As they celebrate being held as a physical event, Italy’s upcoming 67th David di Donatello Awards epitomize the ongoing shift in generations and genres that is underway in Cinema Italiano.

Leading the pack this year are seasoned auteur Paolo Sorrentino’s most personal film “The Hand of God” and young helmer Gabriele Mainetti’s second feature, the elegant effects-laden historical fantasy “Freaks Out,” which is set in 1943 Rome and involves four “freaks” working in a circus when the Eternal City is bombed by Allied Forces. Both pics scored 16 nominations each.

Close behind are Mario Martone’s classic biopic “The King of Laughter,” about popular early 20th-century Neapolitan actor and playwright Eduardo Scarpetta, with 14 noms. Then come Leonardo Di Costanzo’s subtle prison drama “Ariaferma” and “Diabolik,” an adaptation of a comic book about a charming master thief, directed by Marco and Antonio Manetti, both with 11 noms a piece.

“We have all the masters represented in the nominations,” says film critic Piera Detassis, who heads the Italian Film Academy that runs the awards, citing Sorrentino, Martone and Giuseppe Tornatore, whose Ennio Morricone doc “Ennio” is also a contender in several top categories.

“But then there is also the younger generation that is tackling genre in the forms of fantasy and comics. This is unusual in Italian cinema, and even more so within the Davids,” she notes.

Detassis is quick to point out how “significant and symbolic” it is that the Davids – as they go back to being held in-person after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic – are taking place at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios as the famed facilities undergo a radical renewal being implemented by former Sky and Warner Bros. executive Nicola Maccanico. (See separate interview).

Detassis, who is the first woman to head Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars, also underlines that, sadly, there are no women represented in the best picture and best director categories.

On the positive side, two women directors are in the running for the first-time helmer statuette: Maura Delpero for potent drama “Maternal,” which is set in an Argentinian refuge for adolescent single mothers run by nuns, and Laura Samani’s magical “Small Body,” about a woman in rural north-east Italy trying to save the soul of her stillborn baby in the year 1900.

Another small but significant indicator that all hope is not lost when it comes to achieving greater gender balance in the Italian industry is the fact that most of the best actress nominees (see list) have never been in the running for an acting David before.

“It’s clear that there is a generational shift underway, and this is more evident in the female acting category than in the male one,” which is mostly made up of usual suspects, says Detassis. She also points out that if “Hand of God” DoP Daria D’Antonio scoops the best cinematography David, this will mark the first time this prize goes to a woman.

Unlike what happened at this year’s Oscars ceremony where honors in eight categories, including film editing, original score and production design, were awarded during off-air parts of the show and then edited into the telecast, Detassis has been adamant that during the Davids telecast “all the prizes must be fully represented,” she says.

Accomplishing this hasn’t been easy and caused discussions with pubcaster RAI, which produces and airs the Davids. “It’s difficult because they have a generalist audience that is keen on seeing Italian cinema’s big beloved stars, while some of the other movers and shakers in the industry have less TV appeal,” as Detassis puts it.

So understandably she’s “proud because we stuck to our guns, while the Oscars had to give in.”

The Davids, which will be held at Cinecittà on May 3, will be celebrating the entire Italian film community at a time when, in the wake of the pandemic, Italian directors seem drawn to stories that celebrate its legacy or just the joy of spectacle in different ways.

Detassis notes how a love for movies and the theater are recurring thematic elements in frontrunner films such as “The Hand of God,” “Ennio,” “King of Laughter” and even “Freaks Out,” which combines superhero elements and a 1943 “Rome Open City” backdrop.

“There is like a nostalgia for the Golden Age of cinema or, more broadly, the desire to be back in front of the big screen or in a theater for a live show,” she says.

Accordingly, this year’s David di Donatello lifetime achievement award will go to screen and stage star Giovanna Ralli, 87, who embodies Italian performing arts grandeur having worked with directors including Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, and co-stars such as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman and Stefania Sandrelli, to name but a few.

Significantly, Ralli, who is still active, has a role in actor Jasmine Trinca’s directorial debut “Marcel!,” which will soon be premiering in Cannes.