Forum gives a new impulse to dialogue of cultures between Italy and Russia

“Italy — the Guest Country” program linked the rich history of the Russian-Italian relations and the present day. The Forum included a discussion with participation of Ministers of Culture of Russia, Italy and Qatar, a conference on Russian-Italian cultural ties and meetings with the Italian cinema celebrities.

In 2018 Italy took part in the Forum in the honorary status of the Guest Country. The country’s official delegation was led by the Minister of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Activities of Italy Alberto Bonisoli.

The honorary guests of this year’s Cultural Forum were the legend of world cinema Claudia Cardinale, outstanding actor and theatre director Tony Servillo, and star of modern Italian cinema, film director Paolo Genovese. Many events of the Forum featured speeches by the eminent personalities of the Italian culture and science: Director of the Milano and Torino (MITO) Festival Nicola Campogrande, Vice President of the International Astronomical Union Gravitational Wave Astrophysics Commission Marica Branchesi, UNESCO’s Special Advisor Francesco Bandarin, film critic and festival manager Marco Mueller and others.

Minister of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Activities of Italy Alberto Bonisoli spoke at the podium discussion “Single cultural space: myth or reality?” Other participants of the discussion were Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Vladimir Medinsky and Minister of Culture and Sports of Qatar His Excellency Salah Bin Ghanim Al Ali.

“Culture gives identity to individuals and communities — we self-define and present ourselves to others through our cultural background: personal, familial and national. Languages of culture form under the influence of national identity. A painting by Raphael is certainly a part of the cultural heritage of Italy, but at the same time it can be a part of another culture, for instance, via an exhibition or its modern interpretation.

The languages of culture are universal and can sound in various contexts. Hence the question of global foundations of culture and whether it has the elements that are common for each nation and each human being. I think that various nations and cultures are indeed able to find a common interaction theme.

In the international relations there are certain situations of antagonism. But we must remember that culture remains a communication channel that defies conflicts. For people, the society, and the political elite culture is a way to continue communication,” said Alberto Bonisoli.

The present and the future of Russian-Italian cultural ties were addressed by the participants of “Russia-Italy: A Dialogue of Cultures” conference. Leading Slavic Studies expert at the University of Ca’ Foscari Daniella Rizzi told about the work on a bibliographical edition dedicated to the Russian presence in Italy during the period from 1900 to 1940. The book that was in preparation by the Italian scholars for over 10 years will be published in Russia in 2019.

“Our initial purpose was to restore the history of the post-Revolution Russian emigration, but soon we came to the conclusion that it was inseparable from the life of previous Russian diasporas in Italy and from presence of representatives of the Soviet culture in our country. The book includes history of the representatives of political emigration caused by the events in 1905, those who departed after the October Revolution, and to some extent the Soviet culture representatives that started visiting Italy after re-establishment of diplomatic relations by the Mussolini regime in 1924,” explained Daniella Rizzi.

Moscow Architectural Institute Rector Dmitry Shvidkovsky said that today Russian and Italian architects cooperate as much as in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“In MArchI, around 60 joint graduation theses are being defended with the Universities of Torino, Milano, Rome, and Palermo. On top of English and French, our students are actively learning Italian. Many of our graduates establish Russian-Italian joint architectural firms that make a strong impact at the Moscow and Saint Petersburg markets. They offer design of interiors, mansions, offices and large industrial enterprises,” said Dmitry Shvidkovsky.

Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Saint Petersburg Paola Cioni proposed to expand the dialogue maintained between the academic communities of the two countries.

“I suggest to hold annual conferences for Italian and Russian specialists in history, architecture and philology. This is especially important in view of the fact that Russia lacks scholars who study Italy, notably its history of the 19th and 20th centuries. On the contrary, Italy has a lot of slavists but only a few historians. In my function as the director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Saint Petersburg, I believe that it is very important to arrange a series of such conferences and invite, along with the most acclaimed slavists, the young scholars as well,” stated Paola Cioni.

