GIOVANNA DE LUCA has achieved something art house cinemas have struggled to do in recent years: complement loyal older patrons with young filmgoers.

As founding director of the annual Nuovo Cinema Italiano Film Festival, Dr. De Luca, an associate professor of Italian at the College of Charleston, has poured heart, soul and showmanship into making it an event for all ages.

The 14th-annual festival, slated for November 12–15 at the Queen Street Playhouse, is still a “go” at press time, pending pandemic developments. A “virtual” fest is not in the offing.

Unlike, say, the 1970s, when college-age filmgoers flocked to art house cinemas to discover Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, German Expressionist and Japanese films, today’s small theaters and festivals must compete with the allure of the multiplex. Independent and foreign films can be a tough sell. But De Luca has a not-so-secret weapon—herself.

A specialist in comparative literature and film studies, De Luca’s articles have appeared in such distinguished publications as Filmcritica, Film Comment and the Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, among others. Author of The Point of View of Childhood in Italian and French Cinema: Revisions, De Luca is currently writing a book on cinematic representations of the Mafia in American film.

Q: Looking back over 14 years of the festival, what has been most gratifying to you about its growth and the audience response?

De Luca: Different things. One is that the festival has become a well-established and respected event in Charleston, and in Italy. It is the only Italian film festival born within an academic environment that receives support from the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, Italy’s most important government agency that funds cinema. I am also proud of our film studies students who participate in the festival, interviewing filmmakers and helping to promote the event.

Q: What are your criteria in selecting a film for the festival? 

De Luca: I consider new films that have received critical acclaim and won awards. And I select movies of all kinds—dramas, comedies, documentaries, animated films—that convey aspects of Italian life and culture. The goal is to expose audiences here to the life and creative output of another place, to celebrate Italy, to criticize Italy, to peek into its nooks and crannies, to examine its beauty and failures. Not least, I strive to provide a platform for excellent Italian filmmakers so their work might be appreciated by audiences outside of Italy.

Q: Are local audiences more sophisticated about Italian films today? 

De Luca: Definitely so. Some people watch all 13 films, which prompts them to watch additional Italian films, to follow certain filmmakers or actors and to make various cultural connections. Patrons often contact me to express appreciation for the festival, to offer constructive criticism and to ask for advice or contacts. We invite feedback.

Q: What are your audience demographics?

De Luca: The festival is an exception to the rule these days, a chance for young people to experience something out of the ordinary for four straight days, so many choose to come or to volunteer. It is a big party for cinema, and young people want to be there. We see people of all ages at the festival, though the bulk of patrons are probably in their 50s and 60s. Often, these are people who are familiar with Italy, who have vacationed there or have connections abroad, and who want to increase their exposure to a culture they admire.

Q: What distinguishes Italian filmmaking?

De Luca: Italy’s world-renowned filmmaking tradition started in the immediate aftermath of World War II with Neorealism, but it has continued apace thanks to the entrepreneurialism of Italian filmmakers, some state support and creative storytelling. Funding is limited, though, and Italy lacks the “star system,” investors and infrastructure of Hollywood, so Italian artists rely on an approach that emphasizes character, story and society over special effects and fantasy. The advantages are clear, and the festival seeks to emphasize them.

Q: What compelled you to start the festival?

De Luca: Because I missed seeing international cinema. During my life in Naples, Italy, I watched lots of great world cinema, and during my 10 years in New York City I watched even more. The cinema always has been an essential part of my life. So, when I arrived in Charleston in 2004 and realized there was hardly any international cinema available, and no Italian movies I could watch, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Q: What is closest to your heart? Literature, film or literature on film?

De Luca: Film. My infatuation with American cinema started when I was very young. My mother loved American movies, and I watched a lot of them with her. This is how I was introduced to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Greta Garbo and other great stars. And this is how the seeds of my scholarly interest in cinema were planted. I love reading and writing about cinema, but I prefer to watch it.

Q: To what extent do you consider the festival an educational tool?

De Luca: Our mission is fundamentally educational. We seek to introduce audiences to aspects of Italian life, history and art that adds to their appreciation of other cultures. Great cinema is designed to do this in entertaining ways, through visual storytelling. But we supplement film screenings with public conversations featuring guest artists from Italy who discuss their work and interact with our audiences.

Q: What do you think is the place of film, Italian or otherwise, in the greater Charleston arts community?

De Luca: A significant city that claims to be an important seat of arts and culture in the South should be able to support an array of artistic offerings. Here, music reigns supreme, which is fine, but there is little for cinephiles. During a period when the arts are generally under supported, it seems wise to find creative new ways to broaden their appeal and extend
their availability. For societies are largely defined by what they make and what they do. When they value the arts, they enrich their communities. *

Bill Thompson covers the arts, books, and design.

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