Spring 2014 LPD speaker Martin Kollar receives the Leica Oskar Barnack Award for photography

Acclaimed Solvakian photographer Martin Kollar received the prestigious 2014 Lecia Oskar Barnack Award for his project Field Trip, a portfolio of photographs taken in Israel.

leica-martin-kollar_1The photos of the Field Trip portfolio were shot in the context of the project entitled »This Place«, a dossier about Israel and the West Bank on which Martin Kollar worked together with 12 other internationally acclaimed photographers. The aim of the project is to portray the diversity of the country and, in turn, to illustrate the complexity of one of the world’s most disputed regions. For Kollar, his time in Israel recalled memories of his own past in communist Czechoslovakia. Random frisking and arrests by the police were a part of everyday life, and the people of the region lived with the fear surveillance and denunciation. With his photographs, Martin Kollar provides a transparent illustration of the current situation of the residents of this region. In this, he has captured everyday scenes as well as absurd and humorous situations. The visual content of his portfolio is diverse and it includes a range of subjects – from documentation of the military presence on the West Bank to landscapes, wildlife photos and portraits of the Israeli population. The scenes he captured are banal, absurd and comical in equal measure – and sometimes tragic. Kollar documents a strange and uneasy normality and, in this, depicts the trauma that prevails in the population. Although each of his photos can stand alone, there is a binding element between them all: an omnipresent tension. The military presence appears to be everywhere, and it is far from clear where militarised zones end and civilian life begins. (From the Leica Oskar Barnack Award website)

For more about Kollar’s work visit his website. NYU Florence 2014-2015 students can look forward to the 2nd edition of Professor Alessandra Capodacqua’s series Documentary Photography over the course of the upcoming academic year.

Jos De Putter: Filmmaker in Focus at Florence’s 2014 Festival dei Popoli in November

Festival dei Popoli, one of Italy’s most important documentary film festivals, which is held in Florence every year, will feature Dutch filmmaker Jos De Putter in the prestigious Retrospective section this Fall.

Jos de Putter is an award-winning Dutch director whose films span across the globe: from the “starlets” of football trying to emerge from the misery of the Brazilian favelas to teen-agers from around the world that compete in the Videogames World Championship in Seoul; from the memories of the survivors of Nagasaki to the Brooklyn baseball team that has never won a championship. De Putter chooses stories from real life and reveals their universal significance. From the Festival Dei Popoli website.

See a clip of his well regarded See No Evil, “a stunning fable that has as protagonists three monkeys who live together with men”.

About Festival Dei Popoli:

Founded in 1959 by a group of scholars in the humanities, anthropology, sociology, ethnology and mass-media studies, the Festival dei Popoli, a not-for-profit organization, has been active for over fifty years in the promotion and study of social documentary cinema.

The association works primarily to organize Italy’s leading International Documentary Film Festival in Florence. From 2008 to 2010 it has also held an edition in New York (NYDFF – New York Documentary Fim Festival). The Institute has created a vast network of collaborations for the diffusion of documentary culture in Italy and abroad.

Simultaneously, the Festival dei Popoli continues to conserve and digitalize its own Archives (which contains over 16,000 titles, from video to film) and make strides in film training, organizing courses and workshops for documentary filmmakers.

To learn more visit their website at: http://www.festivaldeipopoli.org/

My Year in Italian Politics 2013-2014

Caterina IntroducingBy NYU Florence student Caterina Dacy Ariani

While I was born in New York City, I have spent most of my life in Europe, living in Italy, France and Switzerland (speaking their respective languages). I have seen the challenges these countries have faced trying to manage the benefits of being part of the EU (or not in the case of Switzerland) alongside their desire to maintain national identities and control over their destiny. I have witnessed the absurd (Berlusconi explaining why a Dane shouldn’t hold a post related to food) and the dire (Draghi’s speech explaining the ECB will do “whatever is necessary” to support the euro). Italian and EU politics never seem to bore, and this year was no exception. On my arrival in Italy this year, Italy had only had a new government (a grand coalition) for a few months. The grand coalition (the first one in the history of the Republic), was a result of the deadlock 2013 elections, where no party was left with enough of a majority to rule on their own. The coalition was lead by Enrico Letta as the new Prime Minister and member of the Democratic Party and it was unclear how long this government would actually survive.

