August 15, 2011 / 4:23 PM / in 6 years

Italian festivals bring cinema back to small towns

CASACALENDA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - A summer night in southern Italy and a crowd sits in the piazza of a small town as looming images flicker across a film screen a few steps away from a faded baroque church.

It could be a scene from "Cinema Paradiso," Giuseppe Tornatore's 1988 elegy to the provincial cinemas of his youth, steadily disappearing in the face of the all-conquering advance of television.

Instead it is part of a festival aimed at trying to bring back cinema to places such as Casacalenda, a town of some 2,500 inhabitants in Molise, a southern region on the eastern side of Italy where movie theatres are now a rarity.

"Up until 30 or 40 years ago, every little Italian town had its own cinema, which gradually died out with the advent of television and that kind of cultural change," said Federico Pommier, director of the MoliseCinema festival.

"The idea of the festival is to try to bring back the experience of cinema to these kinds of small towns."

A network of similar smaller festivals across Italy has grown up in recent years from Bergamo in the north of Italy to Marzamemi in Sicily, seeking to strengthen the roots of cinema outside the big cities.

"In the whole of Molise, there are only two or three cinemas and it's very difficult for people living in these places, not just in Casacalenda but in all the other towns nearby to get to see films on a big screen," Pommier said.

Recent waves of government austerity measures have eaten into the budgets of festivals like MoliseCinema but there is little doubting its popularity in Casacalenda, where almost everyone in town seems to have come out to the films.

Italian cinema has undergone something of a revival in recent years with directors like Paolo Sorrentino, Nanni Moretti or Matteo Garrone making films that have managed to emerge from the shadows of past maestros such as Federico Fellini or Luchino Visconti.

The week-long Molise festival opened this year with a screening of the magnificent restoration of "Il gattopardo" (The Leopard) Visconti's 1963 masterpiece set in Sicily during the 19th century unification of Italy 150 years ago.

But it contained an eclectic mix from "20 cigarettes," a harrowing feature about Italian troops in Iraq to "Tatanka," a story of boxing and the Naples Mafia to debut productions by young Italian directors or Australian or Japanese short films.

MoliseCinema, now in its ninth edition, is a long way from the glittering lights and red carpets of global extravaganzas like Cannes or the Venice film festival, Italy's premier film showcase which opens at the end of the month.

But it enjoys the support of some of big names, including two of Italy's most popular actors, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Elio Germano, who won the prize for best actor at the Cannes film festival in 2010 and whose family comes from the region.

"People feel it belongs to them. They look forward to it, there are a lot of volunteers and it's become a fixed date in the calendar," said Pommier. "It's still a small festival, of course but it has the ambition to do something real."

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