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Francis Ford Coppola in Basilicata on PBS

The Sassi of Matera

 

The region of Basilicata will be featured this weekend in the PBS show “Dream of Italy.” Host Kathy McCabe explores the stunning landscapes and culinary traditions of the ancient region also known as Lucania.

McCabe tours the ancient Sassi of Matera, the towns of the Dolomite Lucani and meets up with Frances Ford Coppola at his resort Palazzo Margherita. Located in Bernalda, the town of Coppola’s Italian origins, McCabe strolls through the resort’s enchanting grounds with the great maestro of cinema and talks with local culinary experts about the pure, locally produced food.

Palazzo Margherita

Since beginning our series “Basilicata: Land of Cinema” back in 2015, I’ve visited Bernalda twice and spent a weekend at Palazzo Margherita, which I found to be an extraordinary utopia of culture, food and cinema. The town itself has an atmosphere of wonderment. As you explore the narrow streets lined with well-kept homes and charming churches, you get the feeling of being transported through time. With distant views of the Ionian sea, it truly feels like an untouched corner of paradise. My much-anticipated stay at Palazzo Margherita was like something out of a dream. Everything is so beautiful and articulately maintained. The regional food is simple yet decadent and the staff makes you feel like family. However, my most cherished memory is having watched Francesco Rosi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli” in a lavish private screening room. Adapted from the novel by Carlo Levi, which he wrote during his exile from the Fascist controlled North, the story recounts the extreme poverty of Basilicata in the 1930s and the resilient spirit of its people. Seeing the movie at Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda was a deeply moving experience, knowing my great-grandparents left that very poverty and experiencing first-hand how those strong-spirited people turned that poverty into the modern, intriguing region that Basilicata has become today.

Interestingly, Coppola’s cousins in Basilicata are also prolific filmmakers. Gaetano and Michele Russo have been making films for years. Gaetano shares Coppola’s passion for winemaking and has worked on several cinema projects promoting the wine industry of Basilicata. Gaetano Russo has taken his cameras into the vineyards surrounding the Monte Vulture where the DOC and DOCG wine Aglianico del Vulture is produced, exploring how profoundly connected the inhabitants of the surrounding towns are to the land. Michele Russo is Gaetano’s younger brother and pride and joy. Michele recently made a documentary about Coppola’s Italian origins in Bernalda. “The Family Whistle” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 and has been shown at film festivals throughout the world, including the Boston International Film Festival where it picked up the prize for Best Cinematography.

 

Michele Russo interviews Frances Ford Coppola for “The Family Whistle.”

 

Carlo Levi wrote in his novel, “Lucania seems to me more than any other, a true place, one of the most real places in the world.” (La Lucania mi pare più di ogni altro, un luogo vero, uno dei luoghi più veri del mondo.)  Truer words were never spoken and this is why the presence in Basilicata feels so warm and welcoming. Thanks to journalists like Kathy McCabe, people from every corner of the globe are traveling to Basilicata to experience its wonder and warmth.

“Dream of Italy” will air this weekend on PBS affiliates throughout the United States. Check your local listings for details or watch the episode is right here on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pilwqLpPCJg.

 

About Jeannine Guilyard

Jeannine Guilyard is a longtime correspondent for Fra Noi and the Italian-American community newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. She has also contributed to the Italian Tribune of New Jersey, Italian Tribune of Michigan and L'Italo Americano of Southern California. Jeannine wrote and directed the short film "Gelsomina," which was selected for the Screenings Program of the 59th Venice Film Festival, and she won Emmy and Peabody awards as an editor of ABC's "Special Report" following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jeannine is also a writer and editor for Italian Cinema Today, a publication and blog she founded in 2005 to bridge culture between New York and Italy. Follow her on Instagram at Italianartcinema and on Twitter at @ItaloCinema2day.

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