Although Silvio Berlusconi hadn’t been Prime Minister since November 2011, his name did not go unmentioned in any discussion on current Italian politics. In August 2014, when I came to NYU Florence, his face plastered newspapers accompanying headlines regarding his trials and convictions. Although the list of illegal activity that Berlusconi has been accused of is practically infinite, the main focus was on his tax fraud, and his sexual scandals never failed to be a punchline. Additionally, Berlusconi still had a seat in the Senate at this point, and how a man convicted in court for criminal activity, that would have sent him to jail if it weren’t for his ripe old age, could still have any active and official role in politics was quite confusing. The highlight of this year in Italian politics, however, was when Mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, suddenly became the new Prime Minister of Italy. Renzi had tried to be the candidate for the Democratic Party in the 2013 elections but lost in the primaries, so his desire to build a national political profile beyond his local Florentine one was no secret. That said, his swift rise to power this spring came as a shock to many Italians and the international public. How could someone become the new Prime Minister without elections? What about Letta? It turns out, the President of the Republic, in this case, Giorgio Napolitano, has the right to request a new cabinet. It became public in the aftermath that Napolitano had gone to Renzi, asking him to form a new cabinet, which also led to Letta’s (arguably forced) resignation. Although there are mixed opinions on whether this was the right thing to do, most political experts recognized that Renzi’s move was very well thought out, and that waiting for elections may have jeopardized his opportunity to take the reins of the Italian government.

So, what does this mean for Italy today? Renzi is 39 years old, making him the youngest PM Italy has ever had, in stark contrast to previous PM’s who, like Berlusconi, were still in office in their 70’s. Moreover, Renzi’s cabinet is the first to be gender equal, consisting of eight men (excluding Renzi) and eight women, one of whom was eight months pregnant when appointed. Renzi’s cabinet also stands as the youngest in Italy’s history, with an average age of 47. He immediately presented his 100-day plan, promising one sweeping reform every month. One of his biggest battles will be the electoral reform, which, if successful, would change the dynamics of the Italian political system. So early into his time in office, it is difficult to determine how successful Renzi will actually be, but we can hope that this young face can start bringing progress to Italy’s elderly and male dominated reputation. Also, much of Renzi’s success will depend on the outcome of the EU elections that are taking place at the end of this month (May 2014). With the constant and dramatic changes and surprises occurring in Italian politics, it is difficult to understand what we, as students studying here abroad, should take away with us. NYU Florence politics professor Roberto D’Alimonte suggests, in response to this conundrum, that student take with them the understanding of “the importance of participating in politics” because too often, he says “people don’t participate and end up letting other people make decisions for them”.

Weekly European Union Politics Briefing, Friday, July 4

admin-ajaxAfter the European parliamentary elections last week there has been a lot of movement within the European Union.

On June 27 President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy announced that the European Council has nominated the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission President. The procedure uses the Qualified Majority Votes system but just two countries voted against it: the United Kingdom and Hungary.  British Prime Minister David Cameron was firmly against Juncker’s nomination. After the vote, Cameron tweeted that European leaders will soon regret their choice, however rumors are circulating that following his string of criticisms, Cameron is now trying to reconcile with Juncker.

The European Parliament will discuss and vote on the candidature of Juncker on July 16.

