Woody Allen or the Passion for Films (independent and at the movie theatre)
by Elisabetta Galeffi

One evening in a smart Manhattan restaurant between Fifth and Madison, I was introduced to Woody Allen.  A couple of minutes face to face with the myth.  It still seems a sort of vision to me.  I think I muttered, "Thank you," and gave a hint of a curtsy, whilst the owner of the place announced my insignificant name to the great director.
He stood opposite me without saying a word, politely putting up with the bother, which would soon be over.  He didn't even attempt a fake smile.
That doesn't matter and I forgive him: it was almost ten in the evening and he was there for supper after the theatre, probably dying to sit down to table with his wife and friends.  This must have been 15 years ago. 
He looked older than he was: a little man all skin and bones, anything but animated, in contrast to his smiling Korean wife who, on the other hand, seemed happy to make the acquaintance of the enthusiastic Italian girl.

The next day I rifled through a Big Apple Blockbuster shop, continuing for at least a week to do nothing but watch Woody's films, over and over again. 
Only a fraction of those that had been released up to then, of course:  Allen's film output is amazing.  Like Simenon and Balzac, like Dostoevsky, Woody is an extraordinarily prolific author. 
In his recently published book "Apropos of Nothing", a 398-page account of his life and the accusations of his ex-companion, Mia Farrow, he admits he learned to write before he learned to speak.
With the same ease, I add - he says it didn't cost him any effort - he learned to direct a film. When he writes or makes people laugh or directs a film, he sticks to a precise rule: mainly that of following his instinct. 
This is how he wins the freedom to be himself and himself only.

The story of his life is a screenplay, too: when he needs to, he hops from past to present with agility, then rewinds it all and takes up the story again.
As a boy already passionate about films, he would escape from his Brooklyn neighbourhood to visit one of Manhattan's magnificent movie theatres, where he probably saw the same film they were screening round the corner from his own home. 

The cinema: a place that is just as important to the spectator as a good film.  After three or four months of Covid, I realized how much I missed escaping to the cinema to put a boring or problematic day behind me. 
No web portal, even less so the TV, can offer the same experience as being in the darkness of a theatre.  And after a good film the return, trying to settle back into your own life or continuing to pursue your fantasies on the way home. 
At the cinema immersing oneself in a new world happens more quickly than it does with a book, with the advantage of swiftly being taken by the hand by the characters on the screen, often without the effort of the first few pages. 
And the cinema is already a choice of what we expect from a film.  Instead, TV chooses for us, when we're not yet ready for bed after supper in the evening but too tired to read a book.  Faced with one of a thousand channels, we're still in the midst of our own reality and sometimes we need to escape.  

In his book Woody praises independent cinema - his own.  Back when he was still in cabaret, his first agent warned him: "You're the only one who knows if a line makes people laugh." A piece of advice he has never forgotten. 
At one point he says something more or less like this about how he started making films: "…I didn't know how to use a movie camera but I knew what I wanted to achieve; basically all that remained was to learn a bit of technique."  Another time he accepts a producer's proposal to write the screenplay of a successful book and in the end directs a film that has nothing to do with the book: "I was lucky he didn't prosecute me," he writes.
Independent cinema makes less box-office than Star Wars - not even Allen's films can manage that - but would we have desired so strongly to see the Big Apple without having seen on a giant cinema screen the fireworks on a night in "Manhattan"?  And deep down don't we really want the actress, or actor, or dog to stop ruining a fine story?  Perhaps a little less violently than the leading lady in the comedy "Bullets over Broadway".
How many times has Woody explained life and sentimental relationships to us?  "Match Point", "Annie Hall", "Stardust Memories", or else made us die laughing?  The list of his films is too long, but to quote just one: "Deconstructing Harry".

Today, in times of Covid in Italy (and not only), cinemas are not having an easy time.  Of the around four thousand screens, fewer than 5% re-opened immediately after 15 June.  And it seems to be even more difficult for the indie sector: whilst commercial cinema holds out on platforms like Netflix, it seemed there was no way to survive in Italy for those who didn't work with mainstream. 

This is why the Beltrade, the famous Milanese arthouse cinema, which has offered its platform "Beltrade on the Sofa" online, can be taken as a symbol of the dynamism and creativity of the independent movie houses.  There have been virtual screenings from the Cinema Lab 80 of Bergamo, the PostModernissimo of Perugia, the Metropolis of Umbertide, the Cine Teatro Orione of Bologna, too. 

Reggio Calabria's Cineclub Internazionale has invited audiences onto its Vimeo channel, whilst Parallelo 41 of Naples has put its titles online. "This is a project we've been thinking about for a long time: lockdown gave us the final push to get it done," says Antonella di Nocera, Chairwoman of this production company. In the same way, some independent cinema festivals have decided not to cancel their 2020 appointments; one example is the Far East Film Festival of Udine.
There is, then, a map of cinemas, festivals and film archives that have remained open online. 

The initiative of the Cineteca di Milano, which began distributing twenty titles a week in streaming during the pandemic, caused an international echo. "In the month of March there were 4 million viewings, from 81 different countries ranging from Vietnam to Mozambique," says the Director, Matteo Pavesi.
The idea for a Bolognese anti-Covid Festival, anything but easy to organize, is also fascinating: Cinema da Casa (Cinema from Home), a collection of films screened on the walls of buildings in Bologna.  Entering and exiting the screen, as in "The Purple Rose of Cairo", becomes an experience accessible to all… the Bolognese. 

Let's hope it will soon be possible to see Woody's latest film, "Rifkin's Festival", up until now blocked not only by Covid but also by the #MeToo campaign.  In the States it will not be circulating, even though Allen has won all the hearings that resulted from Mia Farrow's accusations in 1992, which have now been taken up again by the movement's supporters.
In Europe, probably less narrow-minded, Woody's latest film will open the San Sebastian Festival in September. Pen in hand, the great director has managed to tell the truth about his story and behind the camera he has always overcome his shyness and his "unimaginable" phobias, such as that of "walking through the entrance" of a crowded place.  Such as the entrance to the restaurant betwen Fifth and Madison where the unwitting and enthusiastic Italian girl stopped him in his tracks.