By Marco Polchi
Movies are a form of artistic expression but can also be a way to bring residents of the Upper Tiber Valley together. The Umbria Film Festival has happened every summer since 1997 in Montone and is one of the most interesting Film events in Central Italy. The Mag met the Director, Marisa Berna.
This is the Seventeenth year for the Umbria Film Festival, can you tell us about its beginnings?
«I have been living here for twenty years, and at the beginning there was a community of us foreigners. Some of the people who came to live here from other countries were my friends, like Ed Lewis who was then the artistic director of ‘Riverside Studios’ in London. One day Ed came to me with the idea of creating a meeting point for local people and foreigners, and we immediately thought about movies…»
What kind of Festival did you have in mind at the beginning?
«Our vision was to create a European Festival. It was a time in which certain kind of Continental Films were suffocated by the American Majors. That is why we applied for membership with the Association of European Festivals, where you find the Turin event and some other French Festivals. It was an impressive accomplishment for a brand new event!»
How do you choose the movies to present?
«Our Festival doesn’t have an official theme. We want to have a collection of beautiful movies that are recognized as art. What is fascinating about movies and about our Festival is that it is not strictly informational, but instead the idea is to shed light on social and modern issues. And although there is not a theme to the festival, there is usually some kind of thread that connects the different film topics: in the past we did ‘the immigrant experience’, and this year ‘family’ will be a recurring subject.»
There are always important guests at the Festival…
«Yes it is true, and they are always a surprise to the audience. For example we brought Colin Firth here before he got an Oscar. Carey Mulligan came and now she is in ‘Gatsby’. We had Naomi Harris who is a very dear person, then Ken Loach and so many others!»
How is it you are able to involve so many famous people in the Festival?
«It is our artistic directors. Ed Lewis used to live and work in London, and he had personal access to many big stars. Vanessa Strizzi has lots of contacts too. Many of our famous guests also recommend other celebrities.»
What about Terry Gilliam?
«Terry came because of Ed Lewis. Ed knew that he was living near Città di Castello. Also, Terry needed some advice to avoid the installation of a TV signal relay station near his house. He came for this reason but he was immediately enthusiastic about participating.»
Who has left the biggest mark on the Festival?
«Terry Gilliam, who is now our President and will be with us again this year. Then there is also director Lone Scherfig who managed to arrange an Italian preview of his film ‘An Education’. Sony Pictures was against the idea but Lone was able to pull it off. We needed a larger venue and had to change location. There were body-guards and stars everywhere. It was a crazy situation!»
Montone is the perfect location, right?
«Well, yes, Montone adds so much to the Festival. There is a real atmosphere. Movies become a part of the old center and the old center seems to enter the movies.»
It is a very well established Festival. What do you see for the future?
«We are aware that we created something that is going to last. But I am worried about the possibility of loosing the core of the organizational team in the future, and then loosing the Festival too. We depend on volunteers, and this is not the best way to guarantee continuity.»
Are you saying that there is a risk of losing the Festival?
«No, not that! We are strongly committed to continue, there are no problems from the cultural or artistic point of view. I am just saying that all this depends on the strength of motivated people and on financial support. So far so good, but we don’t know what will happen when our generation leaves. We need more commitment from the other governmental branches because the commune of Montone is already giving lots of support.»