Newport Beach Film Festival

I just came back from Newport Beach after a very short “toccata e fuga” at the 13th edition of the local Film Festival. Newport Beach is a very rich beach city in Orange County, Southern California. Even if you are not aware that at least one out of four households has an income greater than 200,000 USD and that the median value is 1 million (yes, 1.000.000) dollars, you realise immediately that you are in a very rich people retreat when you spot around the many Ferrari, Bentley and Maserati. There are even more hyper luxury cars than in Beverly Hills. I have to say that it is not really the kind of place I like, no character, no soul.

The same can probably be said for the Film Festival. Yes, it has a very rich and interesting programme of independent and international films – this year 400 films from 50 different countries – but it lacks something. First of all, most of the cinema theatres are in malls which is not really appealing to me. Secondly, theatres were not full. So different from festivals like Rotterdam or the Pan African in L.A.

As I said, it was a really short stay and I have been able to see only two films.

The first one was HELENO an interesting and quite nicely done biopic of Heleno de Freitas, the Brazilian football star of the forties. 

Heleno was, simultaneously, a footballer, a bohemian, a lawyer, a latin lover, a genius, a gypsy, a short fuse, a tragedy. He used to despise his teammates whom he considered not good enough to play with him and at the same time he was adored by the fans for his fighting spirit and his goals. His passion for football, better said for Botafogo, was desperate. When he was loaned to Boca Junior he said to his President “I am not a football player, I am a Botafogo player“. Unfortunately, he never managed to participate in a World Cup as the 1942 and 1946 editions were cancelled and in 1950 he was already suffering for the syphilis. At least he was not part of the tragic defeat – home in the Maracana’ stadium – of the Brazilian team against Uruguay. He finished his days in psychiatric hospital where he died at the age of 39. It is not easy to make beautiful films about the beautiful game – the best one is by far “The Damned United” on Brian Clough –  and even in this one something is missing. The game sequences for example are not satisfactory. On the contrary, Rio de Janeiro in the background is magnificent and so are actresses Alinne Moraes and Angie Cepeda playing the main female roles of the film.

The second one – CINEMA KOMUNISTO – is a very beautiful documentary on the history of Yugoslavian cinema directed by 31 year old Mila Turajlic, who studied film in Belgrade and grew up in a country that changed names four times by the time she was 21.

The film tells us about Leka Konstantinovic who was the personal film projectionist of Yugoslavia’s President Tito for 32 years. Along with Yugoslav directors, film stars and studio bosses, he tells the story of how Marshal Tito gave form to post-war Yugoslavia while using the film industry to create the narrative of the new country. With clips from over 60 feature films mixed with the bittersweet memories of the storytellers, we are given a first-hand look at the rise and fall of the film industry in Yugoslavia. Some images are just fantastic: Richard Burton arriving in Belgrade in 1973 to impersonate Tito in the epic film Sutjeska, the crowd at the Pula annual film festival, the Hotel Metropol home of the stars. And the innumerable films about the partisan liberation war. I do even remember myself, when in Italy in the seventies we were able to watch the Yugoslavian TV Koper (Capodistria), how I loved those films in which the Yugo partisans were always so brave and smart. But this documentary is also about a country that it does not exist anymore, a country that I do personally miss.

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