own opinions I hope they will not be afraid to speak as many words as they need to get their point across. I hope their wings grow as big as they wish and god willing, society giving, fly free here on earth. We all know that I especially mean our girls right. Let us all be feminists. Please. Can you believe that that is still even a thing.

Time is up. Back to reality. I am trying to ignore my 3 year old who is sternly telling me she needs a biscuit (code for attention) for dinner. Listen to me mummy!  She says. Despite the abundance of warm nutritious food on the dinner table.  I’m feeling like handing over the biscuit.  It is Friday. Off I go now to wrap my Fish-Tail palm tree in a blanket.  There’s going to be a frost tonight.

Christchurch! Grazie Mille!

We thank you Christchurch with all of our hearts for the fabulous support you have given us this year!  Most sessions have sold out and your enthusiasm for the Italian Festival is so appreciated.

To celebrate we are going to have a ridiculously good 'giveway' for the Festival in 2018. So keep checking our website or subscribe to our email newsletter over the next 9 months to hear about it first.

CIF Member Film Review - Vanessa Tedesco

Theatre of Life: food for thought and thought for food

Can being fed high-end food “with dignity” in a beautiful setting truly enrich your life when you are homeless and dispossessed? This question is just one of many that have been swirling in my mind since watching Theatre of Life a couple of days ago. It is also just one of the many reasons why I recommend watching this film.

Ostensibly this is a documentary about food waste, but in fact it is much more. It tells the story of top chef Massimo Bottura’s ambitious project to rescue uneaten food from the 2015 Milan World Expo Fair from being discarded. He arranges to use these leftovers to run a soup kitchen, named the Refettorio Ambrosiano, in a poor quarter of Milan.

To assist him, Bottura has called upon a veritable Who’s Who of famous chefs from around the world. At the same time the local priest, Don Giuliano, has selected some 90 or so regular “guests” for the Refettorio from among the homeless and refugees who live in the surrounding areas.

The film alternates between shots of the famous chefs at work and scenes from the daily lives of the guests. And this is where the documentary’s heart truly lies, at least for me. While the chefs rhapsodise about the challenge of coming up with extraordinary meals from a mish-mash of leftover ingredients, the guests worry about where to spend the night.

Writer and director Peter Svatek’s skill in making this delicate juxtaposition cleverly leaves you with many questions. What are the chefs’ motivations? Is what they are doing truly helpful? How, if at all, are the recipients’ lives changed by taking part in this project?

Your questions and answers may differ from mine – to be honest, my own opinions have changed a number of times since I started pondering these issues. I am no film critic, but I would argue that this ability to make you reconsider your beliefs can only be art.

However, as I mentioned earlier, there are many more reasons to watch this powerful documentary, even if the ethical questions at the heart of Theatre of Life do not interest you.

Foodies will enjoy the fly on the wall look at famous chefs at work creating culinary masterpieces from day-old bread. I loved the scene where Ferran Adrià of elBulli fame confesses to Bottura that it’s been four years since he has cooked like this, and Bottura’s gleeful response that he will not only be cooking but also serving the food.

Those with an artistic bent will admire the beauty that characterises even the poorest areas in Italy: the Refettorio for instance is located in a stunning abandoned theatre, which, as a result of Bottura’s efforts, is adorned with works by famous artists.

And Italophiles will revel in the Italian-ness of it all, that intangible mélange of gesture, language, big personalities and way of being which plunges you straight back into wonderful expressive Italy.

So check out the schedule of screenings of Theatre of Life in your city and head on down – you won’t regret it.

The Poems of Antonia Pozzi


On December 2, 1938, Antonia Pozzi lay down in a field on the outskirts of Milan and swallowed poison. She died the following day, leaving behind diaries, notebooks and loose pages of poetry, documenting her twenty-six years of life. From these, her father Roberto Pozzi, a Milanese lawyer, selected and edited her first collection, publishing it as Parole the following year. References and dedications to her lover and classics tutor, Antonio Maria Cervi, were eliminated, titles were changed, lines were cut. It was reissued in 1948, still pockmarked by paternal censorship, but with a preface by Eugenio Montale. Subsequent volumes have restored much emotional and erotic honesty to the poems. Editions by Alessandra Cenni, Onorina Dino and other female scholars from the mid-1980s onwards have tempered what Peter Robinson describes in the introduction to his new translation of Pozzi’s poems as the “saccharine”, while a collection by Lawrence Venuti, Breath: Poems and letters (2002), modulated her northern European pitch to chime with American women modernists such as H. D. and Amy Lowell.

