Fashion, Divas And A Lebanese Oscar Contender: Highlights From The Upcoming Rome Film Festival

Rome Film Festival, RFF 2019, RFF, Nadine labaki, Oscar Contender, Viola Davis, Ralph Lauren, Film
Instagram/NadineLabaki;ViolaDavis
“The Festival is Woman!”

That is how Antonio Monda, Artistic Director of the Rome Film Festival, described the upcoming 14th edition of the cinematic event that will take over the Eternal City from October 17th to the 27th, 2019. He uttered those very words during the press conference announcing the stellar lineup of films, multiple conversations with cinema greats, as well as art and musical exhibitions that will make up the latest edition of the yearly festival. 

Rome Film Festival Official Poster for 2019.

Laura Delli Colli, President of the Fondazione Cinema per Roma also referred to this Rome Film Festival as a “teenage Diva” and as such, she said, the lineup proves that this is “a heady mix of an international reach and artistic rigor, a cocktail with a bittersweet touch in certain tales, but then a sweet or spicy aftertaste, in the choice of the film personalities coming to Rome.” Rome is the city that has provided the setting, as well as inspiration for many iconic films — from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, to Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and then decades later even Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love. It is undeniable that elegant, at times irreverently so Rome proves a pull for anyone in the Italian cinema industry and in fact, most of the filmmakers who work in the business reside in Rome. Even if these days the legendary Cinecittà, the studios built to encourage the Italian film industry in the late 1930s, are an almost lost memory of the past, the grounds turned into a sort of cinema-themed amusement park on the outskirts of the city.

Yet for ten days at the end of each October, Rome turns once again into a luminous, star-filled, red carpeted version of itself and plays host to some of the best films and most distinguished guests flying in from around the world, to showcase their latest work. This year, Rome Film Festival kicks off with Edward Norton’s directorial venture Motherless Brooklyn, which he also co-wrote, produced and stars in, and it will close with the world premiere of Cristina Comencini’s Tornare, starring Canadian actor Trevor White. With Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars and the latest Downton Abbey installment in between. 

Motherless Brooklyn Photo by Glen Wilson.

Warner Bros.

Looking through the catalogue for this edition, two things are clear. One is that women are indeed given as much of a chance to shine with their stories, making up nearly fifty percent of the total numbers as directors, writers and producers of the titles in the festival. The other is that fashion, food and art play as important a part in the Rome Film Festival as any film. Following are a few highlights...

The Arab Oscar Contender

1982 by Lebanese filmmaker Oualid Mouaness has created a buzz before it was even screened. Needless to say when your film boasts the presence of Oscar-nominated filmmaking star, and this month’s Harper’s BAZAAR Arabia cover star Nadine Labaki, you have most audiences at “hello.” And yet Mouaness’ work goes beyond the star appeal, to create an intimate ensemble piece about a semi autobiographical lost moment of his childhood. The story of 11-year old Wissam who craves to tell his classmate Joana “I love you”, but is interrupted by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is based on Mouaness’ own memory of his last days in his home country before fleeing with his family to Liberia. “It’s completely autobiographical!” He told us during a previous interview, “It’s actually based on my last day of school in Lebanon, in 1982, before we had to leave the country.” 1982 was chosen to represent Lebanon in the Oscar race this year, becoming the country’s submission to the International Feature Film Category at the 2020 Academy Awards and will screen in Rome on the opening weekend of the festival.

A scene from 1982, courtesy of the filmmaker.

1982 still.

Rome Film Festival

A still from the set of 1982 featuring Nadine Labaki and filmmaker Oualid Mouaness.

Rome Film Festival

The Diva

Viola Davis is the first African American woman to have achieved what is called in acting circles the “triple crown” — winning an Oscar, as Best Supporting Actress in Fences, an Emmy, for How to Get Away with Murder and two Tony Awards for her work on stage. She joins an elite club that includes Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergman and Al Pacino and in Rome she will be honored with a much deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. She will also participate in an encounter with the public, during a conversation where she will share her life’s milestones and her acting secrets. While the face of the event this year belongs to Greta Garbo, featured on the poster of the Rome Film Festival, Davis will surely become the talk of the town, and her conversation will undoubtedly turn out to be the hot ticket of the festival.

Instagram/ViolaDavis

Instagram/ViolaDavis

Fashion is everywhere

Two fantastic new fashion documentaries, an homage to Piero Tosi — the unspoken grand maestro of Italian costume design — and a conversation with women who create costumes for the movies sponsored by Swarovski. These prove that the Rome Film Festival is undoubtedly focused on the look of cinema, not just the culture of it. It’s often left unspoken, seldom mentioned that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, an art form which relies on the beauty of its images not just its content and message. Perhaps if there were more women film critics this would be a more widely understood knowledge.

Not by coincidence, both the fashion documentaries featured in the lineup are the work of women filmmakers. Very Ralph is by American director and producer Susan Lacy who is the creative power behind the Oscar, Emmy and Grammy awards winning “American Masters” series. It allows Ralph Lauren himself to reflect on his 60-year career, which took him from a street boy in the Bronx to becoming a legend of the modern fashion industry. Today his name, along with his iconic initials and polo ponies have all come to represent American elegance around the world.

A still from Very Ralph.

A still from Very Ralph.

Illuminate - Laura Biagiotti is the work of Italian filmmaker Maria Tilli. Because its main subject isn’t here to tell her story, the life and career of the late Laura Biagiotti are explained by her daughter Lavinia, through the voice of Italian actress Serena Rossi who narrates the film as well as by various personalities from the world of fashion, the likes of Santo Versace and Italian ballerina Carla Fracci. The film sheds an important light on a figure in Italian fashion that worked against all odds and conquered her own shyness to become the iconic name behind the world-renowned brand.

Docufilm Illuminate, Laura Biagiotti and Serena Rossi.

The 14th Festa del Cinema di Roma runs from October 17th to the 27th of October, 2019.


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Rome Film Festival, RFF 2019, RFF, Nadine labaki, Oscar Contender, Viola Davis, Ralph Lauren, Film
Instagram/NadineLabaki;ViolaDavis