Italian film festival in Shanghai showcases culture and language
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.
Posters of Italian films; Stefano Beltrame, Consul General of Italy in Shanghai