Australian cinema in Italy: Sguardi australiani
In Italy, the country of her birth, Silvana Tuccio founded the cultural association Lacunae (2002), and has been artistic director of the film culture event Sguardi australiani in Genoa and Camogli from 2002 to 2006. Tuccio wrote her honours thesis on the cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and is currently completing a PhD at The University of Melbourne on the cinema of Giorgio Mangiamele. She has published several articles on Australian contemporary cinema, and edited the book Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi (2005).
More than a festival, a feast of visual art dedicated to a cinema tradition that is alive and full of surprises. Representing it [… are] important Australian filmmakers, beginning with artist Tracey Moffatt who will inaugurate the festival with two of her works from the ’90s: the short film Night Cries and the feature Bedevil (Vittadini 2005).
For the third consecutive year Sguardi australiani returns to Camogli, screening films from Australia […]. New for 2004 the section DOC with an overview of documentary productions […]. The retrospective is dedicated to the Italo-Australian Giorgio Mangiamele. The programme is online on the official website (Cinecittà 2004).
The quotations serve to introduce Sguardi australiani, a series of film and cultural festivals that I established in Italy from 2002 onwards, as part of a project to invent Australianness in another place.1 Inventing Australianness in a ‘foreign’ context is a process that provokes and displaces one’s personal experience of having lived in Australia.
In the summer of 2001, in Italy, I started thinking about an event, a festival, that might challenge our understanding of the Australian experience. The notion of the ‘gaze’ entered into my thinking about the project and provided a title for the festival, Sguardi australiani. In Italian the word for ‘gaze’ is ‘sguardo’, and in the plural ‘sguardi’, hence ‘multiple gazes’.2 When one thinks of the gaze, the question arises – ‘to whom does the gaze belong?’ The film viewer’s gaze falls upon the world of the filmic space, just as that of a relocated person falls upon a new landscape. The film viewer, however, is engaged in a viewing experience determined by the filmmaker, and by the entire apparatus of the filmmaking process. The viewer is aware that an operation is taking place, and that it is invisible. The gaze, therefore, belongs to the filmmaker who is looking at and representing a particular fictional reality, which the viewer follows, intrigued.
The first Sguardi australiani took place at the end of June 2002 in the city of Genoa. Sguardi australiani was conceived with the intention of bringing attention to the Australian experience through short films made by a number of Australian filmmakers. The aim was to take the audience’s experience beyond stereotypes, delving under the surface of glossy pictures to suggest new ways of perceiving Australia. The specific title of the inaugural Sguardi australiani was ‘Visioni urbane: cortometraggi e registi che raccontano la metropoli e la lontananza’ (‘Urban Visions: Short films and filmmakers on the metropolis and distance’) because it felt important to talk about the artists who had created the specific works selected. The themes that year were ‘the metropolis’ – highlighting the fact that Australia is a highly urbanised country – and ‘distance’, because the spatial element is a characteristic of the Australian experience, both physical distance and metaphorical distance. Metaphorical distance can be interpreted as distance from homelands; distance from classical European, Asian and Indigenous histories; distance caused and created by travel, displacement, relocation.
Both the narrative element in cinema, and the short film form in particular, were important in the 2002 festival, which focused, therefore, on the need to tell stories about the Australian experience. The goal was to reveal a multiplicity of experiences, and to explore states of living in the suburbs; to explore the transformation of displacement from which a notion of identity – or a multiplicity of identities – existing in the Australian urban context might be extrapolated:
The need for identity turns into a search for identity, the need for belonging turns into a search for a cultural territory where one is free to narrate oneself, acknowledge multiple identities and explore one’s past, origins, acknowledge the experience of passage and ‘create’ a discourse that connects the individual with his/her experience and connects place to a culture. Representation is that which then allows one to surface from the sensation of ‘non-belonging’ and overcome the feelings of oppression in remaining ‘un-narrated’ (Tuccio 2002, 7).
