It is difficult to describe the Lucca Film Festival due to its informal nature, which is very different from many other Italian realities. However, in searching for a good formula, we could probably adopt the title (in its singular form) of an important film that the Festival showed this year: “free radical”. So let’s say that the Lucca Film Festival is a free radical festival: “free” because of its habitual presentation of unconventional programs; “radical” because of its obstinacy in pursuing a strong avant-garde identity, showcasing classic and contemporary experimental films. This allows us to consider Lucca one of the best Italian cultural environments for experimental cinema today. The 6th edition only served to confirm this trend.

All the screenings took place in the Cinema Centrale, a cinema in the town’s centre, except the Cinématon series by the French director Gérard Courant, which was exhibited at the local museum of modern art, Lu.C.C.A.

It was a very well programmed edition, with diverse screenings, a good competition, interesting films by experimental filmmakers, and an important focus on Franco Brocani, an Italian independent director.

Abel Ferrara was the special guest this year and his presence was something really new for this young film festival, because in the past years the festival guests have usually been significant filmmakers from the world of experimental cinema, like Michael Snow or Jonas Mekas, but never really well-known stars of the indie scene like the Italian-American director. The Lucca Film Festival paid homage to Ferrara, presenting films like China Girl (1987), famous masterpieces like Bad Lieutenant (1992) and The Blackout (1997) and his recent Mulberry Street.

The Hungarian director György Pálfi was the other filmmaker guest, with the festival screening some of his works including Taxidermia (2006) and his latest, Nem vagyok a barátod (I’m Not Your Friend).

The international short films competition was interesting as usual. If one had to single out one film for special mention, it would be Lithuanian filmmaker Laura Garbštienė’s Filmas apie nežinomą menininkę (Film About An Unknown Artist), a fresh and ingenious piece of work.

The experimental films program included some special events. The (An)other Irish Cinema projection was a joint-screening project by Irish filmmakers Donal Foreman and Maximilian Le Cain, and the Dublin-based Iranian director Rouzbeh Rashidi, three different authors in terms of style and vision but linked by the same energy in their approaches to filmmaking. As their website (1) says:

it is the work of three resolutely independent filmmakers based in Ireland who have built up prolific filmographies over the past decade in complete creative freedom, taking full advantage of the liberty for experimentation that low-and-no-budget production offers.

In this selection of their films, Foreman’s Pull and Le Cain’s Everybody’s Favourite Disease seemed the most distinctive and interesting works.

Another special event consisted of the screenings of two related films: Steve Dwoskin’s The Sun and the Moon (2007), an interpretation of The Beauty and the Beast, and Keja Ho Kramer’s The Beast Notes (2008), a very inspired portrait of Dwoskin himself.

Cinématon by Gérard Courant (1978) was the third special event of this 6th edition: begun in 1978 and still unfinished, it can be theorised as a never-ending film and work in progress. It consists of a series of portraits of artistic and cultural personalities such as Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Wim Wenders, Fernando Arrabal, Philippe Sollers and so on. It always sticks to the same ten technical commandments: camera on a tripod; no camera movements; the subject filmed in a close-up; no sound; no change in focal length; no change in the framing; the running-time of 3 minutes and 35 seconds for each portrait; one take only; no cutting during the shooting and no editing afterwards; freedom for the person to do whatever he/she wants during the shooting.

However, it is the two final items on our list of the most interesting screenings in this year’s Lucca Film festival that are also the most impressive.

Pip Chodorov’s Free Radicals: a (Hi)story of Experimental Film is a masterpiece: a wonderful journey into some anecdotes and atmospheres of experimental cinema history, a sort of hymn to this art. In only 80 minutes, we see such great filmmakers as Hans Richter, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Peter Kubelka and many others (some now dead, some still alive) sharing their thoughts on cinema and reflecting on their lives in it.

Although Free Radicals is always very inspired and powerful in its images and rhythm, it is the opening and closing sequences that allow us to appreciate its double nature, allowing for two different readings. It is not only a documentary on some great masters but also a fiction, an “experimental” film like the works it showcases and a film where autobiographical traces echo into the collective memory of experimental cinema.

