The other day, our 3-month-old son met our friend Paulie for the first time. I have honestly never seen this baby smile as big at a stranger as he did seeing Paulie. Then again, Paulie wasn’t just a new face, Paulie was an Italian face, and perhaps George sensed their shared heritage. With that said, these days, there’s not an event on the horizon that has me as excited as the 11-day New Mexico Italian Film and Cultural Festival, which opens on February 5th in Santa Fe and, after three days of film and food in the City Different, moves on to Albuquerque on February 8th. I’m a third-generation Italian American film lover with a child of my own, so a festival celebrating my heritage and benefiting the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital could not be more up my alley. Having said that, the festival is certainly not just for the Italians among us. Lisa Contarino, the Santa Fe Festival Committee Coordinator, puts it best, “Italian movies are on every film buff’s list. The food and events are fun, and who doesn’t like Italian food?” Plus, she says, “the beneficiary is an important one.” Salute to that!
The festival, which has always benefitted the UNM Children’s Hospital, began eight years ago in Albuquerque and, two years ago, it made its debut in Santa Fe. Lisa explains that “there is actually quite a large Italian community in New Mexico, and there has been for over 100 years.” The festival was founded by an Italian film buff, she says, who “felt that UNM Children’s was an important state-wide institution, and he felt that as Italians love children, it was an appropriate beneficiary.” The festival has raised more than $195,000 for the hospital to date and hopes to donate $30,000 in 2015.
This year, the festival opens in Santa Fe with a cocktail reception at the Jean Cocteau Cinema featuring Italian food and wine from local restaurants, immediately followed by the 2010 film, Happy Family, a comedy by academy award-winning director, Gabriele Salvatores. The next two days feature the films Salvo and Bianca Come il Latte Rossa Come il Sangue at the Jean Cocteau, as well as a Saturday-night benefit dinner and silent auction at a local Italian favorite, Osteria D’Assisi. “The food is both beautiful to look at and delicious”, Lisa Contarino says, and “the executive chef [Cristian Pontiggia] at Osteria goes all out to tie the dinner to that night’s movie, and it’s quite impressive.”
The following day, the Albuquerque festivities begin with the opening gala at the Hyatt Regency, featuring a puppet show in the Sicilian marionette tradition. The puppets, demonstrated by award-winning film-maker, producer and writer-director Tony de Nonno are a real treat; the cause is a great one; and the food, fine wines and Tony Cesarano’s guitar make the night a complete treat for the senses. Throughout the next week, several contemporary and award-winning Italian features such as Il Capitale Umano, Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico and Il Rosso e il Blu are shown, followed by La Festa dell’Amore on Valentine’s day—a romantic feast of film, food, music and wine, and La Festa Finale on Sunday the 15th. The final day of the festival begins at The Guild with the film Si Può Fare, and is topped off with food, music, wine and beer at Saggio’s.
To enjoy a taste of Italy in New Mexico, check out the New Mexico Italian Film and Cultural Festival—after all, who doesn’t love good movies and Italian meals? To purchase tickets to the various films and events in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and for more detailed information about the events, sponsors and films, visit italianfilmfest.org.
Story by Mia Rose Poris