Early in 2002, I had taken the opportunity to visit Melbourne, and began searching film archives and video libraries in order to create a selection of films for the program of the proposed film culture event. A process of reconstruction began to take place as I sought to determine who had made films that inspired an examination of Australia from a perspective representing facets otherwise hidden or invisible. In searching the archives, I rediscovered the films of Giorgio Mangiamele (1926–2001), which I had previously seen at a rare screening in the early 1980s at the Italian Institute of Culture in Melbourne. Giorgio Mangiamele’s short film The Spag (1961) was included in the first edition of Sguardi australiani. Subsequently a retrospective dedicated to the cinematic and photographic work of Giorgio Mangiamele was presented as part of Sguardi australiani in 2004 and at the event Mangiamele/Melbourne in Catania, Sicily, in 2005.
Thirteen filmmakers were included in the 2002 Sguardi australiani: Richard Lowenstein; Luigi Acquisto; Teck Tan; Ana Kokkinos; Geoffrey Wright; Giorgio Mangiamele; Jane Manning; Darlene Johnson; Richard Frankland; Franco Di Chiera; Ivan Sen; Tracey Moffatt and Cate Shortland. Their respective short films presented dramas of a population struggling to be reconciled with the impact of exile and strangeness of place, and seeking to integrate journeys across time and place with the Australian present. All of the 13 films comprising the inaugural festival resonate with themes that remain of importance to Australian contemporary reality.
Each of the films makes evident the distance from a point of origin, such as a childhood, or a cultural milieu that once existed. The work of memory is not only that of remembering the past, but also concerns how to live with the past as a daily presence – as must the person in exile, who may use memory as an instrument of survival. Memory harbours all that we wish to forget; it is useful, then, to master its mechanisms. This is seen in the film by Ana Kokkinos, Antamosi (1991), and in Dust (1999) directed by Ivan Sen. It is seen perhaps most strikingly in Richard Frankland’s No Way to Forget (1996) – where the trauma of the past is inherited across generations3 – and in Richard Lowenstein’s documentary of 1979, Evictions.
Franco Di Chiera’s short film La Scala Lo Scalone (1984) suggests ways of accommodating personal history that take into account the peculiarities of language, family life and individual sensibilities. As Di Chiera has stated in an interview:
If you tell stories from the heart they do not have to be categorized in terms of how Australian they are. When I made La Scala Lo Scalone, it was not just about me being Italian, it was also about the loss of innocence, about my mother dying […]. It also had a gay sensibility and it dealt with the fact that I was raised a Catholic and came from a working-class background (Tuccio 2006, 135).
In the film Dust (1999) by Ivan Sen, the land of belonging is beneath one’s feet, but the culture that once drew sustenance from that land is far away in time. A dust storm uncovers a field of skeletons; it is the site of a massacre.4 The young people in Dust perceive a disparity in their contemporary existence, and as the Elder begins narrating and delving into past events, it becomes evident that the future is to be reconstructed. In Two Bob Mermaid (1996) by Darlene Johnson, maintaining one’s integrity in the face of apartheid-like politics in Australia in the 1950s is an option that young people might take towards the preservation of a sense of self.
Inner city or suburban places provide contexts for stories in which struggle and foreignness are played out. In his story of a boy’s attempts at cultural belonging, The Spag (1961), Giorgio Mangiamele brings to life Melbourne’s inner suburb of Carlton, providing an encounter with the urban morphology in the early 1960s – the streetscape, the people, the colours and shadows, the vehicles.5 Geoffrey Wright takes the viewer inside the historic Melbourne City Baths. The swimming pool is the backdrop to the short film Arrivederci Roma (1979), a drama that at its centre portrays a youth marked as ‘foreigner’. Spaventapasseri (1986) includes compelling images of wide, barren industrial landscapes juxtaposed with intimate backyards. Jane Manning takes us inside a home workshop of a family of Vietnamese background in Delivery Day (2000), while Teck Tan introduces us to a hybrid family in the affluent Sydney suburbs with The Family Spirit (1996), and Cate Shortland to the intimacy of Japanese youth at Bondi Beach with Flowergirl (1999).
By contrast, Tracey Moffatt transports her audience into an artificial landscape, where all that we might imagine to be ‘real’, organic, endemic, is in fact artificial – a construction. Moffatt suggests that ‘History’ as presented might be read from another point of view, even rewritten. With Night Cries (1990) Moffatt has created one of Australia’s exceptional and iconic films. The fourth festival of Sguardi australiani in 2005 was dedicated to the work of Tracey Moffatt, screening her two celebrated films over one evening: Bedevil (1993) and Night Cries (1990).
