Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Art & Culture

    N.I.C.E. Awards Antonio Morabito and His Il Venditore di Medicine

    Antonio Morabito, with his film Il Venditore di Medicine, is the winner of the “Città di Firenze” Award” of the 24th edition of N.I.C.E. New Italian Cinema Events Festival.

    N.I.C.E. is committed to showcasing new Italian cinema abroad, but it has also been promoting the City of Florence, the Region of Tuscany, its territory and culture, supporting not only its tourism but a cultural and productive exchange. This happens every year through the screening of films produced or shot in Tuscany (often international premieres) and through the presentation of the “Città di Firenze” Award to the winning film of the US festival.

    The award, assigned by the American audience (mostly young film professionals and students of film and Italian language) through voting ballots, has the aim to draw the national and international attention to quality and independent films, which nonetheless don’t easily find their natural place into the Italian movie theaters.

    Morabito, who received his award in San Francisco, was extremely surprised but proud of his film, which is a piece that denounces the current illegal practices of some pharmaceutical companies that force doctors to prescribe their medications to their patients even though they are not necessary to make them feel better.

    “The topic touches all of us,” the director said, “Mine is not an investigation, but the simple narration of real facts.” The film is a horror where factual events are stranger than fiction, and where medicine equates any other commercial products: “Do you know what oncology means? Two thousand euros a vial!”

    The film stars Claudio Santamaria, in the role of the medical representative who, in order not to lose his job, accepts all sorts of compromises no matter what his conscience tells him; Isabella Ferrari, in the role of the area manager and Marco Travaglio in the role of the “evil” Prof. Malinverni, Chief of oncology.

    “Hopefully the film will find distribution and Morabito will become one of Italy's prominent filmmakers,” Viviana del Bianco, the festival's director said, “We are proud of all our filmmakers and we are working hard to help them get the attention they deserve.”

    N.I.C.E. is an important cinematic event for the Italian community abroad but mostly for American distributors in search of new material. Year after year, the festival showcases Italian films made by new directors at their first or second experience. This is an important opportunity for all these Italian promising directors to have their talent recognized outside the borders of their home country.

    “N.I.C.E., now in its 24th year, is the Italian film festival that has been in the US the longest,” Fabio Troisi, cultural attaché to the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, said in an introductory press conference, “2014 has been an historical year for Italian cinema. The Great Beauty has won an Academy Award – by the way, Sorrentino, the director, was discovered by N.I.C.E. - and five Italian films found American distributors. Five is not a high number, we know that, but it is a lot compared to other countries and to previous years. How is that possible? Better quality, that's the answer. There are new directors whose talent and films are being helped by N.I.C.E. Because they are given a chance to be seen.”

    Troisi's desire is to renovate interest in this festival that has been presented in NYC for the past couple of years, in limited editions. “We don't have a partner in New York,” Viviana del Bianco added, “but we have great support from the cultural institutions. Hopefully, next year, for our 25th anniversary, we will be able to show all the films.” According to del Bianco, the celebrations for the anniversary will be grand, and will see the participation of some of America's favorite filmmakers who have supported N.I.C.E. from the very beginning.

    “Scorsese, Turturro and Coppola, are just a few name I can throw out there...” del Bianco concluded, “meanwhile let's focus on Morabito and his promising talent.”

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Gusto. An Encyclopedia of Italian Cuisine

    “What are the ingredients I cannot live without? Really, my answer is good quality, fresh ingredients. Maybe it seems strange to say this, but to me it is so important that the product tastes fresh — and real. Many times the product doesn’t actually taste like what it’s supposed to.

    If it doesn’t taste right, I prefer not to use it. I think that Gusto can help you really figure out
    how to select good ingredients. And the two ingredients that I absolutely cannot live without are sale (salt) and olio (olive oil). These are the two most important ones for me.” 

    Chef and restaurateur Cesare Casella speaks to i-Italy about Gusto: The Very Best of Italian Food and Cuisine, a beautiful book for countertops and coffee tables everywhere, a rare gem first published in Italy in 2011 that has now been translated into English with a foreword by the chef in which he sums up the philosophy of the book itself, extolling the value of fresh ingredients and recounting the times he selected the best produce and fresh seafood in Tuscan markets. 

    Chef Casella has been sharing his passion for authentic Italian food with Americans for the past twenty years. He is the owner and executive chef of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto and Il Ristorante Rosi, and the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center in New York City. He is also a frequent featured visiting guest at the James Beard House and De Gustibus. Chef Casella has written several books, including The Fundamentals of Italian Cuisine (2012), True Tuscan (2005) and Italian Cooking for Dummies (2002). He was ecstatic when he was asked to write a foreword to his new book, which was edited by Armando Minuz and published by Abbeville Publishing Group

    Ingredients are essential 
    “Why did I want to be involved with Gusto? Really I couldn’t resist. When I first saw a copy of the Italian version I was so amazed by the beauty of the book. Then when they asked me if I would write the foreword to the U.S. Edition of course I said yes. For me the ingredients are so important. They are what make the dish. In Italian cooking, if the ingredients aren’t great, you can’t cook good food.

