Cinema par­adiso

Ital­ian film fes­ti­val in Shang­hai show­cases cul­ture and lan­guage

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - The story was writ­ten by Katie Kelly.

Peo­ple around the world re­cently par­tic­i­pated in a grand cel­e­bra­tion of Ital­ian cul­ture and its lan­guage as part of the 17th An­nual Week of Ital­ian Lan­guage in The World. Ev­ery year, a new theme is cho­sen for the cel­e­bra­tion; last year the event fo­cused on Ital­ian de­sign, but this year the spot­light was on Italy’s rich tra­di­tion of film.

In Shang­hai, the Ital­ian Con­sulate and the Ital­ian In­sti­tute of Cul­ture or­ga­nized a film fes­ti­val – called From Book To Screen – to mark the oc­ca­sion, which show­cased Ital­ian films that have been adapted from lit­er­a­ture.

The fes­ti­val kicked off with an open­ing cer­e­mony fol­lowed by dis­cus­sions on Ital­ian cinema and film screen­ings pre­sented over the sub­se­quent four days.

The film screen­ings, which were pri­mar­ily in Ital­ian with Chi­nese sub­ti­tles, served as a way to ex­pose Chi­nese au­di­ences to Ital­ian cul­ture and lan­guage. Ste­fano Bel­trame, Con­sul Gen­eral of Italy in Shang­hai, said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the Global Times that film has been in­stru­men­tal in Italy’s ef­forts to bring mod­ern Italy to the world and con­tin­ues to be an im­por­tant ve­hi­cle for cul­tural ex­change.

Pre­vi­ously, the ex­change of cul­ture be­tween Italy and China was stag­nant be­cause, ac­cord­ing to Bel­trame, “the Chi­nese didn’t have a very clear idea about what Italy was. A lot of peo­ple with some ed­u­ca­tion knew about the An­cient Ro­man Em­pire and Marco Polo, but the idea of 21st cen­tury Italy was a bit vague.”

Con­versely, over the past cen­tury, cinema has been a ma­jor av­enue through which the world has be­come fa­mil­iar with Italy. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Ital­ian films and their ac­tors be­gan to re­ceive world­wide ac­claim, bring­ing at­ten­tion to Italy as a global cen­ter of fine arts and cul­ture.

In re­cent years, how­ever, Ital­ian schools and film fes­ti­vals have been de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with China. “In Italy, we’ve al­ways had a very high in­ter­est in Chi­nese fil­mog­ra­phy. Re­cently, there were movies from China win­ning the Golden Lion at the Venice In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val,” Bel­trame said, re­fer­ring to films such as Ang Lee’s Lust, Cau­tion, which re­ceived the cov­eted top prize at the 2007 film fes­ti­val.

In fact, many Chi­nese film­mak­ers have risen to promi­nence on the global stage by col­lab­o­rat­ing with Italy. “[The Ital­ian film in­dus­try] has al­ways been look­ing for­ward to dis­cov­er­ing new coun­tries. Ja­panese, Chi­nese, Korean, Ira­nian film­mak­ers came first through Italy and then to the rest of the world,” Bel­trame said, high­light­ing Italy’s role as a cu­ra­tor of global cul­ture.

In China how­ever, it is still some­what rare for Ital­ian films to be shown in lo­cal cin­e­mas. “As we live in a com­pet­i­tive world, the space ends up be­ing taken up by Amer­i­can block­buster pro­duc­tions, which give the best re­turns to in­vestors,” Bel­trame ex­plained. Be­cause of the lack of ac­cess to Ital­ian cinema, the film fes­ti­val was able to have a big im­pact on Chi­nese au­di­ences, many of whom never be­fore had the op­por­tu­nity to be ex­posed to Ital­ian cul­ture.

China dis­cov­ers Ital­ian

The ex­plo­sion of Ital­ian cul­ture through­out the world has meant that the Chi­nese are now also grad­u­ally dis­cov­er­ing Italy. So far this year, the Ital­ian Con­sulate in Shang­hai has is­sued over 140,000 visas to Chi­nese plan­ning on vis­it­ing Italy, a 17 per­cent in­crease from the same pe­riod in 2016.

Fur­ther­more, in just the past few years there has been grow­ing in­ter­est among the Chi­nese in Ital­ian lan­guage learn­ing. There are cur­rently around 2,000 Chi­nese students learn­ing Ital­ian in the area served by the Shang­hai con­sulate, which in­cludes An­hui, Jiangsu and Zhe­jiang prov­inces as well as the Shang­hai metropoli­tan area.

This pop­u­la­tion in­cludes 60 students en­rolled in the Ital­ian Pro­gram of Caoyang No.2 High School, the first pro­gram to adopt Ital­ian lan­guage in a high school in Shang­hai.

When asked about this grow­ing in­ter­est, Bel­trame points to Italy’s rich tra­di­tional cul­ture, say­ing that “the real rea­son to study Ital­ian is to en­joy the lan­guage and im­prove your knowl­edge of Ital­ian cul­ture.”

This is con­trasted with the ex­pe­ri­ence of many for­eign lan­guage learn­ers who pur­sue lan­guages to be­come more com­pet­i­tive in the in­ter­na­tional job mar­ket. In­deed, many Chi­nese are now go­ing to work in Italy – but as Bel­trame de­scribes, for busi­ness peo­ple, learn­ing the Ital­ian lan­guage might not be nec­es­sary.

“Un­like in other coun­tries where, if you want to work for a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion, you need to speak the lan­guage, in Italy many multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions ac­cept English as a work­ing lan­guage, so we do have our own busi­ness meet­ings some­times in English, be­cause there are non-Ital­ian speak­ers among the man­age­ment,” he said.

Learn­ers of Ital­ian tend to be peo­ple who may have an in­ter­est in opera, fash­ion de­sign or arts and cinema. With Ital­ian film fes­ti­vals such as From Book To Screen, Chi­nese au­di­ences are now able to cul­ti­vate an in­ter­est in Ital­ian cul­ture and per­haps in­spire them­selves to want to learn more about the lan­guage it­self.

(From top) Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Con­sulate Gen­eral of Italy in Shang­hai and the Ital­ian In­sti­tute of Cul­ture

Posters of Ital­ian films; Ste­fano Bel­trame, Con­sul Gen­eral of Italy in Shang­hai

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