Antonia is screening at The Academy Gold in Christchurch on Sunday 18 June at 4.00pm & The Suter Theatre in Nelson on Friday 23 June at 2.00pm


Theatre of Life - an extraordinary documentary

From the outset, what fascinated me was the meeting of two worlds that don’t seem to fit together at all: the world of haute cuisine—the best chefs in the world, with Massimo Bottura leading the way—and the world of the poor and hungry of Milan. That said, there is a movement among the very best chefs to make their cooking more relevant to real-world issues like poverty and food waste. Massimo says in the film that chefs can no longer cook just for the elite while ignoring ethical issues about how the rest of the planet is fed.

The Refettorio fed some of Milan’s many homeless, as well as refugees from Africa and the Middle East—part of Europe’s current migrant crisis. Most who ate at the Refettorio had never heard of any of the famous chefs. Would they care? Would it mean anything more than any free soup-kitchen meal?

But the philosophy of the Refettorio was different from that of most soup kitchens. There were no lineups. Food was served restaurant-style by volunteers. The place was beautiful, decorated by Italy’s finest artists and artisans. It became a homelike environment. The same guests returned every day. Relationships were formed. So the question arises: What is “home” for a homeless person or a political refugee?

These are the questions the film tackles.

I also wanted to go deeper to humanize the story. To get to know the people the Refettorio fed, as well as the chefs. To see the ethical questions through their eyes as much as the chefs’.

I love the title Theater of Life. The Refettorio was built in an abandoned theatre. Where actors once portrayed real life, real life took over. The film is, I hope, a moving, human, compassionate look at the Refettorio and what happened there.

Peter Svatek - Director





Ciao Italia Festival in Christchurch


On the same day as our Opening Night in Christchurch (14 June), there will also be a marvellous Italian Festival at The Colombo Mall - Ciao Italia!

Ciao Italia will start at 6.00pm and finish at 9.30pm and visitors can expect Italian food and wine (both imported and locally made) to taste, to take home, or to consume on the spot. There will be fashion, as well as home and art design. There will be demonstrations on how to make gnocchi, and how to tie a scarf (in 21 ways).

The entertainment comprises classical music (Luca Manghi, flute, and David Kelly, piano), and the Christchurch School of Music String Quartet; there will be Italian canzoni (Claudia Lues and her chorus), and the Dante Tarantella group.

There will be a number of much-loved Italian cars and Vespa, and the students of the Dante Society language school; there will be representatives of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand (organiser of the event), and of the Italian Programme of Research in Antarctica.

This is the first time for such event: if successful, it may well be back again. And in the end, the question will be: what took you so long?!

It is completely possible to attend both the Ciao Italia and The Cinema Italiano Festival NZ Opening Night, and of course we urge you to do just that.

6.00pm to 7.30pm Ciao Italia

7.30pm to 9.30pm The Cinema Italiano Festival NZ

For more information on Ciao Italia         www.ciaoitalianz.com

Secrets of Rome

Antica Osteria Da Giovanni - Lani Bevacqua

via della Lungara 41

Just beyond the limit of Trastevere proper, outside the gate at Porta Settimiana, beyond John Cabot University, there is stretch of the via della Lungara not more than 365 feet long that could easily fill an afternoon. The Orto Botanico is your first stop. On your left, up an imposing driveway that evokes its former use as a private palazzo's garden, the entrance is gated and an attendant will collect a fee. Once inside, you can choose one of the paths that lead to the garden's main fountain, water features, ducks, and plants that are identified with signs. It is a spot of green and cool in an otherwise car-filled city. Walk the paths into the thicker trees for some nice city views, or bring a picnic and watch the children play in the grass.

A few blocks farther along are the Villa Farnesina and Palazzo Corsini. The Arnesina, built as a suburban villa by the Chiga family in the sixteenth centry, is famous for its frescoed ceiling by Raphael, considered comparable to his work at the Vatican. But unlike the Vatican, the Farnesina is usually empty. You can actually sit down here and enjoy some quiet time with a masterpiece. Across the street, the Baroque Palazzo Corsini jumps forward a hundred years and boasts work by Carlo Maratta, Giovanni Lanfranco, Caravaggio, and Annibale Carracci.

Father along via Lungara, on the left, you find the Casa Internazionale delle Donne. This is a library, exhibition space, hotel, eco-friendly store, cafe, and more. The women-only hotel is a bargain, with single, double, and dormitory-style rooms. An adorable shop sells organic and artisanal products made by women.

If it's 8pm, drop into Da Giovanni, a homespun restaurant with no more than a dozen tables. Every night, hidden away on this stretch of via Lungara, Da Giovanni serves very fresh pastas and secondi to very few people, and if you arrive too late they will have run out of everything. That's when they know it's time to close.  And the prices are extremely reasonable!

Tickets now on sale at The Suter Theatre, NELSON

To celebrate our first year in Nelson with the Cinema Italiano Festival we are giving away this beautiful poster (it can also be seen in our 2017 Programme) from Passion for Paper.  Kim Helas, the owner of this finely curated stationery store is a Italophile and she stocks the most exquisite note paper, wrapping paper, wooden Pincocchio, and our favourite Santa Maria Novella products.

