Honorary Presidents Claudia Gerini and Harvey Keitel virtually present the 2021 Filming Italy Los Angeles Festival, which includes the screening of over fifty films and masterclasses with actors John Turturro, Winston Duke, Bella Thorne, Oscar-winning writer/director Oliver Stone, and more.
By Jami Philbrick
The Filming Italy Los Angeles 2021 virtual film festival, which runs March 18 through March 21st, began Thursday night with the opening ceremony that included honorary presidents and acclaimed actors Claudia Gerini (John Wick: Chapter 2) and Harvey Keitel (The Irishman), as well as a tribute to the late former HFPA president, Lorenzo Soria. “Welcome to the opening of Filming Italy Los Angeles 2021, the first ever virtual edition,” said Valeria Rumori, director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles and co-organizer of the festival. “This edition in this very special year, features over fifty free films and twenty-six masterclasses. All available to U.S. and Italian Universities and colleges, and to a broader audience that also includes the other Italian Cultural institutes in the United States including Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Each year this festival contributes to the cultural and creative bridge between the film industries of Italy and the United States.”
“I’m honored and I’m very happy to be an honorary president,” Gerini continued. “It’s the first time for me, to be a president of anything. So, I am very happy because this festival represents now an important bridge that we are establishing between Italy and the United States. Last year we were in Los Angeles for the fifth edition, but this year it’s not possible but we are there with our heart and our power. There’s going to be a lot of masterclasses and cultural content. I hope that there’s going to be a lot of followers and I’m sure the festival is going to be so interesting and so beloved from all of you.” Keitel, who is also an honorary president, addressed the festival audience as well. “I am very pleased to be here to celebrate Filming Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute,” he said. “From Los Angeles to Italy, I hope to see you soon.”
In addition to the wide variety of Italian films screening virtually during the festival, the masterclasses being offered feature some extremely accomplished actors and filmmakers. That list includes Gerini, as well as John Turturro (The Big Lebowski), Bella Thorne (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), Winston Duke (Black Panther), Vincent Spano (Rumble Fish), Elena Sofia Ricci (Che Dio ci aiuti), Valentina Lodovini (When Mom Is Away), Jackie Cruz (Good Girls), Carol Alt (Private Parts), Matteo Garrone (Pinocchio), and Oscar-winning directors Gabriele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) and Oliver Stone (Midnight Express, Platoon).
Director Oliver Stone, who is promoting his new book Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game, had some very interesting things to say about the making of Platoon and JFK, but it was what he said about writing Scarface and Natural Born Killers that was most intriguing. “It was a challenge from beginning to end,” Stone said of penning the iconic Brian De Palma film starring Al Pacino. “My connection to it was drugs, because we were taking the old movie and making it about drugs. I was passionate about the concept of the drug wars. I thought it was a ridiculous idea to begin with.”
“I was passionate about this, but I was making a gangster film for people that didn’t share the same view,” Stone continued. “I was learning the ropes and learning to modify my own personal feelings and adapting them to the needs of what they wanted, which was a commercial movie about a gangster. They wanted it to be big and colorful, just as the original was, except that we were doing it in modern day Miami and making it about Cubans. I took the license and I ran with it. But even then, you could see in the movie the anti-drug war story and how we are hypocrites. The government is making money on both sides of the fence. At the same time, it is a wonderfully passionate story about a young man who comes to America and is chasing the gold and the girls. He finds the American dream in a strange way. He becomes super rich, super ruthless, and at the end of the day super pathetic because he loses his mind to cocaine.”
Stone also famously rewrote and directed a young Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay for Natural Born Killers. He discussed the writing process and how it ultimately hurt his relationship with the Pulp Fiction director. “Bear in mind that Tarantino had story credit not screenplay credit because we significantly rewrote the screenplay we had, which we purchased from him and that became a point of great contention,” Stone explained. “Our rewrite is significantly different than his tale, and you would have to compare the two to tell. But that fact has gotten lost and people think one thing, but no, it wasn’t that way at all. We did a lot of work on the screenplay and we made it a very different movie. He never saw it, I think, or he pretended not to. He didn’t want to like it because he was quite enamored of himself and couldn’t except the idea that screenwriting sometimes can be passed on to other writers and shared or changed. That was contrary to his mentality at the time.”
