A graduate in Filmology at the University of Trieste, Beatrice Fiorentino is a film critic and freelance journalist. She has taught audiovisual and cinematographic language at the Università del Litorale of Koper in Slovenia and she now collaborates with magazines and newspapers such as “8 e ½,” “Artribune,” “CinecittàNews,” “Il manifesto” and “Il Piccolo.” Since 2015, she has been curating “Nuove Impronte”, a section of ShorTS – International Film Festival, devoted to the emerging talents in Italian cinema. In 2014, she won the Akai Prize for Best Film Critic at the 71st Venice Film Festival and she has been part of the “Film della Critica” panel of the National Union of Italian Film Critics since 2015. She has been running events, presentations and film festivals for a range of cultural organizations. She has been part of the selection committee of the International Critics’ Week in Venice since 2016.
Tara Karajica talks to Beatrice Fiorentino about her work for the Venice Critics’ Week, her work as film critic and women in film today.
How did you get into film?
Beatrice Fiorentino: It’s a long story, but I’ll make it short. It was love at first sight. I started being passionate about cinema when I was a child, particularly watching Hollywood classics on TV: Ford, Wilder, my beloved Nicholas Ray… I would watch whatever I could and since then, I have never stopped. I was fascinated by cinema, which, for me, has become a sort of shelter over the years. I always wanted to be part of that world, although I didn’t know how. I was watching films purely driven by instinct and pleasure until I got to university, where I studied cinema under the teachings of a great critic, Alberto Farassino. At that time, I also engaged in a cultural association dealing with cinema in the town where I lived. Since then, cinema has become the focus of my studies and discovery and a few years later, my profession.
The purpose of Venice Critics’ Week is to “discover new talents, to distinguish emerging trends within the extensive international panorama of cinema, to promote the dissemination of quality films.” Can you talk about that? What were the discoveries the Venice Critics’ Week has made of the years?
B.F.: At the Venice Critics’ Week, we deal with first features only and discovering the filmmakers of the future is our mission. We like challenges, risks and the unknown the most. We are excited by what is courageous, even if it is not perfect. Imperfection pushes one to go forward and improve, to explore new possibilities. We are open to the “new” and what we call “cinema of the present.” It’s our “invitation to a trip,” as Giona A. Nazzaro, the general delegate of the section I have been lucky to work for since 2016, often says. The Critics’ Week is in its 34th edition this year. Many current well-known directors made their first steps in this section: Olivier Assayas, Abdellatif Kechice, Harmony Korine, Pedro Costa, Bryan Singer, only to mention a few. More recently, we are very proud to have hosted filmmakers like Keiwan Karimi, Bertrand Mandico or Ala Eddine Slim, that are now enjoying widespread recognition on the international festival circuit.
What is the selection process like? What do you look for in a film? What is the programming strategy?
B.F.: We work during the whole year. There is first a research phase, then we move to pre-selection and finally, just between June and July, we deal with the actual selection. It’s a great team! Beside Giona, who sets the line, the selecting committee is composed of four people. Of course, each of us has his/her own vision and defends an idea of cinema, but we work together in a relaxed and harmonious atmosphere. We esteem and respect each other, and each of us brings a different contribution to the team discussion. Very rarely do we vote on a film as every decision comes from a shared process. Choices are spontaneous. What do we seek in a film? Freedom, willingness to explore new storytelling, courage, plurality… A brand new view on reality.
How do you make a program that appeals to audiences and filmmakers alike?
B.F.: We try to stick to our rules of engagement, but to also continuously renew them. Thanks to the work delivered in the previous editions, we think – hope – we can be recognizable and coherent, but not predictable. Thus, the public that comes to the Week knows what to expect and accepts to be challenged with curiosity and openness. Also, the filmmakers know that we want them to get out from their comfort zone and try to go beyond their limits.
What can you say about this year’s selection?
B.F.: It’s a selection in touch with the times, addressing the chaos that troubles the world. A selection which listens to hints that come from the time being, but also from History and memory. A selection linked to the concrete reality, but also free to follow fantastic and metaphysical dimensions.
What is a good film, according to you?
B.F.: A good film challenges conventionality; it’s an act of love and trust towards images.
Can you talk about your work as film critic?
B.F.: I’m a freelance working for different media: newspapers and specialized magazines. My language changes according to the readers, but my mission is the same: attract the public to cinema, push them to get out of their comfort zone, too.
What is the best thing about the Venice Critics’ Week?
B.F.: Courage. Restlessness. Curiosity.
What is the audience’s response to it?
B.F.: Touching openness.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film this past year and a half. What is your opinion on the subject?
B.F.: It’s a broad discussion and in a perfect world, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Men and women should have a place in society naturally and equally, based on competence and without any discrimination. But we know that, unfortunately, it’s not like that. I think the time for radical cultural change has come, and in cinema such change should come before selections at festivals and production funding criteria. In society, this change should come from the acceptance that women can thrive in their working life outside the family – or in a balance with it – just like men. This shouldn’t be an exception. We should rewrite the rules. We have to get out of the mainstream white heterosexual male dominant model, and this is not important for women only – it would benefit the whole society. But we are still facing huge resistance, and in my own country, Italy, probably even more than elsewhere.
Do you operate by quotas in your selection? Are you mindful of the presence of female filmmakers in your selection?
B.F.: No, we don’t consider quotas. We don’t like them, as many women don’t. But we think we have been gender balanced in our selections, close to a full balance. The female filmmakers we have presented over the past few years have left a mark: Anna Eriksson, Helena Wittmann, Katarina Wyss, Deborah Haywood, Natalia Garagiola, Alice Lowe and we have four out of nine female directors in our line-up this year. We choose quality, but we are also actively looking for filmmakers that might pass unperceived or under the official radars. We know they are out there and we are looking for them. We look for male and female talented filmmakers, and we are able to found them. But we still need more female directors.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your film by a female filmmaker?
B.F.: I like Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman and Claire Denis, for instance. At the last Cannes Film Festival, I was struck by the excellent work of Mati Diop in Atlantics and Céline Sciamma in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a film with no men at all, which raised visible discomfort and intolerance in the male audience. It was very interesting to see that. But my favorite female filmmaker is definitely Kathryn Bigelow, notably in the first part of her filmography: The Loveless, Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days.