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Italian Oscar Nominees Get Together at the Italian Cultural Institute

For the first time, people once again gathered in person at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood, the façade of the building lit with the colors of the Ukrainian flag in support of the ongoing and tragic conflict. The occasion, however, was a celebratory one, to honor the two-time Oscar nominee and legendary maestro of cinematography Dante Spinotti and two of the three Italian nominees for this year’s Oscar: Enrico Casarosa, director of the animated film Luca and Massimo Cantini Parrini, costume designer of Cyrano. Director Paolo Sorrentino, Golden Globe winner for The Great Beauty, and this year’s Golden Globe and Oscar nominee for best international film with The Hand of God was not present.

The three cinema greats sat at a panel discussion moderated by HFPA member Luca Celada after an introduction by the new director of the Italian Cultural Institute Emanuele Amendola, who reminded the audience of the impressive history of Italian cinema at the Oscars: 266 nominations, 71 wins of which 11 as best foreign (or international, as it is called now) film. A tradition that was expressed clearly over the course of the one-hour conversation on stage.

Spinotti had arrived in Hollywood after working in Italy with masters like Liliana Cavani and Ermanno Olmi and started in the US with directors like Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential) and Michael Mann (The Insider). “My wife and I thought that coming to Hollywood after working so many years in Italian cinema and RAI National television was the right idea,” said Spinotti. “I came with Dino De Laurentiis and his sadly deceased wife Martha. The job was not easy, my very first film here with Michael Mann – who is very precise and a ‘scientist of cinema’, like I call him – was very complicated. It was a risky, difficult transition because we didn’t know anybody and it takes a while to get to know the crews, their way of working. But I am from Trieste (in Northern Italy) and people from Trieste are very hard-headed, so if you keep going you endure and you get through the tough parts.”

Enrico Casarosa is another Northern Italian, from Genoa, which is the inspiration of the life and places described in Luca. “It took a lot of small little steps to get here,” Casarosa said. “I was an engineer and started drawing, but after two years as an engineer I realized I loved combining illustration and drawing with stories, from my years watching cartoons on TV growing up as a kid, so I started making drawings that could move and realized animation was my objective.” He followed his dream and moved to New York to study, working on small production TV animation companies. “I had those moments which every immigrant feels, the excitement of the future mixed with the sadness of what you left behind, the friends, that life.”

But his goals prevailed and animation turned into filmmaking and the move to the West Coast, where he worked on Ice Age and Ratatouille before starting to develop his own stories. An animation short, La Luna, brought him his first Oscar nomination in 2012 and established his position at Pixar (Luca is produced by Pete Docter). And Genoa is grateful: according to moderator Celada there is already a restaurant in the coastal city which named one of its dishes: “Spaghetti alla Luca!”

Massimo Cantini Parrini, on the other hand, is from a region that, traditionally, excels in textiles: Tuscany, and Florence in particular. Parrini is nominated in a category that consistently brought many nominations and victories to Italy, from Milena Canonero to Danilo Donati to Francesca Squarciapino and Gabriella Pescucci. Parrini’s passion for clothes came at a very early age: “My grandmother had a tailor shop in Florence and I was fascinated by the big workshop and all the different materials which were taking on three-dimensional life when worked on,” Parrini recollects. “That passion brought me to start studying and collecting clothes from the 1600s to the 1990s, and I now have a collection of almost 4,000 pieces. My culture started with that fixation, I was lucky to have found it so early, as a child.”

Porrini went on to study with legendary costume designer Piero Tosi developing over the course of the years a friendship that lasted 25 years. “Piero Tosi wasn’t just a teacher, he was a friend and taught me a culture that had developed over the centuries.” That historical passion, he explains, brought him to enjoy more working on period films as opposed to contemporary films: “I don’t like when actors complain about the clothes you give them,” he laughed, “while when it comes to period clothes you can hide behind your historical research and nobody can complain!”

That knowledge of history, he continues, was key to his choices for the costumes In Cyrano, where he experimented with stripping the clothes from the laces and flowers so typical of the 1700s to get the essence of the costumes, with very little jewelry as well. “It helped create an aura of lightness and get to the soul of the characters, which is what (director) Joe Wright wanted (the story, he added, was moved from the 1600s to the 1700s).  “I made over 750 new clothes and only had 26 days to prepare,” Parrini added. “I didn’t stop sewing for that entire time and I am still alive!”

The nominations, they all agree, are particularly important in their categories because they are chosen by people in their field – so the emotional rollercoaster ride is high at this moment.  But in closing, encouraged by Luca Celada, they also reflected on what Italy brought to their particular careers and success. “You bring Italy inside with you all the time, which in my case shows in the scenes in which kids play and jump off the rocks into the sea like we were doing as kids,” Casarosa says.

Spinotti, who is now working on a documentary about Naples directed by Trudie Styler (Sting’s wife), added: “For me is not important that I was born in Italy, but that I carry with me the tradition of the great cinema of the likes of Antonioni, Visconti, and what they brought to cinema.. 2000 years of humanity.”