    Pictures, recipes, and tips
    Gusto is the first encyclopedia of Italian cuisine and features 4,000 stunning photographs and more than 140 recipes. The book starts by describing the cuisines of Italy’s 20 regions, then goes on to cover the numerous categories of food, starting with pasta, in all its splendid shapes and sizes. Then there are a dozen kinds of prosciutto, various cuts of meat, all sorts of fish and crustaceans, and much more, including vegetables, fruit (more than 10 varieties of cherries are introduced in the book), coffee, ice cream and wine. Each page has plenty of photographs, not just of the food but of preparation tips as well, which raises the learning curve and whets the appetite.

    It is safe to say that Gusto is the first visual guide to Italian cuisine and the unique, ingredient-based organization of this book makes it a great resource for anyone who is interested in slow food, sourcing authentic ingredients, or exploring the country’s beloved cuisine.

    Recipes in the book range from favorites like gnocchi in tomato sauce and risotto to little known regional dishes like tagliatelle with chestnuts and speck, and saffron maccheroncini. There are also some lesser known ingredients.

    “Well, in New York you can find almost everything, but there are a few things that you really can’t find,” says Casella. “I’m thinking about some of the rare types of fish, like rossetti, a small fish that is difficult to find in Italy too. There are also products that you can’t find anywhere in the U.S. because of strict USDA regulations, like culatello.”

    There is hope that these ingredients will some day make it to the US. In the meantime, at least we can learn about them in Gusto so that one day, on our travels through Italy, we’ll be able to taste them for ourselves. It’s always good to prepare ahead, right?

  • Art & Culture

    Fighting the Mafia with Culture

    An itinerant exhibition strongly desired by the Fondazione Italiana per la Legalità e lo Sviluppo "Generale CC Ignazio Milillo" (Italian Foundation for Legality and Development "General of the Carabinieri Army Ignazio Milillo"), composed by pictures referring to key and dramatic mafia-related events and to unforgettable victories of the State against the mafia, is on view at the Italian Cultural Institute

    “I was born in a police station. I have always lived in the barracks and I served in the Carabinieri
    Corps up to the rank of General. In 1963 I was 10 years old and lived in Palermo. My father, the Lieutenant Colonel, used to command the external group of the Carabinieri in Palermo...” The person speaking is General Giuseppe Fausto Milillo, the son of Gen. Ignazio Milillo, an important figure in the fight against the mafia, who is at the head of the Italian Foundation for Legality and Development "General of the Carabinieri Army Ignazio Milillo.


    Can you please explain the title of this photographic testimony.

    “Luci dal Buio. Mafia e Antimafia” (Lights from the Dark. Mafia and Antimafia: pictures for an inventory) is the title that we picked because, we want, right from the start, simply by leafing through the catalogue or by looking at the pictures, to convey the message that there is always a ray of sunshine, space for hope and for new beginnings, and that Good always wins against Evil. Right from the start people must understand that with the implementation of a Cultura della Legalità (Culture of Legality), key point of all operative activities of the Foundation, the mafia and any other criminal organizations will have a hard time in coming together and in operating in that social, economic and political context.  

    Would you point out a couple of pictures that are particularly significant.

    The Fondazione Italiana per la Legalità e lo Sviluppo is named after the “Generale dei Carabinieri Ignazio Milillo” who

    - In 1949, while he was a lieutenant in Palermo, was hurt during the famous and tragic attack known as the “Strage di Bellolampo” by the bandit Salvatore Giuliano; 

    - On May 14, 1964, after lengthy investigations with the Polizia Giudiziaria, arrested the mafia boss Luciano Liggio, aka the Primula Rossa di Corleone, after sixteen years as a fugitive. Luciano Liggio was the undisputed Mafia boss at the time and his arrest was the first historical action that the State took against the Mafia. For that reason we are particularly proud of showing a picture portraying his arrest. Liggio is in his bed at the moment of his capture. The man in uniform is the Gen. Ignazio Milillo, at the time Colonel in command of the Gruppo Esterno Carabinieri of Palermo.

    The other two pictures that are particularly meaningful are that of the arrest, by the Polizia di Stato, of Bernardo Provenzano, and the portrait of Joe Petrosino, the first, well known victim of the criminal organization. If we were to give a common meaning to these three images, we could say that no homicide, or any other criminal action, wanted by the mafia remains unpunished. Even the most powerful criminals, assassins and mafia bosses see their power disintegrate and they are either killed or arrested.

    Your foundation has several purposes - the disclosure, retention and promotion of the fight against the Mafia; training the new generations in the rediscovery of historical memories; and the promotion of activities aimed at preserving and enhancing the civilization and culture of Sicily's legal philosophy -  this exhibition seems to satisfy them all, is that so?

    The Foundation's goals are well known and this photographic testimony represents them all.  

    The importance of this collection of photographs is due to the fact that historical memories must  be revisited with a social purpose. Nobody should forget what happened in the past as that helps the present's sense of freedom and respect for humanity.

    I want to use the words of Italian Ambassador in the US, Claudio Bisogniero, who, in the letter he sent me, has shown appreciation for the tireless work of the Foundation. “The fight against the mafia is not simply colliding with organized crime, there is more.

