Italy on screen

Nick Moretti and Dino Cesta are the epitome of living La Dolce Vita.

Nestled in a cafe at The Junction on a balmy Thursday morning, their conversation ambles from their families to wood-fired pizza, gelato, music and inevitably, Italian film.

In between full-time work and family responsibilities, Moretti and Cesta are organising Newcastle's third annual Italian Film and Cultural Festival to be held from November 16 to 18.

"It's great fun," Moretti tells Weekender in between sips of English Breakfast tea.

"We get to meet lots of people and it's a super feeling of satisfaction when it's done. You get a lot of good feedback from people who thank us for putting it on.

"The process is also fun to put it all together piece by piece. We start at the beginning of the year formulating plans.

"The wives are very tolerant - just!"

The pair aim to bring a taste of Italy to Newcastle, with a showcase of Italian music, art, coffee and cuisine under the sparkling Crown Street fairylights to complement the seven films that will screen at Tower Cinemas.

"We could have had a straight film festival but we thought let's add some more dimension to the experience, how can we somehow make it more appetising for people to learn more and experience the Italian culture?" Cesta says.

A reform manager with the Department of Defence, Cesta was the second of three boys born to parents who had emigrated separately to Hamilton from Abruzzo in the late 1950s.

Cesta's father was a carpenter who also worked in the Queensland cane fields and at BHP, while his mother worked at ELMA.

"They came out to a foreign land without understanding the language, without hardly a cent in their pocket or to their name, and had to start from scratch," he says.

"It would have been a very difficult experience coming out here, finding a job and feeding a family. Compared to that we have it easy."

Moretti, an operations manager at Koppers Carbon Materials and Chemicals, was the first of two boys born to a father who had emigrated in 1952 to work in jobs including fruit picking and the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. His father returned in 1958 to Italy where he met and married his wife.

They travelled separately by ship in 1960 to settle in Adamstown, where Moretti's mother was "the CEO of the household" and his father worked as a forklift driver at BHP.

Their parents were part of the wave of immigrants who contributed not only to the workforce but also to the changing cultural composition of the city.

The tight-knit community shared houses, food, finances, placed strong value on the family unit, and socialised at Hamilton RSL club, a cinema at the NineWays, and Highfields Bowling Club, formerly known as the Highfields Azzurri Football Club.

Moretti remembers his mother telling him about fishing trawlers returning to Newcastle Harbour in the 1960s with squid they had accidentally caught in their nets and planned to throw away.

"All the Europeans would be lining up at the jetty, asking them to 'give them to us'.

"Now we have salt and pepper calamari in all the best restaurants.

"They would know it was quite nice to eat if done in a nice way, but all the fishermen would be 'yuck, squid'."

Moretti and Cesta became firm friends when Cesta began dating his (now-wife) Anna, whose parents were friends with Moretti's parents. Both their fathers had emigrated from the Le Marche region.

Moretti was having one of his regular "mantime" dinners with Cesta about five years ago when he mentioned the French film festival he had attended with his wife Helen at Tower Cinemas and how the couple had discussed how an Italian film festival may also be appealing.

"We [Moretti and Cesta] said to each other 'let's give it a go', never having done anything like this before and see what we can come up with," Moretti says.

"European films are different, they can be really real and human, and they can be dark and morose, but that's how life is and that's the sort of thing that a lot of people really like, rather than a Hollywood fairytales."

The inaugural festival in 2010 attracted 1000 people and featured a performance by guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli in the foyer of Tower Cinemas.

The duo were keen for films to act as an accessible entry point for the community to learn more about Italian culture, about which they are both passionate.

"As we're getting older and wiser we appreciate our heritage more and more," Moretti says.

"I suppose when you're young you just take everything for granted, all the lovely Italian food put on the table that your mother used to cook and put on the table, and all those beliefs the Europeans had.

"As you get older you sort of appreciate those sorts of things more because it's a fairly rich history."

They established non-profit organisation Hand in Hand Art House in 2010 to organise festivals and events which promote Newcastle and the Hunter as a culturally diverse region.

"The key vision is for people of all walks of life to walk hand in hand to share, understand, embrace and respect each other as individuals and communities, regardless of cultural backgrounds," Cesta says.

"I think it's something that's always going to be needed because Australia is pretty isolated from the rest of the world," he says.

"All the different cultures out there are so different that it's easy to become intolerant of other cultures when you're not really used to them."

Moretti adds: "It's seeing life through a different lens.

"That kind of exposure helps you understand different ways of life."

With help from Newcastle City Council and Livesites they closed Crown Street and organised an exhibition of Italian cars including Ferrari and Alfa Romeo Spiders and Vespas, extended opening hours at Coffee on Crown, pizza, and a performance by classical guitarist Giuseppe Zangari.

They also prepared a short film that screened before each feature film.

"We put together with the help of one of our friends a commemorative piece about the Italians in Newcastle which we showed prior to all our films. It kind of told the story of the immigrants coming out and settling in Newcastle, what they did and where they worked," Moretti says.

"What Newcastle meant to them then and what it means to them now."

There were more than 1500 tickets sold, with all profits to Heal For Life Foundation.

On opening night this year Member for Newcastle Tim Owen will present a NSW Premier's Community Award to Theo Goumas for his and late wife Margaret's service to Newcastle cinema. Wine and cheese will be served before Friday and Saturday night films in the cinema foyer and the cosmopolitan Crown Street affair will be held from 1pm to 11pm on Saturday and include Italian music, a performance by classical guitarist Giuseppe Zangari, art, vehicles, and cuisine provided by Longworth House, a local pizza chef, and Coffee on Crown.

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