Sugar Land might not be the first place one thinks of as the site for an Italian film festival, but thanks to the determined efforts of some local residents, it has become a reality.
The Umbria in Sugar Land film festival kicked off Wednesday night with a screening of the film, My Italy, at the Sugar Land Auditorium, preceded by an "Aperitivo Reception" at nearby Lonnie Green Park, where festival goers sampled Peroni beer, wines, and cheeses from Italy's Umbria region as well as Italian hors d'oeuvres prepared by Casetta Catering.
Six more films will be shown through Sunday at the Sugar Land Auditorium, a historical 1918 building in the heart of the original town, with a free screening of I Have Friends in Heaven (Ho Amici in Paradiso) at the Sugar Land Town Square Plaza on Saturday night (September 30) at 7 pm. All films are in Italian with English subtitles. (Single tickets are $8-$20. For a full schedule, click here.)
"The goal of this festival is to show to people that in Italy we still have good moviemakers," said Donatella Cocchini, founder and president of the Festival del Cinema Città di Spello e dei Borghi Umbri.
The festival landed in Sugar Land after Cocchini spoke with her longtime friend Manuela Tentoni, who works for Consulate General of Italy in Houston, about bringing it to the United States. Tentoni contacted her friend, Sugar Land resident Tiziana Triolo, who pushed to bring it to the Houston suburb.
"It was a passion project," said Lindsay Davis, cultural arts manager for the City of Sugar Land. "The region of Umbria had been looking for a perfect venue like this. And cultural arts is a initiative for the city of Sugar Land. Having a multi-day film festival is something that not only fits the cultural initiatives of the city but also the economic development."
"Being a citizen of Sugar Land, I have a dual goal," Triolo explained. "One is to bring my culture to Sugar Land and share at least a piece of Italy, the region of Umbria. At the same time, my goal is to have this festival grow in the future and have tourism from the nation and from all around Texas here in Sugar Land."
A team of local and national judges under the leadership of Max Leonida selected Like Crazy (La Pazza Gioia) as Best Picture and Best Screenplay (it shows at 3 pm Saturday), Greenery Will Bloom Again (Torneranno i prati) in the category of Best Director (Friday at 7 pm), and Italian Race (Veloce come il vento) as Best Photography (it will close the festival Sunday at 2 pm).
Leonida, an Italian director who lives in Los Angeles, told the opening night crowd that after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, he thought the festival might be canceled. "Then you came to me saying, 'the show must go on.' What a fantastic lesson. I am truly flattered to be here today for the festival. I know you Texans are proud and tough, with a heart as big as your state," he said.
In addition to the screenings, filmmaking seminars will take place on Saturday (September 30), from 9:30 a.m. until noon. Topics include "The Art of Sound Effects" with Italian sound designer Matteo Bendinelli, a screening of Beyond plus a talkback with Sugar Land resident Adrian Pacini, and a filmmaking session with director Sergio Carvajal-Leoni.
The festival is a partnership with the City of Sugar Land, the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce, the International Film Festival of Spello (IFFS) and the Region of Umbria. For more information, visit the Umbria in Sugar Land website.
And check out this video from our news partners at ABC13.