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New Zealand Italian Film Festival Launches With Artistic Director Made A Knight

Award-winning New Zealand-Italian filmmaker, and co-founder of the Italian Film Festival, Paolo Rotondo, has been honoured with a Cavaliere dell'Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana. The endowment, which translates from Italian to ‘knight’, is akin to our CNZM, or Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Cavaliere Rotondo was bestowed the title at an event the Embassy of Italy held in recognition of his work in the arts, and promotion of Italian culture and language.

“I feel genuinely blessed to have been recognised for my contribution through both the film festival and the films I’ve made,” says Paolo. “Living in Aotearoa, Italian cinema has been a lifeline that keeps me connected to my culture. I am immensely fortunate.

“Receiving the Cavalierato in the presence of the Italian community in the iconic Embassy Theatre in Wellington - a temple of New Zealand cinema - felt like a perfect convergence of my career as a filmmaker in Aotearoa and my life as an Italian New Zealander. Sono davvero onorato. (I am deeply honoured)”.

The prestigious award follows an extremely successful year for former Shortland Street star Paolo. His latest short film, Maunga Cassino, debuted in Italian festivals last year, winning an award in the country of his birth. In a world first, dialogue is entirely in Te Reo Māori and Italian.

Set in the shadow of Monte Cassino, it is a moving and amusing story of the meeting between an Italian deserter and a soldier from the 28th Māori Battalion in World War II. Appearing in festivals around the world - with a private screening in Rotorua for Sir Robert ‘Bom’ Gillies, the last surviving member of the Māori Battalion - Maunga Cassino has been warmly received and will now show as part of the Italian Film Festival in theatres around New Zealand.

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“This year marks the 80th anniversary of the United States bombing of Monte Cassino which makes the timing of the nationwide New Zealand release extra poignant,” says Paolo.

This year’s ninth Cinema Italiano Italian Film Festival is the biggest festival yet, showcasing 24 of Italy’s finest comedies, classics, dramas and documentaries in 27 independent cinemas between April 2024 and January 2025, with over 1,000 screenings across the year.

Paolo, tasked with choosing the films in the curation, describes the challenge as “both formidable and pleasurable”. He says this year’s lineup is one of the strongest since the festival’s inception, including masterful films like The Eight Mountains, Kidnapped and La Chimera. His pick, however, is There’s Still Tomorrow, a modern icon of Italian cinema which toppled both Barbie and Oppenheimer at the box office in Italy.

This year's selection represents the past, present, and future. “I sensed a thematic ‘palimpsest’, where past, present and future operate simultaneously,” continues Paolo. “In films like Nanni Moretti’s Aprile, we see the comic emergence of populism - the unfortunate movement that influences the world today. In Andrea Di Stefano’s slick thriller Last Night of Amore we are taken on a journey that perfectly illustrates how all present actions are born in the past and shape the every moment that is to come. And in Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped, the dangers of blind dogma are chronicled.

“At the same time, many of our films play with concepts of future, like the gently apocalyptic The Order of Time or Nanni’Moretti’s self-deprecating A Brighter Tomorrow. In Director Paolo Genovese’s The First Day of My Life, we are asked what we might do differently if we could do it all again. Yet this gaze toward what is to come is rooted in Italy’s enormous cultural patrimony, and I am reminded of the power, necessity and enduring nature of cinema as an art form.”

The Italian Film Festival screens in Auckland, New Plymouth, Havelock North, Napier, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Christchurch, Nelson, Tauranga, Hamilton, Matakana, Pāpāmoa, Wānaka, Arrowtown, Masterton, Wellington, Dunedin, Waiheke Island, and Kerikeri.

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