If you would like to win this poster and a double pass to Opening Night in Nelson on Friday 16 June at 7.30pm then email renee@cinemaitalianofestival with the brand name of your favourite product at Passion for Paper - www.passionforpaper.co.nz.

Winner will be notified on Wednesday 10 June.

Book Tickets at the Suter Theatre for the Cinema Italiano Festival

Rome's City Secrets

Rome's City Secrets

Santa Maria degli Angeli

begun 1561, Michelangelo; 1749, Vanvitelli. Plazza della Repubblica. www.santamariadegliangeliroma.it

The aspect of the church reveals a checkered history of cultural idenity: ancient monument, Renaissance embellishments, Italian national symbolism, Fascist archaeological interests.

On a sunny day, stop outside the entrance and feel the intensity of the reflected heat. This was once the hot room, or caldarium, of Rome's largest imperial baths - faced with huge glass windows to take full advantage of the sun. Enter, and you walk through the intermediate, temperate room (tepdiarium) before emerging into the main, cool room (frigidarium), once with an Olympic-sized swimming pool beyond.

The central room of the church, stretching away to your left and right, preserves the general form, size, and height of the Roman space. This was the grand hall of the baths, a melting pot of all social classes, the place where people met, deals were struck, and daily cares unwound. Stand in this vast and imposing room and you will be made aware of your inherent human scale. The eight granite columns along the walls are original. Those at the entrance are modern brick and plaster additions. This is a grand space of imperial magnitude, a space that unifies disparate elements and postulates a single purpose. Not you and them, but we the visitors.

As you re-emerge into the heat and bustle of Piazza della Repubblica, the calm will stay with you. Refreshed. Revived.

Santa Maria degli Angeli is one church a person might not visit unless prompted. The contrast between the "pile of bricks" look at entry and the magnificent interior volumes and Roman bath history makes it a must-see.


In Celebration of 'Roman Holiday' - Rome's City Secrets

A friend and her family are travelling to Rome in a few months and she wanted to know where she should go that wasn't going to be too touristy - places that were our favourite discoveries. I have only been to Rome a few times but Paolo has been there on many occasions.  So, in honour of her request and for our Opening Night Film - Roman Holiday, we will be posting some city secrets.

Up first, a Cinema story.

Most visitors to Rome are blissfully unaware that under their feet lies another city entirely, a medieval ruin that sits on top of older ones in a pancake stack of layered history. One catches glimpses of this in the various archaeological pits that have been dug. But this is only a fraction of the archaeology still buried under Rome. Dig anywhere in the city and you're bound to uncover the past.

Because archaeological remains are strictly controlled and finding them on one's property can result in a lengthy and costly preservation process, most owners either avoid any kind of expansion that involves digging or do so discreetly (and illegally). Not so with the Cremonini group, one of the largest food companies in Italy, which purchased an old cinema near the Trevi Fountain in the 1980s and began transforming it into the Cinema Alberto Sordi. In the course of construction, workers discovered medieval ruins in the basement; these ruins lay on top of even older ones going back to the fourth and fifth centuries. Over a ten-year period, archaeologists uncovered an extensive network of shops, houses, and streets under the modern buildings.

A hundred years ago, medieval sites were regularly destroyed by archaeologists trying to get at the ancient ruins beneath them. But in this case, some of the medieval ruins were left intact, including several houses. As a result, you can get a fantastic image of how successive eras built upon previous ones, literally building on top of older ruins, layer over layer. There are several Roman insulae (apartment houses) here and a great road (the Vicus Caprarius, which lends its name to the site) running down the middle - probably of Hadrianic era construction. In the corner of the site, a Roman latrine is powered by water from the Acqua Vergine, which also feeds the Trevi Fountain a short distance away.

The Vicus Caprarius illustrates how Romans live in and amongst their past. And this is something we have discussed in our Programme with the curation of the Cinema Italiano Festival 2017. Although the ruins delayed construction, Cremonini got its cinema, suspending it down into the site from above. They were smart enough to wrap the box in windows: before the lights dim on show nights, filmgoers are treated to the spectacle of two thousand years of continuous history unfolding before their eyes.


Italian Superstar 'Zucchero' is playing in Auckland Friday 19 May!!


I have been listening to Zucchero for over 30 years - absolutely one of the very best Italian musicians who has collaborated with Bono, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Elvis Costello, Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Luciano Pavarotti, Iggy Pop, Sting - a legend.

My particular favourite is when he played at the Kremlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall because it was a collision of my nerdy historical and political interests, my Italian culture and contemporary music.

I still sing 90's Zucchero songs to my children and they know his music without yet knowing Zucchero.

I never thought I would see such a massive Italian 'pop' star in New Zealand!! And stoked that I am going with my sister, Carla to his show in Auckland.

If you can go, you will not regret it.  And at the Town Hall.