"Film is Lasagna"

Documentary filmmakers can be very serious. It is a serious art. The Italian Consul-General of New York, Francesco Talo, aptly describes the Festival dei Popoli's New York Documentary Film Festival as "recognising social problems through documentary expression". But the most magical moments and memorable quotes of the festival were so refreshingly funny that I nearly fell off my chair.

Like the best of Italian cinema, the three distinguished Italian directors featured in tribute at the festival (Gianfranco Rosi, Alessandro Rosetto and Enrica Colusso) won the audience's hearts with delightfully eccentric characters and daringly frank anecdotes that translated into a new way of watching their films.

"Every time I finish a film, I get a divorce", said Gianfranco Rosi, at his U.S. Premiere of 'Below Sea Level'. "Was that anything to do with that "sex scene" you filmed for the doc?" I couldn't help but ask cheekily. "No, no!", he assured me. "Because every doc is not about making a film. It´s about a journey. Now my new film is about a hit man so I have a new approach on life!"

Enrica Colusso bravely went on a journey into the dark heart of the Colombian training ground for paramilitaries in ´ABC Colombia´, and into the timeless limbo of life in an Italian jail, in ´Life After Life´. Her face lit up the cinema as she laughed "all my films are long-term projects. Life After Life took me just 3 weeks to film, but 2 years to get into the jail!".

The director's light spirit and warm engagement with the prisoners ensured a few moments of joy admist the dark cells captured on celluloid. Colusso tells of having a special assistant who's task was simply to talk a lot, distracting the guards while she snuck away to the side to connect with her characters more candidly on camera. The highlight scene was when a prisoner tried to convince a guard to read his poetry for the camera. "I think it would be very good, to show that even though you and I are in this prison, we can still be friends...." the prisoner enthusiastically explains. The guard refuses. But another guard arrives, and suddenly agrees to star in the spontaneous poetry recital, confessing "Yes, I think that your poetry is actually quite good".

Alessandro Rosetto also took the audience by surprise, telling of the trials in filming and screening his doc ´Feltrinelli´, about a prominent Italian publisher who had links to the communist party and who died becoming a terrorist. The doc was commissioned and co-produced by the Feltrinelli family, who clearly weren´t too happy when the film then revealed the skeletons in the Feltrinelli family closet. They forbade the film from being shown in Italy. Rosetto, in typical Italian style, found a way around the restriction. "We screened it at the Swiss embassy in Italy".

It was a creative way to think about exhibition. And the doc reveals a creative way to think about film structure too. In the festival Q & A a reviewer commented that there were perhaps too many different threads to Rosetto´s doc, from profiling Feltrinelli himself to the publishing company, the writers and the other family members . But Alberto Lastrucci, festival programmer, quickly took this comment from criticism to strength, reminding the audience of an unforgettable gem of archival footage in the film that had the audience in uproar; Fidel Castro, in full military regalia, directs his troops "you put bechamel... then another layer of pasta... and another layer of meat. And then more cheese - another layer of bechamel..." . And this, explains Alberto Lastrucci, is an analogy to the film. It is multi-leveled, one layer made richer by the next. "Yes!" Alessandro Rosetto agrees, summing up a brilliant metaphor, in broken english, in just three words "Film is lasagne!"

"Buon appetito- Enjoy!" Rosetto concluded. And a feast it was indeed. Over five days the festival delivered us not just a lesson in cooking, thanks to Fidel Castro, but a delicious Italian perspective on directing documentary film.