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Focus on Italy: Albuquerque festival celebrates film, culture of Mediterranean nation

After a decade, the New Mexico Italian Film & Culture Festival has hit its stride.

The event is back for its 11th year beginning Tuesday, March 13.

Last year, the festival found a home at the Hiland Theater in the heart of Albuquerque.

A scene from “Il Gran Finale (Italian Race).”

“I think it’s a perfect venue for us,” says Maria Arancio Berry, managing director of the Italian Film & Culture Festival. “We can have all of our events there, as well as show the films.”

Berry says that in fulfillment of the nonprofit’s mission to promote Italian culture while giving back to the community, the much-anticipated annual festival is Italian Festivals of New Mexico’s flagship event and fundraising centerpiece.

Since its inception, the festival has championed the state’s underserved and disadvantaged children with donations totaling close to $300,000 to child-focused institutions and organizations.

Festival proceeds will benefit the National Dance Institute of New Mexico.

The seven films have been selected.

The entertainers are warming up their vocal cords and instruments.

The young NDI dancers are rehearsing two sensational performances, and three food events are planned.

“This is sure to be the best festival yet,” Berry says. “It reaches a crescendo in its three main facets – film, music and food.”

The festival starts with the opening-night film, “Un Paese Quasi Perfetto.”

Berry is looking forward to “La pazza gioia (Like Crazy)” on March 16. The film picked up a few awards at the David di Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscars), including best picture, best actress and best director. Directed by renowned filmmaker Paolo Virzi, the film tells the story of two women of diverse backgrounds and personalities who meet in a mental institution and become friends. They escape the institution and embark on a “Thelma and Louise”-style adventure that changes their lives.

“This is one of the biggest films to come out of Italy in the last year,” she says. “We were able to get it for a screening which is very special.”

And the closing film is “Il Gran Finale (Italian Race),” on March 18.

The automobile sports-action drama based on the true story of rally racing driver Carlo Capone.

Directed by the acclaimed young filmmaker, Matteo Rovere the film focuses on 17-year-old rally racer Giulia DeMartino, who, after her father’s death, takes on his debt-plagued auto-racing business. When her life falls apart, her only hope for help is her brother, a drug addict and former rally champion.

“We noticed last year that having a home for all the events really went over well with the audience,” she says. “We can build on the momentum that we have now.”