20 cigarettes

Elysia Zeccola | Director, Italian Film Festival

The Italian Film Festival is an annual event much loved and highly an­ticipated by Italo-Australians, Italiophiles and film buffs – and this year’s fest is proving to be no exception. Current Director, Elysia Zeccola Hill, watched the festival grow from its infant beginning twelve years ago, un­der the stewardship of her fa­ther, and is still amazed at how popular the event has become.

“We are the largest Italian Film Festival outside Italy,” she says. “And now we can share these wonderful films with all major cities in Australia so that as many people as possible can enjoy these latest works across a range of categories; including the aesthetic, political, comedy or dramatic.”

With 31 new Italian films, including 29 features and 2 documentaries, plus 3 cult clas­sics and a short film, there are plenty of opportunities to sam­ple the latest offerings from an exclusively Italian menu.

“This is an eclectic collec­tion of films,” explains Hill, “And one of the favourite parts of my job is that I get to see them all!”

One of the favourites is writer and director Aureliano Amadei’s debut feature film 20 Cigarettes. After having experi­mented with the documentary style Amadei was ready to ex­pand into features and in 2003 was thrilled to be involved with a renowned filmmaker Stefano Rolla, who encouraged him to come take up a position as ‘as­sistant director’ on his new film to be made in Iraq. The film 20 Cigarettes is that story.

The journey from Rome to Iraq begins with trepidation for the aspiring film maker and only a day after arriving his world is thrown into turmoil as his group (Amadei, Rolla and the soldiers designated as their escorts) fall victim to a surprise ambush. There is only one sur­vivor who lives to tell the story: Amadei.

First released as a book, Amadei always had hoped that his story would find its way into the cinematic form and eight years later, it has.

“The book happened as a natural result of me being bed-ridden for almost two years,” he explains, “but my main passion has always been to direct and it became easy to translate an already very visual written text into a cinematic form.”

Although the screenplay was written by Amadei (along with four others) and directed by him as well, he made the con­scious decision not to act in this particular chapter of his life.

“I am a trained actor and graduate drama student but I just felt that it would have been too much,” he explains. “The engine of the whole project was the emotion and for the perfor­mance to be utterIy convincing I believe it was necessary for me to embrace the direction of the work as opposed to im­merse myself in it.

Festival Director Elysia Zec­cola Hill is also full of praise for Amadei’s work, calling it “one of the most gripping films of the year that resonates not only for Italians, but also Austra­lians, fighting in Iraq.”

Aptly named 20 Cigarettes, the film charts the journey of young Amadei from Rome to Iraq. While he enjoys his beer at the base, he reflects upon his future prospects as the cool night sky of the desert bids him goodnight; but also as soon as he becomes conscious that he is alive and the rest of his team is dead. As he smokes his pack, each cigarette is a vignette, a slice of life shared with view­ers as our protagonist seeks to make sense of the chaos sur­rounding him.

“Today I still smoke,” con­fesses Amadei. “Unfortunately that’s one of the things that hasn’t changed. By using this habit I hoped to provide a gate­way to understanding that the cigarette is just a way to get back to normal life, for me to get back to Rome, to get back to reality – even if that’s just for a few minutes.”

Watching 20 Cigarettes is a chance to experience Amadei’s life. A narrative that is much larger than the sum of its parts, this is a film worth watching not only for its finely crafted aesthetic, but because the qual­ity of the content is so gener­ously shared by its author and its makers.