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Luana Bisesti • Director, Trento Film Festival

“We care about everything that’s above sea level”

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- We talked to the director of the oldest international film festival dedicated to the mountains, adventure and exploration, which has just wrapped its 70th edition

Luana Bisesti • Director, Trento Film Festival
(© Michele Purin/Trento Film Festival)

Celebrating its 70th edition with a slew of events and screenings, the Trento Film Festival, the oldest international film festival dedicated to the mountains, adventure and exploration, saw Nicolás Molina’s Gaucho Americano win the Golden Gentian for Best Film. The Jury Prize was awarded to Lassù by Bartolomeo Pampaloni, while the event was kick-started with a screening of the restored Italia K2 by Marcello Baldi, from 1954. The full list of winners can be found here. We spoke to the festival’s director, Luana Bisesti.

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Cineuropa: What exactly has changed here over the course of the last few years? Are there more films or more special events?
Luana Bisesti:
Everything has changed, in a way. We have opened up so much towards young people, students and families. Our audience is much younger now. In the last ten or 12 years, we have started to be more interdisciplinary. Also, when you say “mountain”, people come up with this triangular shape in their heads, but our interest is broader than that. We refer to “high lands” more and more often because it explains a bit better what we are trying to do. We care about everything that’s above sea level. Or even below it, actually – after all, you can also find mountains under the sea [laughs].

Was it crucial for this festival – which, after all, is very specific – to open up a bit more?
When I took over, that change was already under way. From a niche festival aimed at a very specific group of people, especially those interested in mountaineering and exploration, there has been this shift to a wider audience. If you remain too closed off, you will lose something along the way – including the viewers.

For the longest time, this event was the only chance for these people to see their idols, all of these incredible personalities. There was no television, no internet, so they would come here to see Riccardo Cassin, Walter Bonatti, all those greats from the 1950s, 1960 and 1970s, bringing recordings of their travels. Today, thanks to technology, we can almost climb alongside them if we want to.

It’s difficult to explain the appeal of the mountains to someone who doesn’t love them. It seems that all of these well-known mountaineers, like Reinhold Messner, come here for the community, too.
There is this saying, nemo propheta in patria [no man is a prophet in his own land]. This event is probably better known abroad than it is in Italy, and it has never been hard to get these famous people involved. Mostly because there is already this brand and this tradition. I understand that for so-called “normal people”, it’s difficult to understand their motivations sometimes. Why would someone risk their own life, and the lives of others? Especially if it’s a woman with a family, for example. But these female mountaineers keep telling us: “Family is important, but we feel complete when we reach that peak or achieve another goal.” I have been listening to these testimonials for so many years, and even today, I don’t understand what drives them. It’s this fire they have inside them. Either you have it or you don’t.

Do you share this affection?
I actually prefer the sea! It’s funny because I was driving with my son today, and he asked me: “Mum, but was this festival so well-known already when you started working there? Did you always know you were going to do this?” So now, it seems that you are asking me the exact same thing.

I used to work in Milan, at the university, and then I came back for personal reasons – I wanted to take care of my grandmother. I ran into someone I knew one day and heard that the “Mountain Festival”, as it was known back then, was looking for someone. I’ve always enjoyed the organisational side of events; I have this ability, I guess. But you also develop a passion for what you are doing.

The films you show here are quite varied – you have mountaineering documentaries but also arthouse fare.
As I’ve said before, this festival sets out to satisfy a varied audience. There will be family-friendly, monumental documentaries, but also niche titles, which are peculiar and not exactly easy to watch – the kind that our head of programming, Sergio Fant, enjoys the most. The idea, also the one behind the programme, is never to give answers. Perhaps that’s also the festival’s mission. It has to educate, and there are many levels to that, just like with literature. Some only read novelettes, which is perfectly fine, while others favour philosophy. You try to cater to all of these different curiosities, also because in a small town like ours, it’s one of the few occasions when you can see some of these titles.

Many years ago, at the festival, you would see all of these people dressed as if they were about to go hiking. I have seen them this year, too, and I guess that’s how you show you are part of that group. But our festival doesn’t just belong to one single tribe any more.

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