    We can win only by teaching legality and instill it in the hearts and minds of the younger generation. We win only by keeping alive the memory of all the sorrow and pain inflicted by the mafia  cancer and of all the country's victories against we don't only bring the mafia into the shadows but we bring our anti-mafia successes into the light.” We help the light shine stronger as we are there teaching all future generations the importance of legality. 

    What's the importance of bringing this exhibition to the US?

    Bringing this photographic testimony to New York is extremely important because it's an opportunity to further denounce the operational-criminal link and the infiltration by the mafia that both Italy and the United States have experienced since forever. The Foundation is always busy in spreading a Culture of Legality and that's why we use the show, which is almost at the end of its tour, to communicate our Credo even overseas, in that Italian-American axis, that has always been afflicted by the Mafia.  Let's not forget that among the pictures exposed there is the aforementioned one of Joe Petrosino, and that of the mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta, also known as the boss of two worlds, because he was at the head of the mafia connection in both Italy and the USA. 

    What should the American people know about Ge. Milillo? 

    The American people are wonderful as they have been able to grow with great respect for Freedom and Democracy, fighting against terrorism and organized crime. They have live through great sacrifices with great respect for culture and memory... that's why they can comprehend and cherish the work and the high feelings of loyalty to the state that motivated Gen. Ignazio Milillo. A man like so many in his simplicity and humility. A military man among many, who, proud and influential, lived his Credo and his life with the utmost respect for human beings, society and the Law, and who fought against every form of criminal activity and the mafia.

  • Life & People

    Films of My Life with Zadie Smith & Patrick McGrath

    The American editions of Le Conversazioni take place in New York in the auditorium of The Morgan Library and Museum. Through the leitmotiv underlying theme of the scenes that make up their life, cultural figures are invited to debate the yearly subject and, in general, their own creative activities. Each year, the literary festival asks guests to write about and debate a specific subject: identity, literature and film, memory, deadly sins, human rights, eros, politically correct, winners and losers. This year, the protagonists of Le Conversazioni were asked to discuss corruption and purity in art, politics, religion and everyday life.

    So on November 6, the 2014 edition of Le Conversazioni, created by two Italian film personalities, professor and writer Antonio Monda and producer Davide Azzolini, concluded with a conversation between Monda and British authors living in New York, Zadie Smith and Patrick McGrath. That of 2014 is the ninth edition of Le Conversazioni, a traveling festival that takes place in the beautiful island of Capri, in New York and, for the first time this year, in Rome. Previous guests were Renzo Piano, Mark di Suvero, Michael Cunningham, Gay Talese, Paul Schrader, Jonathan Franzen, Martin Amis, Ian Buruma, Daniel Mendelsohn, Marina Abramovic, Daniel Libeskind, Julie Taymor,  Jeffrey Eugenides, Isabella Rossellini and Salman Rushdie.

    In NYC, Le Conversazioni have a subtitle “Films of my Life” as the conversation between the two authors and moderator Antonio Monda is about film. Each guest introduces 4 films that he/she has been inspired by and then talks about it with the others. Before starting with their selection both authors were asked about literature and film, is the former superior to the latter? And how faithful to the original writing should adaptations be? “The two art forms are definitely different but it is hard to tell which one is best,” McGrath said, “with a novel you can say so much more... you can dive into a character's mind and know what he thinks and feels... but with a fim there is no need to say so much, something can be conveyed even with a simple gesture.”

    Zadie Smith is an English novelist, essayist, and short story writer who is known for  her books White Teeth (2002), On Beauty (2005) and The Creative Life (2014). Race, immigration and the role of women in society are themes that the author often touches in her writing and her film choices speak to that. The most significant choice was Gone with the Wind, a film she loved as a little girl but thought she had to hide to watch because she was embarrassed to admit she liked (due to the slavery theme presented in the film). “Then one day my mother, who is from Jamaica, found me out. She admitted to love it too and we watched it together.” Apart from slavery, another theme that captured Smith's attention and influenced her thoughts is the role of women. “Despite the severe gender inequality of their time, women in Gone with the Wind” show strength and intelligence that equals or bests the strength and intelligence of men.” She also picked Adam's Rib a 1949 American film starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as married lawyers who come to oppose each other in court. “Hepburn plays a strong woman, not easily intimidated who is beautiful and smart and even does better than her husband.”

    Patrick McGrath is also is a British novelist and his work has been categorized as gothic fiction as it deals with recurring subject matters such as mental illness, repressed homosexuality and adulterous relationships. Among his most known novels we find The Grotesque (1989), Spider (1990), and Asylum (1996). McGrath grew up near Broadmoor Hospital where his father was Medical Superintendent and that had a really strong influence on his writing... Asylum is set in a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. Among McGrath's film choices the only Italian film of the night, The Damned, a 1969 Italian-German drama written and directed by Luchino Visconti. The film's plot centers around the Essenbecks, a wealthy industrialist family who have begun doing business with the Nazi party. The film has been described to center on “moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centeredness and political opportunism.” Some of these themes are recurring in McGrath's writings.