Following the research in Australia, on my return to Italy in 2002, the project was taking shape and dates and venues were fixed. The films that made up Visioni urbani: cortometraggi e registi che raccontano la metropoli e la lontanza screened over three days in the summer of 2002 in the state-of-the-art cinema Cineplex, adjacent to the old port of Genoa. In summer, every Italian city has its festival season, and while the films of Sguardi australiani were screening during the warm nights, other festivals were taking place in the old port and in the historic centre of Genoa.6
When I began to pursue the idea of creating Sguardi australiani, and began curatorial work on the project, Australia – and more specifically the Australian experience – quickly became issues that demanded exploration, or approfondimento as Italians say. A desire to create an intersection between notions of Australia held by Italians in Italy, and the images that Sguardi australiani could present to an Italian audience, was linked to my increasing concern to view Australia’s contemporary history from the point of view of those inhabiting Australia’s shores. As a result, the first festival of Sguardi australiani elaborated on the themes of cultural and experiential diversity. It appears as if an ‘official history’ exists, and that all those histories outside of this are ‘other’; not Australian. If this is the case, who can claim the stories of people who have lived and worked in Australia, people for the most part tolerated within the midst of society but deemed ‘other’ by mainstream representation?7 Can this ‘other’ claim its historical significance? Iain Chambers writes:
For the recognition of other histories, of other people, languages and sounds, of other ways of dwelling in the same space that have been consigned to the shadows, obliterated by the bright light of the unswerving beam of ‘progress’, also invokes the recognition of their place, however obscured and repressed, in the very constitution of our own histories and culture; in our national and individual identities, in our psychic and social selves (Chambers 1996, 49).
In the European context of Italy, the screening of the films that made up Sguardi australiani has generated questions concerning the Australian outlook or gaze. The gaze might be linked to story and voice, needing creative translation. In a society such as Australia, characterised by cultural diversity, the challenge becomes to see whether the gaze originating from this milieu might find a creative foothold; to discover if such a diversity of stories (histories) and experiences might be acknowledged, and if images from the realms of the invisible and voiceless might be given the opportunity to proliferate. A feature film has yet to be made that delves into the nature of hybrid cultural experience in the hearts and homes of the metropolis, whether it be Melbourne, Sydney, Perth or Alice Springs. The experience of hybridity defies categorisation: ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’, ‘ethnic’, ‘aboriginal’ are bureaucratic terms that rob fellow beings of their human status, especially where the balance of power in relation to an imagined ‘other’ is at stake. Hybridity is a typical aspect of the Australian sense of self and is therefore a local Australian story.
That first program of Sguardi australiani, ‘Visioni urbane: cortometraggi e registi che raccontano la metropoli e la lontananza’ was able to tour to different Italian cities, including Prato, Rome, Milan, Crotone and Chieti. The sheer effort of mounting the initiative with limited resources made another such undertaking seem unimaginable. And yet, following months of waiting for possible funding, a second Sguardi australiani was to take place in 2003, and subsequently a third, fourth and fifth festival under the same rubric.
Sguardi australiani: Koori Australia was dedicated to Australian filmmakers of indigenous culture. The films screened were Ivan Sen’s first feature film Beneath Clouds (2002); Darlene Johnson’s documentary on David Gulpilil, One Red Blood (2002); several short films, and 13 short animation films from the Aboriginal Nations Dreaming series. The screenings took place in Camogli, a seaside village on the Ligurian coast (not far from Genoa), in a piazza overlooking the small port with its gaily painted fishing boats. The screen was set up on a stage, the lamplights were turned off. A seven minute medley of performances by Bangarra Dance Theatre opened the event, which captivated the audience.
