Torino Film Festival Mixes Militant Cinema With More Mainstream Movies

Italy’s Torino Film Festival, the pre-eminent event for young directors and indie cinema — now being revamped after going virtual due to the pandemic — will somewhat symbolically kick off its upcoming 39th edition with the international premiere of “Sing 2” with director Garth Jennings in tow.

“It’s a hymn to going back into movie theaters,” says Torino artistic director Stefano Francia di Celle on choosing the animated musical comedy, featuring more than 40 rock, rap and pop tunes, as opener for the Nov. 26-Dec. 4 event. It will be Italy’s first festival held in venues with 100% seating capacity since COVID-19 struck.

“Sing 2,” he points out, is also only the second feature helmed by Jennings, who cut his teeth in the indie world making videos for many of the best pop acts of the 1990s such as Blur, Radiohead and Beck, before he was able to get Universal on board for his impressive “Sing” debut.

Over the years Torino has always mixed what Di Celle calls “militant” indie cinema with more mainstream and genre movies.

Genre masters such as John Carpenter, Joe Dante and John Landis have all been guests. But from the outset the fest’s real mission has been to discover, and give visibility to, promising rookies. Todd Haynes and Alexander Payne both trekked to Torino early in their careers and Italy’s Luca Guadagnino, Michelangelo Frammartino (“Il Buco”) and Pietro Marcello (“Martin Eden”) got a crucial early boost from their Torino launches.

Torino’s 12-title competition this year comprises mostly first works, several of which have surfaced elsewhere. These include dark comedy “El Planeta” by Spanish-Argentine artist Amalia Ulman, a Sundance standout; absurdist Egyptian female empowerment pic “Feathers” by Omar El Zohairy, that made a splash at Cannes; and Costa Rica-set tale of sexual awakening “Clara Sola” by Nathalie Álvarez Mesén. His next project, “The Wolf Will Tear Your Immaculate Hands,” will be pitched at the Torino Film Lab incubator linked to the fest that has gained global prominence by spawning works including “Titane” helmer Julia Ducournau’s debut “Raw.” Italian newcomer Matteo Fresi’s “The Mute Man of Sardinia,” about a real 19th-century Sardinian bandit who was a deaf-mute since birth and involves fierce family feuding as well as romance, will have its world premiere.

The fest’s two-pronged mission is “to explore new auteurs around the world and give space to Italian directors at their first or second film,” Di Celle says. He is particularly happy to be feting Monica Bellucci with a prize for artistic innovation as the iconic Italian actor has been “experimenting more than usual.” In her latest film “The Girl in the Fountain,” directed by Italy’s Antongiulio Panizzi, she plays another icon, the late Anita Ekberg, a role for which she dyed her hair blonde.

Di Celle calls this hybrid doc set for a buzzy Torino bow “a dialogue at a distance between two divas who have experienced — and in Bellucci’s case are still experiencing — great celebrity.” As for “militant” pics, there will be lots of works on display experimenting with alternative forms of cinema in sections titled Incubator and Heretical Screens. Also plenty of docs and shorts, plus an Italian vintage cinema component.

Torino’s bent for experimental filmmaking will see a retro dedicated to Lebanese visual artists and filmmaking duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, known for “The Lebanese Rocket Society” and more recently “Memory Box,” their multi-layered exploration of memory made with journals, letters and audio recordings while growing up in 1980s Beirut.