Cinephile polishes Udine Fest image

Spotlight: Thomas Bertacche

ROME — For Thomas Bertacche, being a film buff in a small city in Italy’s northeast is no reason not to think big. But that doesn’t mean you should ever let your head swell.

Bertacche and Udine Far East Fest co-topper Sabrina Baracetti joined Udine’s Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche (CEC) film forum in the early 1990s and were part of the team that in 1999 assembled a spotlight on Hong Kong movies under Derek Elley’s artistic direction, which gave the fest its initial impetus.

“We chose Hong Kong because at the time it was the only cinema outside Hollywood which placed a premium on entertaining an audience and was genre-driven,” says Bertacche, who these days is still more involved in on-the-ground management and fund-raising rather than artistic selection.

Bertacche’s drive and vision over the past decade have played a key part in transforming the aspirations of a number of ardent Italo cinephiles, whose pop sensibility drew them Eastward, into Europe’s top Asian cinema showcase, all on a shoestring budget.

“You can’t have a festival like ours if you don’t have an international standing,” he says. “(We were fortunate) that from the very beginning we had a big response from all over Europe. This gave our job a real significance early on.”

Surely, compared with when the pair got started, Asian genre movies have become a lot more desirable for major international fests like Cannes, Venice and Berlin these days.

Bertacche admits it used to be a lot easier to get the big titles. “But the vivacity of Asian cinema and its ample output still provide Udine with lots of fresh material to discover.”

Not to mention the fact that there are 60 years of film history in that region that is still largely unknown in the Western world.

To Bertacche, what’s important is that those who descend upon Udine to feast on fresh Asian goods, as well as the army of Asian aficionados bred by the fest in this city of 100,000, can still easily manage to have a chat on the steps of the Teatro Nuovo with hot young Hong Kong helmer Pang Ho-cheung — who directed Udine’s 10-year anniversary trailer and is coming with his comedy “Trivial Matters” — just like in the past they were able to catch Johnny To on the fly.

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