You are the artistic director of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival – by many accounts the largest Italian film festival outside of Italy. Tell us a little bit about the ICFF.
First of all, I would like to thank Accenti for this opportunity to talk about our festival. What began as a small group of people, passionate about Italian cinema and thirsting to share with their Canadian peers the Italian language, heritage, and culture through the medium of film, eventually blossomed into what is known today as the Italian Contemporary Film Festival. Years ago, we identified a need for Italians to expand beyond the boundaries of Little Italy and other areas where they typically gathered. This festival has allowed the Italian-Canadian community, which is so proud of its heritage, to share and connect with many of the thousands of other cultures present in this beautiful country. The ICFF was born of this need, providing access to the best contemporary and classic Italian films, documentaries, and shorts from around the globe, as well as actors, directors, producers, and also experts in several other industries. We are now preparing for the 8th edition of the ICFF and are proud to say that the festival has grown beyond Toronto to include eight cities across the country. In addition to a total of 180 screenings – between features, documentaries, and shorts – several special events will also take place within the festival, including ICFF Industry Day, ICFF Architecture & Design, ICFF Moda at Square One, and ICFF Cares. From April 8th to the 13th, we hosted the 7th edition of ICFF Youth, a junior festival in the Greater Toronto Area dedicated to our younger audience members, with 10 films in 8 different languages including French, Mandarin, and Cantonese, which attracted some 5,000 youths.
Why is ICFF Youth so important and what activities are involved in this component of the festival?
With ICFF Youth, we are constantly finding ways to draw attention to foreign films directed at our students, creating a learning environment that is engaging and challenging, while promoting cultural exploration. We are thrilled about the expansion of our youth program since its inception, enabling us to create a broader festival reach among cultural communities. We seek to offer a variety of youth films in multiple languages, not only Italian, celebrating a way to learn about different cultures through film while enjoying and engaging in lively discussions.
The 2019 ICFF runs from June 13 to 21 in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Vaughan, Ottawa, Vancouver, Hamilton and Niagara-on-the-Lake. What kinds of films can cinema buffs expect to see at the lCFF?
Our mission is to bring to Canada the best contemporary Italian films and to offer Canadians a rare opportunity to enjoy films and documentaries that would not otherwise be available to them, especially independent films and shorts. Furthermore, we aim to reach an audience that spans multiple generations. For first- and second-generation Italian Canadians, still a strong and significant group, we offer films that speak to their most profound memories of Italy. We also have something spectacular for younger Italian Canadians, for whom Italian cinema is a way to feel connected to their roots and the country their families hail from. We’ve come to understand that film is one of the ways the younger generation is tied to the Italy of today, and while it may not come from a place of nostalgia, it is nevertheless significant. Lastly, we offer plenty of box office hits and mainstream successes from Italy for our Canadian audience at large; an audience that loves film and appreciates Italian language and culture.
Which types of films usually draw the biggest crowds?
The role of the ICFF is to offer audiences a chance to enjoy films not readily available in mainstream theatres, and as such create a unique experience where all Canadians, not only Italian Canadians, can foster a deeper appreciation of Italian culture, language and cinema. That being said, we deliver a genre of film specific to the audience of each participating theatre. In Montreal, and across the country, each cinema will draw a different crowd. For example, the films screened at the Cinémathèque Québécoise will appeal to an audience interested in artistic movies and “films d’auteurs,” while more popular mainstream titles, including comedies, will screen at the Cinéma Guzzo. We are not simply selecting titles that appeal to the masses; we are customizing a line-up of films unique to each city and each theatre.
The ICFF and the number of people working here have grown year after year since the festival’s inception in 2012. Are you afraid that you are growing too fast?
Our festival, now in its 8th edition, has grown exponentially over the years and continues to attract more attention and attendees each season. I am not afraid that we are growing too fast, because this growth, although rapid, is based on a very strong foundation made up of two pillars: our audience and our generous sponsors. These two things go hand in hand; as our audience continues to grow, our partners and sponsors augment their support, which allows us to constantly expand. The Canadian and Italian governments have also been integral supporters of the ICFF, allowing for more growth. Another integral part of this expansion has been the steadfast support of our media partners: Rai Italia, CHIN Radio, and OMNI Television, and our media supporters: Dolce Media, Italian.ca, Italnews, Lo Specchio, myETV.media.com, Panorama Italia, Snapd, and of course Accenti Magazine.
The festival was established in and continues to be managed from Toronto. What makes this city ideal from which to manage this film festival?
Toronto has one of the largest Italian communities in the world and is also one of the most important North American cities for the cinematic industry. Torontonians have always had a deep and long-standing appreciation for film. As such, Toronto is the birthplace of ICFF. We have established many important partnerships here with organizations like TIFF and Cineplex. But we are very proud to see that our festival has grown beyond Toronto. Although Toronto is Festival Headquarters, it is not a Toronto-centric festival. We truly strive to create a local festival for each individual city, ensuring each one has its own program tailored to its unique audience. We can achieve this because each city has its own organizing committee with a network of local partners, sponsors, and programmers with their finger on the pulse of the community. In Montreal, Francesco Esposito has done an incredible job over the years in organizing the festival by building relationships with the Italian community, the local cinemas, cultural and regional associations, and local partners.
What has been the response from moviegoers in the cities beyond Toronto?
From Montreal to Vancouver and everything in between, our audiences have been responding with a steadily growing enthusiasm and we are very proud of that. After Toronto in 2012, the festival quickly expanded into Vaughan, a city with a very rich Italian culture. Of course, the festival is more developed in some cities than in others because we have been there longer. For example, in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Vancouver, recently added to our program, there is room for expansion, and we expect to reach our full potential in those cities in the coming years. Every year we are able to add more dates and titles to each city, and increase the number of participating locations.
Are there plans to bring the festival to yet other Canadian cities or the USA?
We would love to add more cities across Canada, and one day cross the border into the United States. At the moment, we are focused on continuing to build up our program in the established cities, which we have done successfully each year. We are always looking to foster new relationships and partnerships with the Italian and the film communities in other cities, and as such will continue to take every opportunity possible to bring the ICFF to vaster audiences.
What is the ICFF doing to encourage the art of filmmaking?
The Italian Contemporary Film Festival is one of the most celebrated events of Italian culture in North America. It is very important to us to continue bringing quality contemporary Italian cinema to Canada and supporting Italian-Canadian co-productions and initiatives. Our festival promotes discovery, appreciation, and pride in the diverse and ever-evolving Italian heritage in Canada. In addition to our Youth festival, which aims to spark an appreciation for and a deeper understanding of cinema, we also look to create a tight network of industry professionals, connecting Italy and Canada, to enable a film platform for collaborations and co-productions. A huge part of this initiative is ICFF Industry Day, which we host every year in Toronto and hope to bring to Montreal as well, one day soon. The event brings together filmmakers, directors, and producers from Canada, Italy, and around the world to inspire and support each other. Another very important mandate of the ICFF is to promote Italian-Canadian filmmakers and their work. Each year we are proud to screen and celebrate many local productions.