Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The Catanzaro Film Festival

Founder of the Catanzaro Film Festival Gianvito Casadonte should be considered as a role model for Egyptian young people, writes Zahi Hawass


The Catanzaro Film Festival
The Catanzaro Film Festival

We can all learn from Gianvito Casadonte, the founder of the Catanzaro Film Festival in Italy, and how he serves his country. What he has accomplished should be duplicated by young people in Egypt. 

Casadonte’s story began 15 years ago when he was 24 years old and started to plan how his small town, Catanzaro, could be made known all over the world. Catanzaro is located in southern Italy and overlooks the Gulf of Squillace in the Ionian Sea.

Casadonte began a film festival in the town that grew year by year until it became an international festival. He was able to bring in sponsors from companies, banks, radio stations and other organisations, and he also began to invite film stars to the festival both from Italy and from Hollywood. Today, the Catanzaro Film Festival runs every year for 10 days from the end of July to the beginning of August, and Casadonte is a great organiser because he ensures that all the arrangements are made to heighten people’s enjoyment. There are also specific job descriptions for all those involved.

He chooses four or five film stars to present films at the festival, and each one presents his or her life and gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions. Afterwards, the person walks on a red carpet to an event located near the Ionian Sea attended by over 5,000 people. Each is received by Casadonte, who presents him or her with an award called the Golden Pillar.

I was invited to the Festival this year and last by Casadonte, and last year I gave a presentation about a story called The Lotus and the Papyrus by Italian author Francesco Santocono. The novel refers to a struggle between the Theban ruling family in ancient Egypt headed by Seqenenre and the Hyksos who ruled Lower Egypt for about 150 years in antiquity. Seqenenre began the struggle against them, but he was betrayed by a character created by Francesco called Setnakht.

In the novel, the ancient Egyptian queen Tetisheri finds out that this character had betrayed Egypt, but she decides not to have him killed. He should be allowed to live until Egypt was victorious over the Hyksos, she said. Ahmose, the son of Seqenenre, eventually defeats the Hyksos, and they are driven out of Egypt. An opera based on this story will soon be performed on the Giza Plateau in the Sound and Light Theatre in front of the Sphinx. Meanwhile, at the festival Casadonte invited me onto the red carpet and I received the Golden Pillar award to applause from the audience.

This year, Casadonte decided that the festival should host four famous people, the first being the US actor Richard Dreyfuss who won an Oscar for his performance in the film The Goodbye Girl and is known for his role in Jaws. Dreyfuss is a likeable, modest man, and he is married to a beautiful Russian lady. The second person who was invited was Oliver Stone, a producer and film director who has won three Oscars. The third was the Italian actor Pier Francesco Favino, and the fourth was the writer of this article.

I could not attend the presentation by Dreyfuss, but I attended the event when he received the Golden Pillar award, and later on I was able to meet him in Los Angeles where he attended my talk called “Night at the Museum” at the Science Centre where the treasures of Tutankhamun were being exhibited. However, I did attend the presentation by Oliver Stone, and I met him before the event at a dinner party organised by Casadonte in a small town in the mountains.

This town has a beautiful old church dedicated to St Barbara who was being celebrated this year. At the dinner, I sat with Stone and his Korean wife. However, our conversation perhaps did not go well, because he told me that I looked like Cesar Romero, and I told him that this was the first time I had heard this. He then said he had had two bad experience visiting Egypt. I said that I was happy to hear that, because I had met thousands of people from all over the world who love Egypt, and it did not matter that one person had not.

His wife told me later that the bad experience had been when he had been invited to the El Gouna Film Festival last year and the Cairo International Film Festival. Stone also said that he knew where the tomb of Alexander the Great was located, claiming that it was in an area outside Egypt. I believe he said he thought it was between Jordan and Syria. This was not acceptable in my view, because Stone was talking to an archaeologist who should know the subject better. We have evidence indicating that Alexander the Great was buried in Alexandria.

I gave a presentation on my work at the festival, and this was well-attended. In the evening, Casadonte arranged for me to walk on the red carpet. This time, I announced an Egyptian-Italian project to produce an opera on the ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun. I talked about the opera and gave some information on the scenario. The first scene opens with the birth of the king at Amarna, with later scenes showing queen Nefertiti upset because the boy would take the throne from her and her daughters.

A priest of Aten suggests contacting the king of Kush to kill the newborn child. A group of killers comes from Kush to Amarna, but they are caught and killed. The Pharaoh Akhenaten then dies, and Nefertiti takes the throne by force. She is then killed, and Tutankhamun ascends to the throne as the rightful heir. He is informed about the conspiracy led by the king of Kush, and Tutankhamun then ventures forth at the head of an army to finish him off. He comes back victorious, and the country celebrates the victory.

Later, Tutankhamun himself dies, and Ay wants to marry Ankhesenamun, but she refuses the old priest. She sends a letter to the king of the Hittites, requesting to marry his son. However, the Hittite king does not believe that the queen of Egypt would marry a foreigner, though he sends his son to Egypt nevertheless. The son is killed before he arrives, and the last scene in the opera shows the victory and glory of Egypt.

I asked Francesco Santocono, who will compose the libretto for the opera, to come onto the stage during my presentation, along with Lino Zimbone, the composer. We announced that the opera will be an Egyptian-Italian co-production and that it is hoped it can be performed at the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau. 4 November 2022 will see the centennial of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, and there will be worldwide celebrations of this occasion. The opera will be a perfect part of these.

The festival continued, and Silvia Bizio, a famous writer and journalist living in Los Angeles, introduced the presentations by Dreyfuss and Stone. This was the 15th festival, and it is always dedicated to a famous Italian actor or director. Last year it was Marcello Mastroianni, and this year it was Vittorio De Sica. Casadonte had invited many famous Italian actors and actresses. I met Stella Egitto, a famous young actress who had participated with me at the Taormina Film Festival to introduce The Lotus and the Papyrus. There was also the famous actor Italian actor Alessandro Haber, often called the Anthony Quinn of Italy.

Every young Egyptian should learn from Casadonte and how he has served his city and country in founding this film festival. He has become a symbol for all, and because of his success he was chosen to be the director of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. There are some 3,000 film festivals in Italy today, and it is often said that the most prominent are in Venice, Rome and Napoli. However, I think Casadonte has made the Catanzaro Film Festival the best.

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