Donovan, the legendary folk pop troubadour, will be traipsing down the Berlin Film Festval’s red carpet tonight to celebrate his love for Italian movies and its ties to Otello, a Rome restaurant that fed the bodies and souls of some of Cinema Italiano’s top talents for decades.
Donovan, who is bringing his guitar, is at the Berlinale for the first time with “Il segreto di Otello” (Otello’s Secret), a documentary by Francesco Ranieri Martinotti about Otello alla Concordia, the unpretentious eatery near the Spanish steps where Dolce Vita people hung out, even after that era was over, and plenty of pics by Italo maestros — including Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli, and Ettore Scola — were conceived. “Otello” screens in Berlin’s Culinary Cinema section.
“It’s an amazing restaurant where the very struggling young great filmmakers and actors of Italy would be given a free meal, once a week, on a Wednesday; and when they got famous, they kept coming,” said Donovan, who was first taken there by screenwriter Anthony Foutz during a Rome visit. He quickly became an aficionado and friend of the Sisti family who runs it.
“It was necessary to capture this historical place and those who came through it, and how it shaped what they did before it’s permanently lost,” said Martinotti, the docu’s director. Besides a “Who’s Who” of Italian cinema, the restaurant’s patrons include Robert De Niro, who features in the docu, and Bruce Springsteen.
In “Otello” Donovan at the restaurant performs an unreleased song titled “Cinema, Cinema,” “which had been kicking around in my collection of what I call ‘super demos’,” he says. It’s a tribute to Italian cinema greats. He is likely to also be performing this song, in a subsequently tweaked version, in Berlin’s Gropius Mirror restaurant at the reception after the screening, with Berlin fest director Dieter Kosslick chiming in, Donovan said.
Don’t be surprised by Donovan’s cinematic side. After all, “Music and film have always been in bed together,” he noted.
“From the beginning, when I met the Beatles we both agreed: Three-minute singles can be like a miniature movie. So that’s how we approached our recordings, and that’s how I approached songwriting. It’s like a little story with an opening scene; then there is the conflict; then there is the payoff, all done within three minutes. So I love the idea of music in film,” he said.