A Film Festival Celebrating Fellini at 100

The influential Italian director is paid tribute to in San Francisco.
Juliet of the Spirits

Annamaria Di Giorgio, director of the Italian Cultural Institute, and Amelia Antonucci, program director of Cinema Italia San Francisco, discuss the festival celebrating Federico Fellini taking place at the Castro Theatre March 7 and at BAMFA through May 21.

Fellini is well-known by film buffs but less well-known by others. From a larger cultural sense, why is it important to remember Fellini and his works?

“Fellini,” as Woody Allen declared in 1993 at Film Forum in New York, “is one of the film makers who have had an influence on everyone… All cinema owes him a debt…”

For the Fellini 100 homage, four films were chosen: “I Vitelloni,” “Amarcord,” “Juliet of the Spirits,” and “La Strada.”  Could you talk a bit about each film and why it is important?

As program Director of this series, presented by Istituto Luce Cinecittà and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco, under the auspices of Consulate General of Italy, I wanted to show the most intimate and best Fellini with four masterpieces.

In “La Strada,” Fellini expresses what he called “Our malaise, the malaise of modern man, is loneliness,” this experience though the technique he used.

I quote Fellini again for “I Vitellon:i “I was tempted to play yet another joke on some friends of mine I left behind in my hometown (Rimini). I started recounting what I remembered of their adventures, their hopes, their hobbyhorses, and their very special way of spending time.”

“Amarcord,” “Was meant as a farewell to a certain season of life, that time of incurable adolescence which often keeps hold of us forever.”

“Giulietta degli Spiriti” was created around (Fellini’s wife) Giulietta and for Giulietta. It had an extremely long gestation period that goes back to La Strada…

Taken as a group, do these four films have a larger meaning for film, culture, or fantasy?

These four films are the expression of Fellini’s genius in different times of his life and his career; they are his interpretation of the reality of life as a dream and as remembrances. They express Italy in different historical moments, through the looking glass of Fellini’s marvelous mind. As Sydney Lumet said: “Fellini is the visual poet of movies. He is unique; he constantly shows you that movies are unlimited in the worlds that they portray.”

“Dreamlike” and “hallucinatory” are words that are often used to describe Fellini’s work. Do you attribute this to his Catholic upbringing, his imagination, or something else?

It is a complicated question, one that asks for a consideration of Fellini’s life, his critical reception, and his complex and evolving relationship with the Catholic Church. Most of all, it is a question that requires a return to the films. “La Strada” is most definitely a Catholic film and may in fact be the best place from which to begin a new appraisal of Fellini’s own struggle with Catholicism.

Fellini was born in Rimini, Italy, in 1920 and was raised in a devout Catholic home and educated in parochial schools. He was as fascinated by religious ritual and devotion as he was by his other great passion, the circus. Even a cursory look at his best-known films evidences this dual attraction to the sacred and the carnivalesque.

Fellini famously worked on Stage #5 at Cinecittà and created his own worlds there.  What was important to Fellini about working in the same place over the course of his career?

Again in the words of the Maestro: “They called it the dream factory: a little corny, but true. It is a place that should be regarded with respect, because beyond its walls there are gifted and inspired artists who dream for us. For me, it is the ideal place, a cosmic vacuum before the big bang.”

Fellini won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards four times, in 1956 for “La Strada,” 1957 for “Nights of Cabiria,” 1963 for “8 ½,” and 1974 for “Amarcord,”and was nominated 13 other times. Can you describe what was important about these films? Why did they resonate so strongly with the Academy members and on the American consciousness?

I feel that the American audience loves to watch his films and dream his dreams. He won four Academy awards as best film in the Foreign Film category but not one as Best Director.  He had an Oscar to his career as an overdue homage to his value and influence on generations of filmmakers and public. It is amazing that most of his fellow Directors love him and worship him, recognizing the influence that his body of work had on their own vision of the world.

The films presented at Fellini 100 have all been digitally restored. What should viewers expect to see that is different in these restored films from earlier versions?

This is a question for our viewers to find out. The restoration took several years and was a major project of Cineteca di Bologna and Cineteca Nazionale, with funds provided by the Italian Ministry of Culture just to celebrate this centennial.

Did Fellini ever spend time in Northern California, specifically San Francisco or Marin?

I am not aware of his visit to San Francisco, but I read that on the occasion of his Academy Award he went to visit the Disney Studio with his wife Giulietta and spoke in length with Walt Disney.


Fellini at 100 Annamaria Di Giorgio (left), director of the Italian Cultural Institute, and Amelia Antonucci, program director of Cinema Italia San Francisco.

Why do you think San Francisco residents love Italian films and Fellini films?

Every year I am pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and the excitement that the public has for Italian contemporary and classic films in 35 mm or in restored copies. There is a love for the classics that is almost magic. That’s why the Castro and the BAMPFA are so well attended. International films in the original language with subtitles are a cult among San Francisco viewers, and we are very grateful for that.

The Castro Theatre is quite special in the hears of San Franciscans. Why hold Fellini 100 there?

Since 2013 CinemaItaliaSF has been presenting Italian classic cinema at the Castro with programs dedicated to Italian Maestros or famous stars, supported by Istituto Luce Cinecittà and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco. This is our 10th program and we are very excited that it coincides with the FELLINI 100 celebration. The Castro Theatre is the temple of the classic cinema, and it is an honor to work with them.

Is there anything else about Fellini, Fellini 100, or any of Fellini’s films that I have not asked you that you would like me to know?

Please invite your readers to attend the screenings on March 7th! Amarcord, at 6:00 pm, will be followed by the party La Magia di Fellini with pasta as dreamed by three great chefs.”

Christina MuellerChristina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract PublishingSunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon SocietyPEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.




Categories: Spotlight