The third Sguardi australiani in 2004 was ambitious. Titled Face of Australia, an attempt was made to interact with Camogli by making use of the village’s very varied surroundings. The natural curve of the passeggiata mare, the promenade with the seashore on one side and the brightly painted buildings on the other, allows the sweeping gaze to encompass the Cenobio dei Dogi and cliffs of the Portofino Promontory, as well as the rear of the local basilica and its attendant structures. Hence an exhibition of photographs running in a continuous loop was projected onto the buildings of the passeggiata mare. The main screen was set up in Piazza Colombo overlooking the port, and the second screen on the Terrazza Lido above the sea; here documentaries were screened and conversations took place. In sum, Face of Australia expanded on the concepts of culture and the image by programming sections dedicated to film, photography, music and conversation.
The 2004 screenings included short films, feature length films, archival films and documentaries. Face of Australia also presented a retrospective dedicated to the Italian-Australian director Giorgio Mangiamele, whose feature film Clay (1964) opened the festival. There were nine Film Australia documentaries, and archival films including Albert Falzon’s Morning of the Earth (1979). The photographic exhibition presented the series Emotional Striptease by Christian Bumbarra Thompson, while the section on sounds featured the project Merola Matrix, produced by Zo, Centro Culture Contemporanee. Merola Matrix is the work of Hugo Race on the sounds and song of the traditional Neapolitan singer Mario Merola; the video element of Merola Matrix was created by the KinoKi collective, and was projected on the façade of a building behind the stage. Hugo Race performed together with Marta Collica and Cesare Basile. According to television journalist Sergio Farinelli: ‘In piazza Colombo the high point of the event Sguardi australiani 3 was the concert installation of Merola Matrix, an experimental mix between the heartrending music of [Neapolitan] dramatic theatre and the liquid, hypnotic sounds of Race and friends’.8
Hugo Race and Marta Collica would play again at Sguardi australiani with a new musical project, Dark Summer, in 2005. The semi-acoustic live concert followed the screenings of Night Cries and Bedevil. The setting was Palazzo Ducale in the heart of Genoa, surrounded by the colonnades of the inner courtyard. In this very particular context, the lounge bars and soaring cityscapes of underground Melbourne were evoked. Race is an Australian artist living and working in Italy, whose imagination effects transpositions in time and place, creating a unique connection and crossing between cultures.
The fifth Sguardi australiani took place within the colonnades of Palazzo Ducale, focusing once again on issues pertinent to Australian indigenous history and experience. These included the Stolen Generations in Beyond Sorry (2003); land ownership and community in Trespass (2002), and the condition of youth in remote Australia in Bush Bikes (2002) and in the web-tv series Us Mob (2004). The films were directed by filmmaker, lawyer and human rights advocate David Vadiveloo.
In April 2005, the event Mangiamele/Melbourne took place in the second major Sicilian city, Catania, Giorgio Mangiamele’s place of birth. Photographs taken by Giorgio Mangiamele were exhibited alongside the films. Mangiamele/Melbourne was organised in collaboration with Sergio Zinna, director of Zo, Centro Culture Contemporanee, and film curator Ivano Mistretta. Through the cinematic work of Giorgio Mangiamele, the Australian imaginary might be said to have found itself reinvented (Tuccio 2005b). Sguardi australiani has been interested in single auteurs since its inception, placing the figure and vision of the artist alongside the filmic product. A focus on Giorgio Mangiamele’s cinematic and photographic work, and thus a reconsideration of his oeuvre, seemed appropriate in this context. In an article titled ‘Nemo propheta’, it was reported at the time that:
Giorgio Mangiamele was discovered last night at Centro Culture Contemporanee, Zo, in Catania, the city in which the photographer and film director from Melbourne was born and from which he emigrated in the 1950s to become, along with Tim Burstall and Terry Donovan, a forerunner of the new ‘aussie cinema’. Screened were the shorts The Brothers (’58), The Spag (’61), 99% (’63) and the feature length film Clay (’64), which had been at Cannes. Also presented was the documentary Il Cinema di mio padre, an interview with Claudia Mangiamele by Silvana Tuccio, curator of the memorable evening. An article on the work of Giorgio Mangiamele is due out in the volume Sguardi australiani (Anonymous 2005, 16)
The volume referred to, Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi (Tuccio 2005a), was produced in collaboration with the publisher Le Mani and launched at the Monash University Centre in Prato in July 2005. It includes contributions on Australian cinema by scholars and film industry professionals, and a preface from the film critic Stefano della Casa.