    Le Conversazioni NYC are definitely a special way to get to know more about our favorite writers but are also a useful film guide, as they give the audience the opportunity to discover films they have missed. Probably everybody in the audience was familiar with Smith's choice “Back to the Future,” but just a few knew McGrath's choice Carnival of Souls, a 1962 independent horror film starring Candace Hillgross that now is a cult classic.

    The ninth edition of Le Conversazioni confirms that the festival is a lab of ideas that is visibly growing. The theme of the 2015 edition, which will start on February 24, will be “Revolution,” and the festival itself will be somehow revolutionized as it will feature more meetings in Rome and more in New York.

  • Art & Culture

    Explosion of Colors and Form with Giulio Turcato @ NYU

    Giulio Turcato's drawings were never a focus of his three past solo shows in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, therefore this exhibition at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò is the first to bring together a wide selection, about  40, of the artist's works on paper to the United States. “It is not, however, the first time that Turcato set foot in the country,” his granddaughter, Martina Caruso, has said.

     Indeed back in 1962, the artist from Mantua visited, for a two week period of time, New York  City and, as any other tourist, saw the city and some friends, including Salvatore Scarpitta, a local artist born to a Sicilian father and Polish-Russian mother best known for his sculptural studies of motion, who was part of the artistic and intellectual circles they both hung out at in Rome.

    To know more about Turcato let's go back in time, to January 24, 1995 and the obituary written by The New York Times.

    “Giulio Turcato, a painter and sculptor who was a prominent member of Italy's postwar avant-garde, died on Sunday at his home in Rome. He was 82. Mr. Turcato, who was born in Mantua in 1912, studied and then taught art in Venice. In 1943, he settled in Rome, where he took part in the anti-Fascist underground. After the war, he was part of a group of artists who in 1948 signed a manifesto proclaiming themselves "formalists and Marxists," clashing with Italian Communist Party officials who contended art should be realistic. Blending aspects of Picasso and Futurism, he developed a nongeometric style of abstraction for which he claimed political subject matter primarily through titles like "Revolts," "Political Gatherings," "Factories" and "Mines." In the 1950's, Mr. Turcato was attracted to a more gestural, atmospheric form of abstractions and was allied with a group of painters that included Afro, Emilio Vedova and Giuseppe Santomasso. In the 1960's, he grew more experimental with form and technique, including painting on foam rubber. Mr. Turcato won the National Prize at the 1958 Venice Biennale, and was the subject of a retrospective at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome in 1987. Last fall, his work was included in "The Italian Metamorphosis: 1943-1968," which closed on Sunday at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.” In fact the Guggenheim show closed only a few days before his death.

    “New York was, like his trip to China in 1956, a life changing experience,” Martina Caruso stated in “Giulio Turcato, a gentle anarchist,”which would have a strong impact on Turcato's vision and further experiments with different materials. For instance with Ricordo di New Work (Remembering New York) from 1963 the artist explores the use of carbon copy paper in a new dimension.” When you look closely at the piece of art you would indeed realize that the carbon copy paper is used to signify the elements of light and darkness of this city. Among the other drawings directly inspired by the city we find New York, from 1964, tempera and ballpoint pen on colored paper, which captures the exterior of a few buildings and looks like a predecessor of the Big Apple's skyline postcards tourists have been sending home for decades.

    During the post-war period, in the 1940s and 1950s, the artist appears to have preferred working on canvas rather than paper. Only six out of the 43 drawings exhibited at Casa Italiana are dated pre-1960 and two of these are sketches for larger painted works: Giardino di Miciurin (Garden of Michurin) and the blue, white and black Composizione (Composition) from 1954 – 55.

    There are a few pieces featuring money (FLASH ART, 1975, is a collage on cardboard that features a $100 bill) and money is something that was on the artist's mind, as it seemed that everything always went back to the material, to cash... The show is an explosion of colors and forms and a testimony of his expressions and thoughts and a welcome back to the artist's beloved city.

  • Art & Culture

    Book Presentation - Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development

    “Once someone brought him an image of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona...those towers were very similar. They asked him if he knew about them and had been inspired by that work somehow. Incredulous, he looked at the picture, he had never seen Bracelona's unfinished cathedral and he asked  'did this man have any help?'”

    This is a fragment of an exciting presentation that independent scholar Luisa Del Giudice heldat the Calandra Institute to introduce the book she edited Sabato Rodia' Towers in Watts (Fordham University Press, 2014).

    Luisa Del Giudice “is an independent scholar, former university academic (University of California Los Angeles, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia), public sector educator (Founder- Director of the Italian Oral History Institute), and community activist. She has published and lectured widely on Italian and Italian American and Canadian folklife, ethnology, and oral history, and has produced many innovative public programs on Italian, Mediterranean, regional, and folk culture, and local history in Los Angeles. In 2008 she was amed an honorary fellow of the American Folklore Society and knighted by the Italian Republic.”

    She is also the coordinator of the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative which seeks to celebrate the common ground of the Towers, a locus of creativity, of sustained resolve in adversity and of positive public transformation.