The projection of 11 short films by Italian filmmaker Franco Brocani was the other most significant screening of this 6th edition of the festival. (Brocani had already been in Lucca in 2008 for the screening of his latest work, Schifanosaurus Rex, dedicated to Mario Schifano). Some of these films, although made between the late ‘60s and the ‘80s, received their world premiere at Lucca, something made possible thanks to Andrea Meneghelli, Petra Marlazzi and the help of the Cineteca Comunale di Bologna.

According to Giulio Bursi (University of Udine), curator of these screenings, the selection of these 11 works is the result of research he did into an old, famous Italian film production company called Corona Cinematografica. Based in Rome and founded by the Gagliardo brothers, the company opened in 1962 and officially closed in 1997. Brocani worked for them from 1967 to 1984, making short documentary films, as did many other Italian experimental filmmakers of that period, such as Alberto Grifi, Alfredo Leonardi, Romano Scavolini and Paolo Brunatto. Commissioned by companies such as Corona Cinematografica, this kind of work was a common way to survive for many filmmakers. What was interesting for Bursi about this period was the sheer number of works that Brocani did for the company, 26 in total. This meant he was much more prolific than many of his colleagues and also gives an entirely new perspective on his filmography, the known portion of which was hitherto quite small. In fact, this discovery now gives critics and historians studying Brocani access to the work he did between his first masterpiece, Necropolis (1970), and his great film of the ‘80s, Clodia-Fragmenta (1982). Unfortunately only 11 of his Corona Cinematografica films could be restored and screened.

Screened at Lucca were È ormai sicuro il mio ritorno a Knossos (già La forma delle idee) (By Now My Return to Knossos is Certain – Already the Shape of Ideas, 1967), Lo specchio a forma di gabbia (The Mirror in the Form of a Cage, 1970), La maschera del Minotauro (The Masque of Minotaur, 1971), Segnale di un pianeta in via d’estinzione (Signal from a Planet on Course for Extinction, 1972), Frankenstein (1972), Sulla poesia (On Poetry, 1984), screened in 35mm; A proposito di W. S. Hayter (Grafica e cinema) (About W. S. Hayter – Graphic Art and Cinema, 1968), L’utopia del male (The Utopia of Evil, 1974), S. P. Q. R. (1975), La città sublime (The Sublime City, 1975), Gastrosofia (Gastrosophy, 1974) were screened on beta. Almost all of these works were created without any screenplay. Frankenstein, On Poetry, About W. S. Hayter, S. P. Q. R., The Sublime City and Gastrosophy are colour films, the others are in black and white.

Although they are really different from each other in terms of style, poetry and subject, in all of these films Brocani can share his passions: art, poetry, literature, sport, Hollywood icons, comics, postcards, among many other things. There are some sophisticated films like By Now My Return to Knossos is Certain (featuring artists such as Luca Patella and the more famous Mario Schifano), about a philosophical idea of space; other films are more conventional, like About W. S. Hayter; others more surrealistic, like Gastrosophy; others like The Utopia of Evil and S. P. Q. R. are vehicles for his literary passions and full of references (the Marquis de Sade, Borges).

These 11 titles also work as historical proof of the vitality of the Rome cultural environment during the ’60s, ’70s and the early ’80s, featuring as they do the presence of a number of important Italian artists who were Brocani’s friends, such as the painter Mario Schifano who was very close to him (Brocani starred in his Trapianto, consunzione e morte di Franco Brocani in 1969) and the poets Dario Bellezza and Amelia Rosselli.

Other things can be said about that period and the relationships among these figures but that’s another story, so let’s finish with a critical annotation. In the Lucca Film Festival catalogue Bursi suggests how the aesthetics of these 11 films can be useful to study Brocani’s art as something historically independent and not too close to the main Italian avant-garde circuits, a link film historians would usually assume. So this distance would confirm how rare and special Franco Brocani is for Italian cinema, independent even from some avant-garde ideologies, such as those that Marco Ferreri and Pierfrancesco Bargellini stand for. Like them and few others, Brocani is a free radical artist.

Lucca Film Festival
4 – 9 October, 2010
Festival website: www.vistanova.it