Three-time filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher has earned plenty of fans over the course of her career: The Cannes Film Festival programmed her last two films, “The Wonders” and this year’s “Happy as Lazzaro,” and the New York Film Festival, which welcomed her as its 2016 artist-in-residence. But as she brings her dreamy, time-spanning “Lazzaro” to both NYFF and an upcoming Netflix release, she’s picked up another notable admirer: Martin Scorsese.
As the film enters the awards season fray, Scorsese has joined the project as an executive producer. It’s not the first time he’s lent his attention and name to the work of a rising filmmaker. In 2017, Scorsese launched his Emerging Filmmaker Fund — a joint venture with Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira — which celebrated its first film project with another Cannes regular, Jonas Carpignano’s drama “A Ciambra.” That film premiered in Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight section, where it was picked up for U.S. distribution by IFC Films.
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Rohrwacher said Scorsese joined the project after it was completed, and screened it as part of his continuing interest in supporting up-and-coming filmmakers.
“He provided great enthusiasm,” she said via translator. “He really wanted to support this movie, which he deeply loved. To me, having such a great maestro and master of cinema, somebody who’s deeply committed to the protection of cinema as a way to preserve memory, it was such a huge joy. Just knowing that somebody of his caliber loved the movie.”
Even before establishing his fund, Scorsese’s dedication to nurturing the next generation of indie filmmakers has been reflected by his producing efforts. His support for Kenneth Lonergan’s troubled drama “Margaret” was one of the more consistent elements of a fraught film, and he’s recently produced films like Angus MacLachlan’s “Abundant Acreage Available,” Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire,” and Kent Jones’ “Diane.”
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“Happy as Lazzaro” is in contention to be picked by Italy as its best foreign-language film, and if the country’s committee chooses Rohrwacher’s film, it will be the first time they’ve chosen a female-directed film since Cristina Comencini’s “The Beast in the Heart” (AKA “Don’t Tell”), 13 years ago. In the last 70 years, Italy has submitted only five films by women to the Academy.
“This year, there’s a lot of very important movies, so I do try not to think about it too much,” the filmmaker said. “I stick to the daily grind, to my work, I focus on what there’s still to be done. Of course, it would be a really beautiful experience, it would be fantastic, but I do know that there’s just as many other movies which are very beautiful that came out this year and there are also candidates for Italy for the Oscars. Let’s just say I’m just very curious to see what the committee will decide to do.”
Curiosity aside, Rohrwacher is invested in the conversations that her nomination might stir up in a country. On the heels of another Venice Film Festival marked by an absence of female filmmakers, Rohrwacher was happy to call out the problem.
“Of course, Italy is a country in which the number of female filmmakers is very, very low but this a question that should be asked to men, whereas it’s usually asked to women,” Rohrwacher said. “We’re always asked why is there so few of you as woman filmmakers but it should be asked to men, why is that?”
“Happy As Lazzaro” will screen at the New York Film Festival next week. Netflix will release the film in the U.S. on November 30.