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    Ciao, Bella!

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    On my way to Italy recently, I read Larry Duplechan’s funny, sharp-tongued memoir, Movies That Made Me Gay. Duplechan’s book excavates the cinematic essences that are an aspect of our true feelings. In the airport (not the most reflective space), I thought about my “queer instigator equivalents,” the movie queens who’d reached out to me from beyond the silver screen to give me a sense of myself and my desire. Three came to mind immediately. First: Anna Magnani, whose dark, luminous eyes reflected the entire history of Italian women. Any male who starred with her, from Burt Lancaster to Marlon Brando, had to hope she wore sunglasses or risk being singed.

    Next up was Giulietta Masina, who inspired several Fellini masterpieces. Her musical physicality made the “Little Tramp” seem like Daddy Warbucks. And then there’s Sophia Loren—the implacably strong Loren of Two Women and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow rather than Grumpier Old Men. Each of them has a searing sensuality and self-awareness that few female actors were allowed on screen then. Their performances, sultry or raging, imbued me with an idea of the way I wanted to look at women and how I wanted them to experience me.

    So, there we were landing in Bologna, Italy, for the Some Prefer Cake lesbian film festival and the voices of these three actors, deep and sweet, echoed in my mind. With the youth of most of the organizers of the festival, I couldn’t guess if the names of the three stars would resonate for them; yet I felt like I was about to meet up with the progeny of those who’d helped make me who I am. And, in some ways, I did.

    Founded in 2007 by Luki Massa and Marta Bencich, the festival had eked out the funds to pull together three days of films, discussions, music, and dancing that were accessible to everyone. They also managed to prepare meals every day for the people who filled the theatre and the surrounding, grassy park.

    The current team pulled everything together and never dropped a stitch as they also raised money to memorialize Massa, their co-founder who has since passed away. They would make Magnani, Masina, and Loren burst with pride. It was so impressive it was difficult to digest until I got back home and looked over my photos and remembered the many half English, half Italian conversations.

    The women who interviewed me and Madeleine Lim after our film was screened (JEWELLE: A Just Vision) was Giuliana Misserville, one of the foremost scholars in the field of Postcolonial Feminist and Gender Studies. Having her pose questions about my vampire novel was a bit like defending one’s Ph.D. thesis—in a fun way. She was so insightful and probing that my admiration for her blossomed. I wished I spoke Italian so we could have a more in-depth conversation.

    Then we had a beautiful (in all ways) woman who translated for us, Lucia Tralli, who teaches at the American University in Rome. She was witty and so sharp that it was like I’d conjured her up. She seemed to carry on several conversations in her head at once: digesting our English, translating someone’s Italian for us, and formulating her own remarks to share.

    Among the films we watched (all subtitled) was a photo montage of Lucy, concerning an elderly transgender icon by director Luciana Passaro. Sara Ahmed crafted a wordless story of what seems like middle-aged anomie but evolves into a hot night between two women lovers. And Kingdom, directed by Joanna Vymeris, is a comic, lesbian crime caper featuring drag kings and gender bending love. The festival also featured some film classics like Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman; it was exciting to see another generation eagerly embrace the film and all its nuances.

    Bologna is the home of the oldest continually operating university in the world (founded 1088) and hosted one of the first women’s degrees in Italy (1732); every woman we met was testament to how such accomplishments were possible. That the women of Some Prefer Cake were able to sustain a lesbian film festival for fifteen years in these times of building conservatism is amazing and the films they featured were no less so.

    And yes, the Bolognese sauce was exquisite but the pizza surpassed everything! Except the women!

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

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    Published on November 3, 2023