In his masterclass, Veteran actor John Turturro, who recently finished filming on director Matt Reeves’ The Batman, discussed the difficulties of shooting during the pandemic. “I hadn’t really worked much this year,” Turturro said. “I did The Batman, in London, and then I came home. It’s difficult with the mask, you can’t recognize everybody, and you can’t read facial expressions when you don’t know everybody. We even rehearse with the masks, and everybody has on the masks and the shields. Then you take everything off when you shoot. It’s a little strange.”
Obviously, the pandemic has affected the film business, and the discussion of streaming vs. theatrical has heated up over the last year. One of the results has been that many studios including Disney and Warner Bros. have been releasing their films in theaters and on their streaming platforms at the same time. In fact, it was announced late last year that Warner’s would be releasing their entire 2021 slate of films on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. While The Batman was scheduled for release this year, it was pushed back to 2022 due to shooting delays, which in theory excludes it from the list of films being released on HBO Max and theaters on the same day, although that could change in the future.
“I think right now that streaming is filling in the void,” Turturro said of the pandemic’s theater shut-down. “I hope theaters survive, I love going and seeing things in a theater, and not just these big blockbusters. But I think Batman needs to be seen in a movie theater, absolutely. I like watching things at home, but it’s very different seeing a great, classic movie on a big screen and that’s why I support those movie theaters. To see those movies and those people, even if the screen isn’t gigantic, it’s still a big screen with other people. It’s not a religious experience but people who are not that religious say that it is a communal experience. So, I hope that it survives. I don’t know, but I think people are bored of watching it at home. You’re watching it with the same person. You’re watching with your wife, your kids, your parents, and I want to be anonymous. I think the idea of being anonymous in a room is good.”
Actor Winston Duke has appeared in such films as Us and Spenser Confidential, but he is probably best known for his role as M’Baku in Black Panther, as well as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. During his masterclass, Duke talked about what Black Panther’s worldwide success meant to him personally. “To be honest, it is something that revealed it’s self after the fact,” he explained. “So, while we were making the movie, all we were trying to do was make a really good movie. We were just trying to make a really good movie that we thought people would like, and that maybe children would gather around and love. But it touched a nerve when it came out and people found identity in it. They found hope and their wildest dreams came to life. They saw strength, they saw majesty, and it was really beautiful to be a part of something like that. So, I always say, I went into that as an actor and I came out of it as an ambassador. I came out of it as an ambassador for Wakanda, and the idea of what Wakanda can be. That’s what it means to me. It is definitely something that has been thrusted upon me that is an honor to have been able to be a part of.”
Duke is currently preparing to reprise his role as M’Baku in Black Panther 2, and the actor discussed how the sequel will be drastically different because of the tragic and untimely loss of the late Chadwick Boseman. “Now as we gear up for Black Panther 2, that is what we are preparing for right now, and we have lost T’Challa. We have lost Chadwick Boseman, our Black Panther,” Duke explained. “It will be a different movie. We are still here with our intention of celebrating his life, his legacy, and what he meant to that movie. So, that is going to be a different thing. We are all just getting ready to do something else that is incredibly special for the world. I think that is what Black Panther is and can be. It’s always something really special and the thing that we need at the time that we need it. Coming out of a global pandemic, we really need materials that help us to mourn but come back to life. We need to mourn, move on, move forward, and be stronger. I think that is why there is so much potential for Black Panther 2.”
Finally, the 2021 Filming Italy Los Angeles virtual film festival came to an end on Sunday with the closing ceremony, where Rumori gave closing remarks and thanked the filmmakers, actors, audience and students for their participation throughout the weekend. Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles Silvia Key, as well as Los Angeles City Council Member Joe Buscaino, and Cultural Attaché for the U.S. Embassy to Italy Rodney Ford, were joined by Filming Italy Los Angeles’ Artistic Director Tiziana Rocca, to add their closing remarks and invite everyone back to the festival (hopefully, in-person) next year.
Jami Philbrick Review
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