THE ITALIAN EXPERIENCE, ON SCREEN

The audience for the entire Cinema Italiano wouldn’t take up half of a theatre at a single simple screening at the Metro during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. But that doesn’t bother Gabriella Schooley, the president of the Italian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is presenting its third festival of Italian films by exhibiting three recent imports over three weekends starting this Saturday, September 16.

“We’re a very specialized festival, so we’re happy if we get one hundred to one hundred fifty people,” says Schooley, who has lived in Montecito since moving here from Silver Springs, Maryland, back in 1968. “The mission of the ICHF is to foster Italian culture and language within the community of Santa Barbara, and cinema is a big part of the culture.”

Actually, you might have heard of the event before. In 2004, its second year, the event made a big splash when they brought movie star Penelope Cruz to town to introduce her forthcoming film, “Don’t Move.” A big screening at the Riviera was followed by a reception in the Arlington courtyard. Although the publicity surrounding that gala brought a lot of attention to the then three-year-old ICHF, the expenses nearly broke the bank, and a shortage of manpower and funds necessitated taking a break from the intended annual event last year.

But now the mini-festival is back with three films that have never screened anywhere near Santa Barbara, but each of which has garnered multiple awards or nominations for Italian Oscars. “The Knights of the Quest” (2001), an action-adventure epic set in the 13th century with some intensely gory war scenes, shows on September 16, followed by “The Consequences of Love” (2004), a gripping psychological thriller/drama that borrows a bit from Fellini’s “8½,” screens on September 22, and the festival concludes on September 29 with “The Fever” (2005), an Italian-style comedy that incorporates social satire of the bureaucracy back in the old country.

“These are all very beautiful films that have never been shown here,” Schooley says.

The films will all be shown via DVD projection at the Fe Bland Auditorium on the Santa Barbara City College campus, which Schooley says was a very conscious decision on a number of fronts.

“We chose films that have been presented at festivals all over the world, but getting the rights to screen them can be very expensive,” Schooley says. “Santa Barbara City College has the state-of-the-art system there, and in this day and age, DVD projection is almost as good as thirty-five-millimeter. The difference when you add up the rent, technical requirements and permissions can amount to thousands of dollars per film. So for a little foundation such as ours, it makes a big difference.”

Instead, ICHF is passing the savings along to the audience: admission to separate films is only $7, less than the cost of a full-price ticket to a first run movie downtown. A full festival pass, which includes a wine and cheese reception on opening night, is $50.

Cinema Italiano is only the most visible program from the ICHF, which serves what Schooley – who holds dual citizenship – calls “a sizeable population” between the true immigrants and the Italian-Americans. “Add in UCSB and it’s a large group for the size of the town,” she says.

ICHF also sponsors Italian classes – Schooley volunteers to teach the advanced conversation class in her Montecito home. “The students are at a very high level,” she says. “I print out articles from Italian newspapers and magazines, the students prepare an essay and then we discuss them in class in Italian.” Another 10-week session starts on September 13, the day after a more basic Italian class “for tourists” begins at the Franklin Community Center. The foundation also sponsors scholarships at the City College to help send students to Italy to study abroad.

“We’d also like to start doing something meaningful with the UCSB Italian program,” Schooley says, adding that Anna Brusutti, a film studies professor who specializes in Italian cinema and is affiliated with ICHF, will introduce each of the festival films this month. “Reaching out to young people is very important because they are the ones who can most perpetuate the culture.”

(For information on Cinema Italiano, visit italianheritagesb.org or call 969-1018.)

Cousteau Finale

Elsewhere, Elings Park closes out its summer-long “Movies Nights” series on September 20 with a special screening of “America’s Underwater Treasures,” which features Santa Barbara-based Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team of underwater explorers visiting all 13 national marine sanctuaries in the U.S. The film is also the season finale for Cousteau’s nationally broadcast series on PBS. Cousteau and his team will introduce the film, and local environmental organizations will have booth displays. Info at 569-5611 or 899-8899, ext. 121.

Fall Film Classes

We’re not above giving a film friend a shameless plug, especially when we admire what he brings to town. Richard Alpert’s Adult Education courses – which he’s been teaching for years now – won’t instruct you how to direct your own features or short documentary, but they serve as the next best thing to the old revival houses, where one could watch a classic or cult film and then usually find a few fellow cinephiles who wanted to talk about it afterwards. Alpert’s three classes (Monday nights, Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings) all have different titles, but they follow the same format: screen a film (on DVD or video) and then conduct a discussion. The 30 entries for the new season – one each per class of the 10-week session – range from William Wyler’s 1936 classic “Dodsworth” to 2004’s “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” with such quirky titles as Carl Reiner’s hilarious “Where’s Poppa?,” John Ford’s ‘50s safari saga “Mogambo” and Preston Sturgis’ engaging “Sullivan’s Travels” as part of the mix. Classes start the week of September 11, but you can register any time and come and go as you please. (Details online at ce.sbcc.edu.)