    The Initiative organizes a range of public events throughout the city. “I first approached the towers in 2003, when I was in LA for a festival... I was hooked. And although I am bone tired from the efforts of almost a decade I feel much more has to be done to protect them,” Del Giudice confessed. Thus, we have this book.

    The unique Watts Towers “were created over the course of three decades (construction began in 1921, but and was completed in 1954) by a determined, single-minded artist, Sabato “Simon” Rodia, a highly remarkable Italian immigrant laborer who wanted to do "something big" and ended up creating an internationally renowned architectural wonder.

    Rodia was born and raised in Serino, in the province of Avellino. In 1895, he emigrated to the US with his brother; first to Pennsylvania, then to Seattle, where he married Lucia Ucci in 1902. They moved to Oakland where Rodia's three children were born. Following his divorce about 1909, he moved to Long Beach where he worked at numerous odd jobs and then finally settled in Watts in 1920. Rodia purchased a triangular plot of land in a multiethnic, working-class, semi-rural district.

    He set to work on an unusual building project in his own yard.  “He was a hard worker,” Del Giudice explained at the presentation, “He was pretty much everything, even a night watchman but never a brick layer. He worked all the time and every penny he made he used to build his towers. He was constantly experimenting with the materials he used, form, color, texture, cement mixtures, and construction techniques. He would build something, tear it down and then rebuild it. There was no master plan, no drawings, no inspiration... he just built as he went along.”

    As an artist completely possessed by his work, he was often derided as an incomprehensible crazy man. The towers were frequently vandalized by neighbors but that never stopped him. Now a National Historic Landmark and internationally renowned destination, the Watts Towers represent both a personal artistic expression and a collective symbol of Nuestro Pueblo--Our Town/Our People. “He was a loner who wanted to create something that somehow brought people together.” When he completed his work he moved away never to return.

    Sabato Rodia' Towers in Watts is a much-anticipated reappraisal of the man and his work and it consists of essays from twenty authors, offering perspectives from the arts, the academy, and the communities involved in the towers' preservation and interpretation. “I did a lot of oral research,” Del Giudice explained, “I listened to interviews with fresh ears. What surprised me is that some important parts were deleted. The interviewers were more interested in his art than him as a man, so there is not much about him being an Italian immigrant. All quotes about food were eliminated as seen trivial, he talked a lot about olive oil, but it was not trivial, it was a connection to his Italian ancestry. There is so much more we do not know about him.” Del Giudice also conducted her own interviews and concludes the volume with some personal reflections.

    Del Giudice's mission to preserve and protect the towers continues: she has applied to get them to become a UNESCO's World Heritage Site, therefore a Treasure of Humanity.

  • Events: Reports

    Mario Fratti's Six Passionate Women

    “What makes this production of Six Passionate Women special are the actors,” playwright Mario Fratti explains to i-italy as his award winning play is being performed at the Theater for the New City. “This time we picked veterans hailing from Broadway who are able to get to know the characters better. The quality of acting is higher, more professional.”

    And the actors Fratti is talking about are Dennis Parlato, in the role of Nino (“A Chorus Line,” “Sound of Music); Donna Vivino (“Les Miserables”); Ellen Barber (“Fame”); Colleen Sexton (“Jekyll and Hyde), Line Rettmer, Carlotta Brentan and Giulia Bisinella.

    “When I am preparing a show I always follow the same method,” Fratti explained. “I chose the actor and then I let them “play with the play.” I let them get to know each other and get familiar with the text. I basically set them free, they can do whatever they want... until the last week of rehearsal. That's when I go in, see what they've come up with and correct all the mistakes. I don't want to disturb but I also want to have my say.”

    Nevertheless, Fratti is not the director of the show, he's the playwright, the director is Stephan Morrow, and he wrote Six Passionate Women inspired by his personal acquaintance with Federico Fellini, whom he covered closely as a journalist in the 1950s.

    Nino is an Italian filmmaker who is facing an artistic crisis. “Every new work is, for him, an artistic crisis. So he goes to bed with a multitude of women, seeking ideas and stimulation, feeding on them both humanly and artistically. Nino is sexually impotent until he gets a good idea, and then he's hellfire. But his sexual partners all artists in their own right, are not satisfied. Rallied by a wealthy feminist American widow, they decide that to be a muse is to be exploited. So they get revenge by making a movie on Nino's life and fantasies, Candid-Camera style.”

    “I always say, and there is a line in the play that says so, that a man needs many women,” Fratti confessed, “He needs a mother, a sister, a daughter and a lover.” Only one lover? “Let's say only one,” he joked. “There is a lot in the play that is autobiographic, but I would not point it out.”

    Fratti has indeed admitted that the play is all Fellini but there's a measure of autobiography with every playwright. Between 1957 and 1959, working as a journalist, he covered Fellini's rehearsals and observed his relationships with his actors, including the palpable measure of hostility and resentment there. “This is where I got my idea of writing a revenge play, in which a group of women who feel exploited rise up against this director figure. They are in juxtaposition with the director's co-writer, a man, who also is deserving of revenge but he is unable to act upon it. In my plays women most often prevail in the battle of the sexes.”

