Movies are coming from more than 150 filmmakers from 11 countries

Martino Lurani Cernuschi, a composer on the film “The Grand Bolero,” plays a modern organ at the church San Carlo al Lazzaretto, in Milano. He’s also the owner of the only theatre organ in Italy.
Photo courtesy “The Grand Bolero”

By Marty Cheek

When it was launched in 2004, the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival was a simple, small-town celebration of cinema. During the past 18 years, it has grown into an arts and entertainment event globally recognized by independent filmmakers.

This year’s Poppy Jasper runs from April 6 to April 13 in various venues in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Juan Bautista and Hollister. Guests will enjoy a plethora of independent shorts and feature-length films — 193 from 30 countries — as well as attending panel discussions where they can learn about the art and craft of cinematic story-telling from the men and women who make the movies.

“We have more than 150 filmmakers attending who have RSVP-ed with me,” said the festival’s director Mattie Scariot. “They come from 11 countries, five states and a lot from California. We have filmmakers from Iran, Mexico, China, and Italy. We have four groups of filmmakers coming from England.”

Photo courtesy “The Grand Bolero”
Producer Fulvio Biavaschi, left, and cinematographer Jessica La Malfa discuss a scene of the movie.

Some of the filmmakers will be staying with local people as guests in their homes. Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley offered to have filmmakers at her home, and she will host a young filmmaker from Mission Viejo who made a comedy horror film.

Among the Italian filmmakers is Gabriele Fabbro, who co-wrote (with Ydalie Turk) and directed the 2021 romantic thriller film “The Grand Bolero.”

“It’s one of the most beautiful films and incredibly well done,” Scariot said. “And Gabriele did it during the pandemic. It’s really good.”

The story takes place in Italy during the COVID-19 lockdown. A gruff middle-aged pipe organ restorer named Roxanne (played by Lidia Vitale) struggles to control her obsessive attraction to Lucia, her new 20-year-old mute assistant (played by Ludovica Mancini).

Film reviewer Jason Delgado on wrote of the film: “The superb performances by Lidia Vitale and Ludovica Mancini, alongside the expert craftsmanship of Gabriele Fabbro, drive the majority of ‘The Grand Bolero.’ Vitale is like a fireball of rage, whose walls meltdown in a subtle but lovely fashion. Mancini gives an exuberant, almost silent film-era performance (but not quite as animated) due to her character’s mute nature.”

Music is an important component in the film’s story, Fabbro said, explaining that he treated the film score as part of the script.

Photo courtesy “The Grand Bolero”
Above: Actresses Ludovica Mancini (left) and Lidia Vitale film a scene for “The Grand Bolero,” a romantic suspense film directed by Italian filmmaker Gabriele Fabbro. It will be shown several times at this year’s festival.

“I can’t communicate emotions as well as music does and I don’t think there’s anything that can,” he said. “In all my movies I really try to craft the storyline with the music progression. With this film, especially because it is so musically based, this was the perfect opportunity to showcase that. If people are going to watch the film there’s one thing I want them to feel is the connection between the visuals and the music. Hopefully, by the end of the film, they will open their eyes to the music itself, more than the visuals.”

The film’s composer Sean Goldman received from Fabbro an early version of the script. Reading through the script and having discussions on the characters helped him develop ideas for the score.

“Before the shooting started, we were already putting ideas down,” he said. “What this process allows me to do is spend a lot of time imagining I’m the character and what am I feeling. Having the time just to process those emotions and have them come out on the score was a really nice thing for me to do.”

As the mute Lucia, Mancini found herself learning British sign language, which helped her understand the character’s strengths and weaknesses. This is the Rome-based actress’s first feature film performance.

“I learned so much from Lucia,” the actress said. “My challenge was to put my impression on music, which is the thing that I have for acting. I started to build my character from the needs of Lucia. She wants to be loved. She wants to be accepted. And above all she wants to become an organist.”

Fabbro found himself inspired to write the film’s script when in early 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to return to his native Italy from Los Angeles when his student visa expired. A “mix of things” helped him develop the film, especially his desire to create a story that featured the wonders of the pipe organ and the haunting music it can make.

“I knew if I really wanted to do a feature, that the pandemic really provided the time,” he said. “As soon as I was back in L.A., I knew I would need to find work so I could pay bills. I couldn’t imagine myself really devoting my full time to a feature film. I think that was the start of writing.”

Both Fabbro and Goldman plan to attend the Poppy Jasper to show off  “The Grand Bolero” to audiences.

The film will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 9, and 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at The District Theater in downtown Gilroy.