The San Diego Italian Film Festival will begin its 12th annual FeStivale Wednesday. The title of the 12-day festival is a play on words, said artistic director Antonio Iannotta.
“Stivale” means boot in his native tongue, he explained, and refers to the well-known shape of Italy.
From an unusual documentary about the legendary painter Caravaggio to the musical comedy that opens the festival, the 13 feature films offer different perspectives of — and from — Italy. Except for Sergio Leone’s 1968 classic spaghetti Western “Once Upon a Time in the West,” the movies are contemporary.
The 2017 festival attracted more than 1,400 people. It’s not to be confused with the festival’s year-round monthly screenings in both San Diego and North County, which have totaled 3,400 attendees so far in 2018.
“We are bringing the best of Italian cinema to San Diego,” said Iannotta, who was born and bred in southern Italy. “We show what’s going on in Italy now. We want to create a dialogue with the community here in San Diego — not just the Italian community. We want to appeal to everybody.”
Wednesday’s screening of “Ammore e Malavita” (“Love and Bullets”) will launch the festival at Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts, where most of the films will be shown. Iannotta said the musical comedy spoofs the stereotypes displayed in American movies about the mafia.
In contrast, the 2018 documentary “Caravaggio — L’anima e il Sangue” (“The Soul and the Blood”) is a serious but inventive exploration of the artist. Its screening at the San Diego Natural History Museum, also in Balboa Park, will be followed by a panel of art experts.
“I’m really excited about this very original documentary,” Iannotta said. “It mixes accurate information with beautiful images of his works and also uses actors and a voice-over in first person as Caravaggio himself.
“It’s not fiction, but it’s not a National Geographic documentary either. It comes from an art perspective and is extremely engaging.”
Human rights issues are examined in “L’ordine delle cose” (“The Order of Things”). The fictional film, set in Libya, is about a policeman with a European task force whose life changes when he encounters a woman who fled her war-town country of Somalia. After the film, director Andrea Segre will hold a question-and-answer session.
The festival’s gala on Oct. 7 will have a much lighter tone. “The True Legend of Tony Vilar” is the 2006 mockumentary that Variety called “a warmhearted, tongue-in-cheek look at the Italian diaspora.” Shown at the 2009 festival, “Vilar” is back by popular demand. With a special nod to the region of Calabria, this special-ticket event will offer dinner, desserts, gelato and coffee, and feature a live performance by the movie’s star, Peppe Voltarelli.
Iannotta, a graduate of the University of Salerno, teaches Italian at the University of San Diego. He moved here from Italy six years ago.
“It was a huge decision to leave Italy,” he said. “But I love teaching and doing the festival. I love being here, but I belong to Italy. As long as I can do this and be a part of an organization that is doing good things for my culture, I’m happy to be here.
“The festival is one of the main reasons I’m here. For all of us, it takes a lot of energy, but is very satisfying.”
San Diego Italian Film Festival: feStivale 2018
When: Various times, Wednesday through Oct. 14
Where: Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park (main venue); San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park; La Paloma Theater, 471 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Tickets: $8 to $12 individual films; festival passes available.
Wood is a freelance writer.