    “The women of this play,” director Stephan Morrow said, “remind me of “Les Liasons Dangereuses.” They're all going for the jugular – they are the new aristocracy – but without the shadow of the guillotine in the background.”

    “These women are passionate,” Fratti added “The word passionate comes from the Latin verb patire, which means to suffer. The point is strongly made that creation is always a group effort, that creativity an sexual potency are closely linked in the creative process and that Fellini's genius was completely dependent upon preying on the women around him. In this production, the women rise up against this type of creative misappropriation.”

    Fellini and Six Passionate Women, were the inspiration of another work by Fratti, an adaptation of the film 8 ½, that evolved into the Broadway musical Nine (winner of five Tony Awards and eight Drama Desk awards). Book by Mario Fratti, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, Nine was in the works for almost seven years. “Ed Kleban (A Chorus Line) saw Six Passionate Women at the Actor's Studio and suggested a musical. He introduced me to young Yeston and we decided to work together on the musical “Nights with Guido.” I chose the name Guido Contini, and he was enthusiastic about the fact that the name I invented was a combination of Visconti and Fellini. We were rejected by many producers, and we went through many rewrites but in the end we made it.”

  • Events: Reports

    The Art of Fotoromanzo on View at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo

    Ileana Florescu was born in Asmara (Eritrea) of an Italian mother and an English father, who was of Romanian origin. After having spent her childhood in Morocco, France, England and Switzerland, she settled in Italy and earned a master degree in Humanities. Despite a natural talent for painting and drawing, she entered the academic world taking part in Prof. Sergio Bertelli’s History Workshop, and specializing her studies on the Commedia dell’Arte and the rituals of Italian Renaissance courts.

    In 2001 her work “Meteorite I” was exhibited for the first time by the Pio Monti Contemporary Art Gallery in the group show “Tra Cielo e Terra.” Her first solo exhibition, “Scie,” was in 2002, curated by Diego Mormorio at the Roman Gallery Acta International. In the same year, she decided to relocate her studio to the former pasta factory Cerere, historic seat of the School of San Lorenzo.

    As the years went by one show followed another and that path took  her to NYC at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo. NYU's Italian culture house is hosting Florescu's exhibition Io E Calliope (Calliope and I), after its acclaimed debut at the Casa delle Letterature in Rome (2012).

    The exhibition consists of twelve works, each a double page of approximately twelve photographs with word balloons (some in Italian, others in English). Each work represents a fotoromanzo (literally a photo-novel) a popular magazine format born in Italy in the 1940's.

    Commonly a fotoromanzo was featured in a magazine yet it looked like a comic book, with photos instead of illustrations, combined with small dialogue bubbles. Typically the stories were simple and enveloped in a dramatic plot that aimed to teach a lesson at the end. Soon after their inception, fotoromanzi became popular outside of Italy, in countries like Spain, France and Latin America (where they endure to this day). “The genre, soap operatic cliches and torrid romances interpreted originally by improvised actors  (including Sofia Loren at the beginning of her career) is practically unknown to American audiences.”

    “Fotoromanzi are like spaghetti, a totally Italian phenomenon,” Ileana Florescu has said, “ It's an excellent grid, because it forces you to be concise. I could fill out only two pages, and it was not easy. We also had to work on the graphics, not just on beautiful images and on dialogue.”

    With Io e Calliope, Florescu transforms the visual and literary language of the fotoromanzo, giving the format a whole new aesthetic and register of meaning. “She described the project to me,” Russell Banks, invited to speak the night of the opening said, “and I said oh this is what I really believe, that high art begins in low art. And low art is what produces high art if you raise it up. It's not the other way around.”

    The photographer has carefully selected scenes and text from classical literature that have resonated personally for her throughout her life – from Cervantes' Don Quixote, to Orwell's Animal Farm, and Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. She used family members and friends as actors, scouted locations, gathered the furniture, costumes and props to achieve a complex and subtle work where every detail is significant, from the choice of her players to the seemingly trivial. “Everything is HOME-MADE,” she joked, “I did it all! And I got friends, my children (appearing in Truth Does not Tolerate Love taken from The Man Without Qualities by Musil), writers... all sorts of people involved in the project. In the scene from The Little Prince, by brother plays Saint-Exupery while my nephew plays the Little Prince. ”

    It's a complex work that the artist has taken seriously. “I learned the technique thanks to a photographer who shot fotoromanzi for years, Fabrizio Albertini. Choosing the scenes to capture was quite hard. The novels were easy to select, but the actual scene and the dialogue was a totally different thing. The dialogue had to represent a summary of the novel but it also had to communicate something about me and about the characters. I wanted to hug literature.”

    Florescu continued to explain that Don Quixote was one of the most fun story to shoot as it directly spoke to her. “Choosing the text was hard but I found a part that describes the differences between writing poetically and writing historically. This touched me because I wrote a book about historical mistakes in cinema.” She shot a scene from Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita with Russell Banks, who wanted to be in something by Hemingway but the photographer is not a big fan so she convinced him otherwise.

