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Cinema Italiano was thriving prior to the pandemic so Italy’s David di Donatello Awards, the country’s top film prizes, will serve as a collective rebirth rite just when coronavirus lockdown restrictions slowly begin to lift.

The ceremony marking the Davids’ 65th anniversary to be aired May 8 on pubcaster RAI in primetime obviously sans red carpet and with stars linked-in by remote, is timed shortly after May 4 when Italy entered “Phase Two” of its lockdown as local producers are busy drafting safety protocols and planning the road map for shoots to restart, hopefully in June.

Meanwhile the David academy’s 1,600 voters and, hopefully, millions of RAI viewers will be cheering a pack of nominees that is led by veteran auteur Marco Bellocchio’s elegant mob drama “The Traitor” – released by Sony stateside in January – and Matteo Garrone’s live-action “Pinocchio” alongside edgier titles by up-and-comers such as Matteo Rovere’s bold “Romolus & Remus: The First King,” an entertaining epic in ancient Latin; “Martin Eden” by Pietro Marcello in which Jack London’s novel by the same title is transposed to Naples, and, in the best picture category, gritty pic “Piranhas,” also set in Naples where its titular young mobsters are played by local children.

Another Naples-set title, mob saga “5 is the Perfect Number,” starring Toni Servillo (“The Great Beauty”) marking the directorial debut of graphic novelist Igor Tuveri, a.k.a. Igort, is among standouts with a strong nine nominations.

“What I like is the mix of generations that are embracing each other,” says Piera Detassis, head of the Italian Film Academy which runs the Davids (see separate interview). Detassis notes that this year’s prizes really represent the cream of the crop of Italian production before the pandemic, a time when local cinema was “doing really well” with a more than 30% local box office share.

Rovere, whose “First King” scored 15 noms and who as a producer via his Groenlandia shingle made soccer dramedy “The Champion,” directed by Leonardo D’Agostini – who is nominated in the first-time director category – says the Davids will give Italy’s industry a signal of continuity at a time of crisis “especially for the theatrical sector.”

“In history it’s always happened that when you have a huge crisis art, and especially film, took on a central role,” says Rovere, who hopes the Davids awards ceremony will focus on the “role that cinema will have in the [post pandemic] reconstruction.”

By going forward with the prizes “RAI is keeping alive the flame of Italian cinema,” says Paolo Del Brocco, head of RAI Cinema, the pubcaster’s film arm. He points out that it’s important “to stoke up the rapport between audiences and movies,” even though in terms of TV ratings the event “is a risk.”

RAI Cinema, which is coming off a banner year, is behind lots of the David candidates, including both “The Traitor” and “Pinocchio,” which due to the pandemic was just sold by Le Pact to Amazon Prime for France, thus skipping French theatrical play, which Del Brocco greatly regrets. He also regrets that a U.S. sale of “Pinocchio” that was “very close” before the coronavirus outbreak is now “on hiatus.”

As for the state of Italy’s theatrical sector, the Davids are set to play a role in the country’s just announced innovative summer releases initiative called Moviement 2020, which will bypass closure of movie theaters by screening pics in outdoor arenas and drive-ins. Moviement 2020 will see Italian films that won or were nominated for Davids playing outdoors across Italy this summer, with talents in tow, alongside Hollywood blockbusters such as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jungle Cruise,” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”