An Interview with Alberto Zambenedetti
The Cinema Studies Institute welcomes one of its newest faculty members Alberto Zambenedetti (also cross-appointed to the Department of Italian Studies). This year, he is teaching CIN470H1F (Advanced Study in History and Nation: Time and the Human Condition), ITA240Y1Y (History of Italian Cinema), ITA340H1S (Italian Neorealist Cinema), and a graduate course in film, ITA1815HS (Issues in Italian Film Historiography: Mediterranean Noir).
We asked him to tell us a bit about himself.
What's your background in cinema? What are your areas of specialization, and what drew you to those areas?
My relationship with cinema goes as far back as some of my earliest memories. Although she does not have a formal education in film studies, my mother is a film lover with excellent taste, so from a very young age she exposed me to the joys of movie watching; when I was child she would let me stay up very late, or even skip school, to watch kid-friendly Hollywood classics on TV. My father did not like going to the movies, but whenever his frantic channel-surfing would land him on a Western, he would be simply mesmerized. In a way, I was almost bred to be a cinephile, for good or ill. I began writing on the Italian website Gli Spietati, which was founded in 2000 by a group of like-minded young critics who decided that the internet would be the best platform for their ruminations on the world of film. In the past 16 years, the site has grown to become one of the most reputable Italian-language sources for high-quality film criticism, and I still occasionally post festival dispatches, reviews, essays, and thinkpieces.
In a general sense, my current scholarly research focuses on the relationship between people and places, which translates into two different avenues of inquiry. On the one hand, I write on how Italian cinema has represented human mobility in all its forms (from migration to tourism); this was the subject of my dissertation, which I am in the process of expanding into a volume at the moment. On the other hand, I am interested in how cinema engages with environments, particularly urban, and in how the latter contribute in shaping the former (in a reversal of the customary way of understanding cinematic space). My double collaboration with the book series World Film Locations, of which I have edited the Florence and the Cleveland installments, stems from this particular passion. Lately I have devoted a great deal of my thinking to issues of temporality and affect in time-based media and philosophy, an “extracurricular” interest that was has blossomed into my course “Time and the Human Condition.” I suppose I was drawn to issues of mobility by my own deracinated condition, and similarly the custom of putting great stock into environments, both intellectually and affectively, is symptomatic of the diasporic experience.
What are your top 3 favourite films of all time? Why?
I will have to cheat a bit in answering this question, because I don’t really have “favourite” films. I find that my relationships with films are constantly evolving, similarly to those I have with friends, colleagues, or family members. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we don’t see each other for a while, but then we get together and we reminisce about the past… In these terms, the films with which I share the fondest memories are 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968), Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway (1988), and Le mari de la coiffeuse by Patrice Leconte (1990). They are not necessarily the most erudite titles, but they are the ones with which I have the strongest personal connection.
What special topic courses would you love to teach in the near future?
I teach a variety of courses in Italian cinema, from a year-long history survey (ITA240) to some more fine-grained 300-level seminars, like “Gender and Genre in Italian Cinema” (ITA341) and “Italian Neorealist Cinema” (ITA340). At the graduate level I teach a course titled “The Mediterranean Noir” (Film Noir is one of my obsessions). I have been itching to teach a seminar on Italian maverick director and late-night maestro Tinto Brass, and a course on the “Global Cinematic City.”
What is your favourite film festival?
For obvious reasons, I must say that the Venice International Film Festival is my favourite, although I have not been able to attend it since 2002, when I left my hometown for good. I have covered TIFF twice for Gli Spietati, and it has been an immensely pleasurable experience. It is incredibly well-run and programmed, and I look forward to covering it every year. I love to hop from press screening to press screening, oftentimes not knowing what I am about to watch; I thoroughly enjoy being surprised by a film. For this reason, I often attend the Flaherty Seminar, which is build around the idea of blind screenings. It is my favourite summer activity.