    Two fotoromanzi in the exhibition are quite different: one because there are no humans (from Thoreau's Walden) and one because it only features animals (from Orwell's Animal Farm). “I never though I could have a horse act a scene with a pig,” Florescu said, but she accomplished it pretty well. Animal Farm is one of the first pieces that can be admired upon entering Casa Italiana. Two pieces are at the entrance while the rest are in the gallery and can be admired one by one as part of a flowing story within different stories.

    The show is on view until October 28th.

  • Art & Culture

    Unmeasurable Picture, an Interdisciplinary Performance of Music, Poetry and Lyrical Imagery

    The world-renowned organization La MaMa Experimental Theatre has hosted the Sara Galas Band for the performance of Unmeasurable Picture, an interdisciplinary performance of original music, poetry and lyrical imagery. 

    Formed by Italian actor, singer songwriter Sara Galassini and Japanese composer and multi
    instrumentalist Yukio Tsuji, the Sara Galas Band is a dynamic Duo whose eclectic sound takes root in the tradition of Italian music but creates rhythmic and melodic motifs that belong to world, jazz, rock, reggae, bossa nova, tango, flamenco and folk music. 

    Actor, singer songwriter Sara Galassini launched her career in NYC as a member of La MaMa ETC in 2000. Arriving from Siena, Italy, by the invitation of Ellen Stewart, Sara has developed her creative talent and musical sensibility by collaborating with award winning Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Yukio Tsuji. 

    Mr. Tsuji’s wide expertise in composition and variety of sound hails from Asia, Europe and America. Tsuji’s well-known mastery of percussion, shakuhachi and guitar can been heard on countless film soundtracks, modern dance, concerts and theater productions.

    The duo’s songs focus on the human condition through lyrical story telling of dreams, hope, love, mythical and archetypal figures and the miracles of life. Tsuji’s acoustic arrangements underscore Galassini’s poetic lyrics in Italian and English with sheer inventiveness and simplicity resonating a distinct spiritual force that is strongly present in Galassini’s words and an alchemical energy ever present between the two musicians. 

    In NYC the Sara Galas Bandhas performed shows in Lounges and Theaters, among which are Japan Society, La MaMa ETC, Dixon Place, The Nuyorican Poets Café, M.E.A.N.Y Fest 2013, the Great Hall at Cooper Square, and they continue to do so.

    This brigs us to their latest show: Unmeasurable Picture.

    Conceived and written by Galassini and composed in collaboration with Tsuji, Unmeasurable Picture aims to theatrically portray today's dynamic and troubled society and spread a message of unity and solidarity. The piece portrays a woman (Sara Galassini) in today’s troubled world, on the journey for self-discovery. The non-linear narrative of the show unfolds in a series of dream-like music-based scenes. 

    In the show the Sara Galas Band and its collaborators, drummer Bill Ruyle, pianist and mandoline player Claudio Scarabottini, bass player Yuka Tadano and well known flamenco dancer Maria Elena Anaya from Mexico, explore the inconsistency and oppositions of human behavior. The dualities of human nature that can make life and love blossom or slowly die and vanish. 

    But let's find out more about the show and what's behind it. Sara Galassini has answered some of our questions and explained why "We are never alone but part of a bigger, if not Unmeasurable Picture." 

    How did Unmeasurable Picture come to be?

    Unmeasurable Picture comes from the musical collaboration between me, a Tuscan actress and singer-songwriter , and the Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Yukio Tsuji. Back in 2012 the we founded, in NYC, the Sara Galas Band, a duo featuring the sound of a guitar and of Sara's voice, that plays original songs in both Italian and English. Both Tsuji and I have plenty of experience in the world of theater and so we decided to experiment with the theatrics of their music. This is how Unmeasurable Picture came to be. We use pieces of our repertoire to tell about a voyage, the journey of an everyday woman who is looking to find herself... to find her true identity and spirituality in a world where beings are falling apart more and more.

    Why is it important to convey a universal message of unity and solidarity? 

    Equality, solidarity and unity are core topics of my compositions. They are fundamental values of human existence, but oftentimes they seem to be ignored by society and by modern governments that tend to separate humanity between the rich and the poor, the weak and the powerful, the rightful and the wrongful.  And so the modern man lives in conflict, in inequality, in corruption and opportunism... appearances matter more than authenticity and fundamental moral values are totally ignored. I see music, poetry and theater as a vehicle to go back to these values and to a common identity that lies in nature, love and sharing.

    How would you describe the journey of the protagonist?

    This woman's journey is almost imaginary: it's interior, spiritual. It lies between consciousness and subconsciousness where reality blends with intuition and imagination merges with dreams. Loss and neglect become almost necessary in order to meet and rediscover part of the whole that surrounds us. In the journey of life we are constantly tested and forced to face new possibilities and experiences. This helps our personal inner growth.

    Tell me about the multiculturalism of the theater.

    By living in NYC I've had the constant possibility to witness other cultures and traditions. This experience helped me understand how important it is to share our own individuality, to welcome diversity as new treasure to share in order to discover a possible common fate of peace among the nations of the earth. Sara Galas Band's choice to collaborate with artists form Europe, Asia, the US and Mexico is a deliberate choice aiming at spreading a message of solidarity, equality and sharing.