The conference also discussed the bright example of cooperation between the Russian and Italian culture activists — a family union of the Italian scriptwriter Tonino Guerra and Soviet cinematographer Eleonora Yablochkina. Tonino Guerra created scenarios for such world cinema masterpieces as Amarcord by Federico Fellini, Blowup by Michelangelo Antonioni and Nostalgia by Andrey Tarkovsky. Tonino Guerra’s widow Eleonora Guerra became an honorary guest of the conference.

“By whim of fate, I had lived with a genius for 40 years, and all this time I had to pretend that I understood everything. I was present at the conception of these scenarios and films.

We started working with Andrey Tarkovsky on his Nostalgia. I was fortunate to translate for them and accompany them for almost three years. They never had fights between each other. When they felt like arguing, I was the one who listened to them. It was Andrey’s “birth”, his first film abroad. As he explained, “In Russia I told everything I could, I need to speak to the world.”

I saw the birth of this revelation, a true revelation and happiness from creating beauty. “Beauty is already a prayer” is one of the last phrases that Tonino used to repeat,” told Eleonora Guerra.

Another symbol of cooperation between the Russian and Italian cinematographers is The Red Tent feature film. The Forum included a ceremony celebrating the 90th anniversary of rescue of Umberto Nobile’s Italian expedition team by the Krasin icebreaker and a meeting with actors of The Red Tent.

The Arctic expedition led by Umberto Nobile took place in 1928. Participants of the expedition reached the North Pole on Italia zeppelin, however on the way back it crashed. Several vessels set out to rescue of the expedition, but only the Soviet Krasin icebreaker was capable of completing the mission and saving the surviving Arctic researchers.

We are recalling one of the noblest pages in the 20th century history, which bears all the symbolism of the profound ties between Russia and Italy. This page had such a huge impact on the history of our art that it had to be captured in The Red Tent. Interaction with Russia is very significant for us, and it showed during the events held within this VII Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum where we participated as the Guest Country. I thank everyone for this night which draws a conclusion to all the Italian events. This encounter is one of the many bridges that will join our countries in the future,” said State Secretary of the Ministry for Cultural Legacy of Italy Lucia Borgonzoni.

40 years later, the expedition’s history became a background for the Soviet-British-Italian film The Red Tent. The film appeared to be the last work of the film director Mikhail Kalatozov, winner of Palme d’Ors of the Cannes Film Festival. Starring in the film were Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Yuri Vizbor, Eduard Martsevich and Claudia Cardinale.

“On this date we commemorate the tragic and at the same time stirring event — rescue of the Nobile’s zeppelin crew. Many years have passed after the filming, and I recall extreme weather conditions which were a veritable shock for me, a Tunisian native. I remember interrupting the work to change our clothes that was too thin; I remember the taste of vodka that the actors used to drink to get warmer and bear the cold; I remember meeting the Russia previously unknown to me, its landscapes.

Fate of the zeppelin is the story of a great tragedy and at the same time the great human solidarity. As it always is, rescuing other people’s lives can be at the cost of lives of the rescuers; there is some magic that still urges people to overcome fear of their own death in order to save their fellow human being. And certainly the greatest expression of solidarity and human fellowship is to remember the victims of this expedition today, together with all of you,” said Claudia Cardinale.

Open Lectures Culture 2.0 included a lecture by Paolo Genovese “Italian Cinema of the Third Millennium”. The film director established himself in 2016, when his film Perfetti Sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers) collected all the main film prizes in Italy and became a hit at the international film festivals. After the success of this film the director became a prominent personality in Hollywood, and in 2017 he released his new film The Place.

Paolo Genovese told about the difficulties that a film director encounters after making a successful work that earned public recognition.

“After a big success, everyone seems to be waiting for you to make something similar. I was offered to remake Perfect Strangers as a series or a theatrical play; there was a risk to stick in this project. I decided that my next work would be very far removed from the Perfect Strangers. My film The Place tells a completely different story, a drama instead of a comedy.

I believe that one has to make something entirely different to “overcome” one’s success. You risk disappointing the public that will come see your film because they liked what they have already seen. But if you manage to make a good work, clever public will appreciate it,” said Paolo Genovese.