An education in Italian culture and cinema
By Katey Carson
Italian cinema has always played a fundamental role in the cultivation of the Italian language and Italian culture around the world but more than that it has inspired new ways of thinking about global cinema and inspired numerous filmmakers. One needs only to see one of Fellini, De Sica or Leone’s films to understand why Italian cinema has garnered a global appreciation as well as a large and unfailing following of cinephiles.
As such the cinema that Italy has produced over the years has a lingering presence in both Italian and film studies and serves as a platform to convey cultural identity and ideas through the universal language that is cinema. The unique aspects of the cinematic form is such that it transcends cultural barriers, though one may not understand the language used or subtle cultural references, the visual stimulation, imagery, expressions and emotions conveyed by a thrilling piece of cinema allow for an audience to step into another cultural world, regardless of their cultural background.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study both Italian language and literature and film production and film theory at the University of Cape Town. Thanks to this unique combination I was able to apply the lessons learnt from the Italian culture classes into my own films and the exotic bouquet of themes, stylistic choices and subject matter that Italian cinema and Italian culture offered, became direct influences in my film work at UCT. Once you have experienced the Italian cinema movements such as neorealism, it is hard to not be influenced by their daring break away from traditional cinema and as a South African student I was particularly inspired by this cinema that allowed for a lower budget and more realistic subject matter.
Indeed I found myself watching more Italian cinema in my film lecturers than I did in my Italian course. I learnt that the study of cinematic theory included the observation and understanding of many Italian classics that paved the way towards new forms of cinema. I found it remarkable that one was being taught about the Italian cinema masters at a university in Africa decades after they had made their films in Italy, it was then that I realised that Italian cinema has truly left its’ mark on the world and that we have much to learn from it.
Having said this, the glory of cinema is such that one does not need to be a film student or a student of Italian culture, to be influenced and inspired by an Italian film. It is therefore imperative that initiatives such as the Italian Film Focus Festival continue to screen in Africa, the cultural exchange that the festival promotes is unlike any other and it is invaluable to an African audience, students of Italian studies and a growing film industry. These days we are bombarded with films that have larger than life budgets and silver screen stars and at times important cinema slips through the cracks, but festivals such as this one allow for those films to be seen globally. We owe a lot to Italian cinema which in part influenced the way we make films today and continuing the tradition of bringing Italian cinema and culture to Africa is something that I hope will continue for many years to come.