In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
Itll be my embarrassment forever, now Im the director of this festival, Hill admits. I feel like I should be speaking perfect Italian.
Of course, Hill is being modest. These days, shes confident enough to conduct on air interviews in Italian while promoting the festival her father Antonio Zeccola started 12 years ago. She took over as director two years ago when dad stood down, but the festival remains a family affair.
Hill recently returned from Cannes, where she saw every Italian film on offer, and her father is currently checking out the Venice Film Festival. Like her three younger siblings, Hill has spent most of her life in or around Zeccolas chain of Palace cinemas, her earliest memories scented with hot buttered popcorn.
My mother says I was in the box office in my bassinet when she was selling tickets, Hill says. Growing up, I was always running around behind the scenes, stealing candy bars. I was 12 when I started working in one of the cinemas, and was paid $4.50 an hour, which was probably illegal.
She laughs. I should chase up some back pay!
Hills father began importing foreign-language films in the 1960s, opening business in a Noble Park hall and attracting a regular crowd of migrants, many of whom were yet to learn English.
A decade later he was managing his own chain of cinemas across Melbourne, beginning with the Palace in Bourke Street now a nightclub. His first love remained Italian film, leading to the festivals launch 12 years ago. Its a passion that Hill shares, which is just as well.
From May to September, Im basically working 10 to 12 hour days on it, but were always looking. Italy makes about 100 to 150 feature films a year, all of which Ill try to see.
The new has always been important to the Italian Film Festival. When Zeccola started out, it was common for festivals to be confined to using old films, dependent on a single English-subtitled print that had been probably doing the rounds for years before reaching our shores.
Determined to bring in new blood, Zeccola took the unusual step of securing the rights for each film he wanted to show, allowing him to get his own prints made and to quickly import new releases.
This year, theres a new flavour to the selection. For the first time, the festival features a mini-season of horror classics, showcasing the work of cult director Dario Argento.
The blood-spattered trio of films are unlikely to appeal to those hoping to bask in a little Sicilian sunshine or Tuscan tranquility. While spaghetti westerns have earned their place in cinemas hallowed halls, little attention has been given to the spaghetti slasher.
Still, Argento is an acknowledged master of the giallo genre a uniquely Italian melange of thriller, eroticism and gratuitous bloodletting.
Im actually putting myself out of my comfort zone on this one, because its not my cup of tea, Hill admits. But I cant always just select films that I want to see, so were testing the waters with this horror retrospective.
The plan was for the Argento season to be a Melbourne exclusive, based at Palace Westgarth, but interest is such that Hill is already considering taking the films on tour to the other state capitals.
As far as shes concerned, its the place of film festivals to challenge their audiences and offer up the unexpected. After all, festivals are places where cinephiles can find the sort of treats the mainstream continues to ignore, in an atmosphere no multiplex can hope to match.
We always try to do something a bit different, with special events that celebrate Italian culture. This year were bringing out a chef from Italy, from the Basilicata region, and hes going to preparing antipasto. Things like that create a sense of a genuine event youre not going to get going to a cinema at any other time.
But, spectacle aside, Hill is aware foreign-language festivals such as hers serve an important purpose in cities like Melbourne, given its large Italian population.
Its an aspect that has particular resonance for her. Growing up, she says, she always felt very connected to Italy, even if only English was spoken at home. A lot of the progress shes made getting her tongue around Italian, she says, is owed to the festival.
It wasnt until she was backpacking around Europe as a young woman that she finally had the chance to study the language. A lot of the progress shes made since, she says, is owed to the festival.
You know what, I really think that helps a lot with the language. That I can now hold down a conversation in Italian, after that three-month course, is largely down to watching all these films.
The Lavazza Italian Film Festival runs from September 14 to October 5.