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jennifer van evra

Italian Culture Centre executive director Mauro Vescera says the festival will bridge the gap between Italy’s history and its modern culture. John Turturro’s Passione, shown here, is one of the films on the playbill.

Vancouver is home to more than 75,000 Italian-Canadians – among them Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi, Canucks owners the Aquilinis, goalie Roberto Luongo, labour leader Ken Georgetti and restaurateur Umberto Menghi – and a stroll along Commercial Drive still boasts plenty of Italian flavour.

But even though Vancouver has long been an international hotbed of film, and a West Coast hub for Italian culture, it has never had its own Italian Film Festival – until this week.

"Italian food, design, fashion and art is very popular, and we felt that there was a gap," says Italian Culture Centre executive director Mauro Vescera, who grew up in an Italian family outside Vancouver. "We felt it was important to let people know about Italian film – and not just La Dolce Vita or Sophia Loren, but contemporary Italian film too."

Made up of five contemporary offerings and five classics from the Mediterranean nation's remarkable cinema history, the festival includes films from John Turturro's Neapolitan music documentary Passione to Roberto Rossellini's spiritual The Flowers of St. Francis, and from Emanuele Crialese's illegal immigration drama Terraferma to Vittorio De Sica's Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which includes Sophia Loren's famed striptease – a scene that left a generation of filmgoers breathless.

"There's always love, there's always passion. And there are the classic Italian politics where people argue and then finally come to a resolution, and it seems that art always wins in the end. And there is always a handsome man and a strong woman," says Mr. Vescera, describing some of Italian film's common threads, with a laugh. "Because even though no Italian will admit it, I think we all know that women actually control Italy."

The festival will open with Federico Fellini's politically charged, Oscar-winning coming-of-age tale Amarcord, as well as the Canadian premiere of Federico of the Spirits, a documentary about the legendary Italian filmmaker's death and the massive public tributes it spurred.

Jennifer Van Evra

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