    Why is it important to see this show?

    Seeing Unmeasurable Picture is important because it is a project that speaks to everybody. It touches the universal values of respect, equality and acceptance giving them the role of key players in the creation of a just society where solid and everlasting peace reigns for all. 

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Surf Academy: Exploring & Reinventing the Sounds of the Italian B-Movies of the 1960

    The Italian Surf Academy, founded in 2010 by Neapolitan guitarist Marco Cappelli, together with Luca Lo Bianco, bass, Francesco Cusa, drums and Andrea Pennisi, video art, is on the way back from a glorious tour that will end at Littlefield in Brooklyn (October 4th), after the band played in China, Japan and California.

    The show is an “audio-visual journey” that will surely capture international audiences. Itexplores and reinvents the sound of the Italian b-movies of the1960s by reworking the music and the images of cult Spaghetti Western, Horror, Noir and Sci-fi films by the likes of directors like Sergio Leone and Mario Bava. Compositions by Morricone, Bacalov, Rustichelli, Ortolani, Umiliani, Trovajoli as well as by Bob Crewe and Glitterhouse, the label behind the music of the erotic parody “Barbarella,” directed by Roger Vadim, are revisited in perfect “downtown New York” style while recuperating the “Surf” soul of this extraordinary vintage repertoire.

    The Italian Surf Academy came together while Marco Cappelli was teaching a master class in Palermo. The trio was invited to perform in New York and this gave them a chance to try their repertoire out in front of an audience. From the beginning, music fans have responded stupendously to their approach. Indeed the group's music makes audiences travel back in time to the golden years of Italian cinematography by reinterpreting familiar and popular sounds and sound tracks through an improvised filter that makes it all unpredictable.

    We had a chance to ask Marco a few questions as the group prepares for the final show of this successful run.

    How’s the tour going? Any surprises? Special moments?
    Our concert at Littlefield in Brooklyn will be the last of 17 shows that we had in countries like China, Japan and California. The reaction of the audiences to our music has been extraordinary and each country we have visited had a unique response. Overall it was a great success and we've made lots of plans for the future. For example, we have been invited to return to Japan in 2015 and be part of a huge festival, while in China the University of Chongqing has invited us to participate to a series of master classes and concerts. Yet, one of the most significant experiences is the one we had at the 38th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Tower Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. We played for an amazing and demanding audience right below the majestic towers built, just like a cathedral in the middle of the desert, by the Italian artist. Inspired by the famous "Gigli di Nola,” and with the help of the kids living in that poor neighborhood, legendary Charles Mingus was among them, who were bringing Simon Rodia pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass, Rodia’s work is an example of outsider art, vernacular architecture and Italian-American naive art.

    Today you can actually feel the history behind the construction of those towers, and indeed the Watts Tower Arts Center represents an extraordinary community that over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954 has told its story, despite poverty and marginalization. Our group is made of people from Naples and Sicily, so at the last minute we decided to play an improvisation on a popular piece from Southern Italy, from the area of Nola, to be exact. The multi-ethnic audience understood we were paying homage to them and responded enthusiastically.

    Considering you are just coming back from Japan, how does the audience's response change from place to place?
    We have realized that this music awakens dormant memories in people from every corner of the planet, thus proving the popularity of this internationally important piece of Italian artistic history, where the concept of cross over between cultures comes naturally. In the States everybody knows this music, while in Japan we have been asked a lot of questions... and in China, where I think this repertoire is not so widely known, we have raised a lot of curiosity.

    How did the group come to be and how did you decide to name yourself Italian Surf Academy?
    Surf Music is an important popular music genre in American culture that is associated with surf culture and it identifies with its imagery. It was especially popular from 1961 to 1966, indeed 1960’s cinema, the cinema of spaghetti westerns for example, featured such sounds and music composed by great maestros such as Ennio Morricone and Luis Enriquez Bacalov. Our approach to soundtracks that were part of our childhoods has been creative and improvisational.

    We brought them back to their original “surf sound,” where electric guitars, played through spring reverb and using the vibrato arm, were accompanied by bass and drums. We also work with a VJ who improvises with us as he projects images that go with it all. So basically this is it, ITALIAN SURF ACADEMY comes from all this.

    How do you decide what to play?
    Our gold mine is in the "western all'italiana" films of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. We are passionate about Quentin Tarantino, who has revived the genre with his recent remake of "Django". But that's not all: we've been inspired by the horrors of Mario Bava and his Diabolik (1969) that features the music of young Morricone and paves the way to an extraordinary series of lesser known music and films. Of course, we also pay homage to the surf guitar genre of Link Wray, Duane Eddy and the Ventures of the unforgettable "Secret Agent Man".

    So the appointment with the Italian Surf Academy is for October 4th at Littlefield in Brooklyn. Their shos is preceded by a performance by Los Crema Paraiso, a sensational and powerful trio from Neil Ochoa (Si Se), José Luis Pardo (Los Amigos Invisibles) and Álvaro Benavides (Pedrito Martinez Group) that brings Venezuelan traditional music into jazz, rock, funk, electronica and exotic sounds from all over the world.