Whilst principally dedicated to film, the Sguardi australiani festivals have also been about people and conversations. A series of special events engaging with intellectuals and artists has accompanied each event. At the first, the round table ‘Memoria, Lontananze, Metropoli: il cinema in Australia’ (‘Memory, Distance and the Metropolis: Cinema in Australia’), featured Franco Di Chiera as guest speaker, presenting his experience in the film industry and discussing the theme of cultural representation on the screen (Tuccio 2006). In Genoa in 2003, a round table on the theme ‘On the Road’ was organised, featuring guest speakers Marcello Danovaro (Biennale Europea Riviste Culturali), Lorenzo Perrona (Lacunae), Gerardo Papalia (University of Pavia) and Renato Cuocolo (Iraa Theatre). In one section of the third Sguardi australiani, there were conversations that included Glendyn Ivin (director of the 2003 short film Cracker Bag) in discussion with Lorenzo Perrona (standing in for film critic Stefano della Casa); Christian Bumbarra Thompson speaking with art critic Viana Conti, and Hugo Race in conversation with the editor of the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine, Carlo Antonelli. During Sguardi australiani 4, the work of Tracey Moffatt was discussed in a panel comprising Lorenzo Perrona and art critics Emmanuele de Cecco and Alice Cantaluppi. On this occasion, the Minister for Culture in the Genoese city government presented both Hugo Race and Tracey Moffatt with a book of aerial photographs of the city and its coastline. Finally, on a warm summer day in a bookshop in Rome, Professor Barbara Creed took part in a conversation event focused on her article ‘Epurare il nero: Jedda e le “generazioni rubate”’, which appears in the volume Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi (Tuccio 2005a; Creed 2005).
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Cinema, the visual image and music have been the three points of focus with which Sguardi australiani has attempted to reinvent a notion of Australia. The challenge taken up by the successive festivals has been to promote insight through film and through the commitment, the impegno, of artists.9 Meeting this challenge has involved highlighting the movement towards inclusion as opposed to exclusion (of voice, point of view, history) within the Australian sphere; it has involved emphasising, too, the space available for minority experience as part of the larger community’s cultural patrimony, and thus acknowledging the claim of different social minorities to a vibrant existence in the public domain. The exchange of points of view, experience and knowledge is a way of ‘taking stock of oneself’, a way ‘di confrontarsi’; in other words, a way of enriching the bases on which a culturally literate society might develop, through the participation of all.10
Created in and for a foreign context, Sguardi australiani promised the possibility of bringing into existence a ‘gaze’ that permitted a description and representation of the Australian imaginary. Offering an abundance of cultural events throughout any given year, Italy was a most suitable place to endeavour to strive for excellence, especially in content, and to seek to engage with other cultural traditions and contemporary artistic expression.11 Within this ambience, Sguardi australiani has found a reason to be. It has been a memorable experience to see the posters of the festival events everywhere on billboards, and, especially, to witness the alacrity with which people in very different parts of Italy have screened, enjoyed and been stimulated by Australian film.
1 See the website http://www.lacunae.it for programming details and a selection of press clippings related to the five Sguardi australiani festivals, which have been as follows: Visioni Urbane: cortometraggi e registi che raccontano la metropoli e la lontananza (Genova 2002); Koori Australia (Camogli 2003); Face of Australia (Camogli 2004); Mangiamele/Melbourne (Catania 2005); Film & Sounds nella Notte (Genova 2005); Diritti sovraumani, cinema di verità (Genova 2006).
The Sguardi australiani experience has involved several institutions, beginning with ARCI Liguria which co-organised and promoted the first festival in 2002. (Arci is the association that promotes Associations as an integral part of society. Each regione in Italy has an Arci body, which promotes and provides services to Associations.) Shortly afterwards, the Associazione Culturale Lacunae was founded, and has since managed the project. Amongst the institutions which have lent their patronage to the respective events have been: Monash University’s Centre in Prato under the direction of Professor Bill Kent; the Regione Liguria; the Australian Embassy in Rome; the Ministero degli Affari Esteri; the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali; Amnesty International (Italy). The National Film and Sound Archive and Film Australia are amongst the Australian institutions which have collaborated. Finally, Lorenzo Perrona managed much of the organisation and was artistic director for Film & Sounds nella Notte (2005) and the festival of 2006, Diritti sovraumani. The graphic design for the Sguardi australiani publicity material was created by Harta Design of Genoa; the first poster by Harta was selected to be part of the publicity archive in Genoa. Harta also produced the catalogues for the first three festivals. The poster and publicity material for the fourth and fifth Sguardi australiani were the work of the Slovakian artist Magda Stanova.
