Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cinema as a multicultural hub

Laura Aimone
Guest Manager at La Biennale di Venezia, International Tampere Film Festival, International Women's Film Festival Torino

Career path

When I graduated in Foreign Languages and Literatures in 2002 I knew exactly which elements my dream job should have: international context, the possibility to travel and to be in touch with cultures others than mine, a very strong connection with culture and its development, interesting and stimulating people around, organizational elements. I was just not sure this job existed! After some rambling around between international holiday resorts in Egypt and the Dominican Republic and an American college where I taught Italian, the teacher I had graduated with asked me if I was willing to give a hand to the Director of the Women’s Film Festival in Torino, who was looking for someone who could speak English. I accepted lightheartedly, not knowing that this would have been the first real step of my working path.
The route, I guess like any other, has not been straightforward all the way, but having realized that that was exactly what I wanted to do helped a great deal. After a “glacial” collaboration at the Tampere Film Festival during a Finnish winter, I landed at the Biennale of Venice. Being part of the Events and Protocol Office for 3 years allowed me to explore many different cultural contexts besides cinema, such as visual arts, architecture, music, dance and theatre. However, cinema has always been my main interest, so I decided to concentrate mainly on this aspect and work as freelancer for Film Festivals around the globe. I have now been managing the Film Delegation Office of the Biennale of Venice for the past 8 editions of the Film Festival; besides, I have collaborated with the Berlinale in Germany, the Doha Film Festival in Qatar, the Edinburgh Film Festival in Scotland and the Trieste Film Festival in Italy.
My main role within festivals is taking care of guests in all its declinations, which means, for example, from the red carpet protocol and the logistics for the talents and their entourage during their stay in Venice, to hotels, flights and daily schedules of the guests in Edinburgh, to managing the Registration Centre and welcome gifts for the guests in Doha. For sure, my job is never boring and no matter whether I have spent my time running around between red carpets and the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido of Venice, the castle of Edinburgh for a guided tour with guests or the buzzing souq of Doha where the Registration Centre is located, I always get to the end of the day with a great feeling of having contributed, even if indirectly, to enhancing culture through the films my guests are presenting.
Lately I have also been more and more interested in contributing actively to the content of the events themselves. I created and presented a panel about cinema and Slow Food at the Madeira Film Festival in Portugal and organized the art exhibition The Tongue of the Invisible with the works of Scottish-Iranian artist Jila Peacock, whom I had met while in Edinburgh, at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica of Venice. I am currently working on curating a section of an international film festival, but it is still too early to talk about it!

Cinema as a multicultural hub 
I have always compared flipping through the pages of the program of an International film festival to the act of turning around a globe. The juxtaposition of all those countries and the cultural richness they exude is at the same time thrilling and mesmerizing. One of the perks of working in close contact with guests is that you are directly confronted with the realities they represent and looking after them feels, in a way, like taking a little trip every time.
The most obvious way of experiencing another culture through cinema is having the great fortune of discussing a film presented at a festival with the person who made it. Of course it does not happen very often and it is always depends on the circumstances and on the person you are dealing with, but especially directors who are at the beginning of their career are normally eager to share their ideas on their works. I still remember a very moving conversation with a Mexican director who, starting from personal experiences, had portrayed a young boy who had decided to escape from home and hide on the roof of his parents’ house for a few days. Just as deep was a conversation with the director and interpreters of a documentary about a group of girls playing basketball in Iraq and all the daily challenges they had to face. The life span of both conversations was the same, early adolescence, declined according to the latitude and context where the film was set and certainly miles apart from what I was experiencing as an adolescent of that age.
Depending on the festivals, working with guests also means organizing activities for them apart from the screenings. These occasions are always great chances to be confronted with other cultures, even more so if the festival takes place outside Italy. For example, one of the highlights of a foreign festival where I worked was the sauna party, which meant taking all the guests to a lovely wooden traditional sauna in the middle of snowy woods and spending the evening there, sweating and chilling out outside while sipping a bottle of beer, with the alternative option of jumping into a hole in a frozen lake to cool down. Guests were coming from completely different cultural backgrounds and had very diverse ideas about temperatures, leisure activities, drinking habits and nudity. Being able to accommodate everyone’s needs and, most importantly, making everyone feel at ease was at the same time one of the most bizarre and interesting examples of “cultural mediation” I can think of when looking back.
Another episode that comes to my mind is a walk I took with a very young director among festival venues. She was from Cuba and had never seen the snow in real life, but only on TV. It had never crossed my mind that this could be the case for someone, being born at the foot of the Alps and used to all that white. I will never forget the moment when snowflakes started swirling around and she asked me what they were. Experiencing the excitement of witnessing such a natural phenomenon for the first time through her eyes was a moment to treasure.
Finally, working for a festival is also a chance to share your own culture with others, especially if the rest of the team is multicultural. After innumerable lessons about Bollywood films and icons by the Indian and Pakistani guys in my team, I felt a cinematographic moral duty to give something in return. So, towards the end of the festival, when things had slowed down a bit and there was some time off, I took them to the outdoor cinema on the beach to watch “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” by Giuseppe Tornatore. Besides being a milestone of Italian film history, it seemed to me a perfect example of the power of cinema and the never-ending possibilities it offers to grow and learn.