2 In Italy the word ‘sguardi’ or its singular ‘sguardo’ has become quite common in titles of various cultural events.
3 See the discussion of trauma in Kaplan (2005).
4 There are massacre sites located across the Australian continent; many of the conflicts are documented. For a discussion of Dust, Night Cries, No Way to Forget and Two Bob Mermaid see Tuccio (2007).
5 As I explained in an interview broadcast by SBS Radio Italian Language Program on the occasion of Sguardi australiani: Face of Australia, July 2004.
6 The Porto Antico was renovated for the Colombiade in 1992 (project Renzo Piano); the adjoining centro storico of Genoa is the largest in Europe.
7 With the exception of rare cases where a kind of ‘canonisation’ has taken place, and the foreignness of the name is transcended by the status of the personality and his or her contribution to Australian society.
8 Sergio Farinelli, Rai Tre, TGR Liguria, 24 July 2004.
9 In this context, ‘impegno’ refers to the commitment, vision and interplay of artistic and social engagement.
10 The nuances in the use of ‘confrontarsi’ refer to the understanding of both oneself and the ‘other’ that might be arrived at through study, contact or dialogue with another culture (between cultures), or another point of view (between individuals).
11 Organised by a multitude of associations and foundations, museums, galleries, and so forth, and supported by institutions and through corporate sponsorship.
Anonymous. 2005. ‘Visioni’. Il Manifesto (14 April).
Chambers, Iain. 1996. ‘Signs of Silence, Lines of Listening’. In The Postcolonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons, edited by Chambers, Iain; Curti, Lidia. London: Routledge.
Cinecittà. 2004. ‘News’. Accessed 14 July 2004. Available from: http://news.cinecitta.com/.
Creed, Barbara. 2005 ‘Epurare il nero: Jedda e le “generazioni rubate”’. In Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi, edited by Tuccio, Silvana. Genoa: Le Mani.
Kaplan, E. Ann, 2005. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Tamisari, Franca; Di Blasio, Francesca, editors. 2007. Sfida dell’arte indigena australiana. Tradizione, innovazione e contemporaneità. Milan: Jacabook.
Tuccio, Silvana. 2002. ‘Oltre i confini: una questione di sguardi’. In Sguardi australiani: cortometraggi e registi che raccontano la metropoli e la lontananza (Catalogue). Genoa: Le Mani.
Tuccio, Silvana, editor. 2005a. Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi. Genoa: Le Mani.
Tuccio, Silvana. 2005b. ‘Giorgio Mangiamele, l’autore in/visibile’. In Sguardi australiani: idee, immaginari e cinema degli antipodi, edited by Tuccio, Silvana. Genoa: Le Mani.
Tuccio, Silvana. 2006. ‘Transcending the stereotype: An interview with Franco Di Chiera’. Metro 151: 132–135.
Tuccio, Silvana. 2007. ‘Cinema. I cortometraggi di Tracey Moffatt, Ivan Sen, Darlene Johnson e Richard Frankland’. In Sfida dell’arte indigena australiana. Tradizione, innovazione e contemporaneità, edited by Tamisari, Franca; Di Blasio, Francesca. Milan: Jacabook.
Vittadini, Chiara. 2005. ‘Outdoor Festival’. Gulliver July: 177.
Figure 23.1: Poster for Sguardi australiani 4, September 2005, Genoa.
Design: Magda Stanovà © Lacunae
This chapter is from Australians in Italy: Contemporary Lives and Impressions, edited by Bill Kent, Ros Pesman and Cynthia Troup (Monash University Publishing: Clayton, Melbourne. 2010). For more information about this book, or to purchase print copies, please go to http://www.publishing.monash.edu/books/ai.html.