On July 2 Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held his inaugural discourse for the Semester of the Italian Presidency of the European Union. The main themes of his speech were the importance of economic growth and the construction of a common cultural identity. His speech was not very well received in Germany. President of the Bundesbank Jes Weidemann underlined that reforms cannot only be announced, they must also be realized. Italian Minister for Economics Pier Carlo Padoan and Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini soon made statements that Italy’s solid relationship with Germay is not at risk followingthese declarations.

The inaugural session of the Eighth European Parliament took place on July 2. The strong presence of Eurosceptic parties was immediately apparent. During the singing of the official hymn of the European Union, parliamentarians from the United Kingdom‘s Independent Party turned their back on the orchestra in a sign of protest. The European Parliament voted for its president: the former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz of the European Socialist Party, was reconfirmed. Also vice presidents, questors and members of the legislative committees were elected over the last few days.

Weekly European Union Politics Briefing, Friday, May 16

admin-ajaxOn Thursday Eurovision broadcasted the third and final debate among candidates for the presidency of the European Commission. Five candidates were present: Martin Schulz for the Party of European Socialists, Jean-Claude Juncker for the European People’ Party, Alexis Tsipras for the United European Left, Ska Keller for the European Greens and Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals. According to journalists the debate “failed to sparkle”. There wasn’t as much discussion as hoped for and it left the impression that a proper electoral campaign still hasn’t gotten off the ground. In spite of all attempts to ‘Europeanize’ the electoral campaign, the main issues at stake in public debates about the EU elections still remain national ones. The designation of candidates for the presidency of the European Commission by European political parties is proving to be an unsuccessful instrument to strengthen the relationship between European citizens and European institutions. Candidates still focus their electoral campaigns on national issues.  This may be in part because in many European countries, including Italy, European parliamentary elections will take place on the same day as local elections and, in some cases, like in Belgium, even national elections. As a result, some voters may not have even realized that European elections are taking place as well. Another possible explanationis that European citizens still do not think that their vote counts. This feeling was exacerbated by the recent declarations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who declared that the next President of the European Commission will, most probably, not be chosen from the pool of candidates designated by European parties. This incomplete understanding of how the European Union works contributes to citizens’ tendency to turn their attention to national arenas where the political dynamics are more familiar. In Italy, the debate among the three leaders of the three main national political parties, the Democratic Party, the Five Star Movement and Forza Italia captures citizens attention more easily. The European electoral campaign seems to reflect an internal struggle between Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the leader of Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi and the leader of 5SM Beppe Grillo and have become more of a referendum on Renzi, since he has not yet had to face voters at the national level.

The Face of Florentine Contemporary Art

By Blair Simmons, NYU 2016

What does the face of contemporary art look like in Florence? That was the question NYU junior and art history-journalism double major Elizabeth Fazzare asked of the speakers at the event titled “In Renaissance Shadows: Florentine Contemporary Art in a Heritage City.” The Renaissance, a time of scientific, cultural, and artistic innovation when the city was an inspiration for many, has left Florence as well-preserved glimpse of the period that draws people from all around the world flock as they absorb the beauty. A city so defined by her history during the 14th through 16th centuries does not initially seem to have a place for contemporary art.  So where does all the art that is not a part of the Renaissance have a place here? Contemporary artists do in fact exist in Florence–they are just obscured by the massive shadows of the Duomo, the Uffizi, Galleria Accademia, and the many other Renaissance-oriented historical venues. Justin Randolph Thompson, an internationally-acclaimed Sculpture and New Media Artist living in Florence, said that the history in place here “is a wealth that feeds him, while other artists push it away,” refusing to be considered derivative. He discussed what it felt like to be a new artist in such an old city. Many of the problems come from the mindset with which people address contemporary art here; Mr. Thompson noted that contemporary art and Renaissance art can coexist if there is a change in that mindset. Luciana Lazzeretti, professor of economics at the University of Firenze, discussed the differences between creativity and culture, and that there must be evolution in culture for creativity to be recognized in such a place with rich history. During the questions portion of the dialogue, many people brought up the problem of state allocated funds needed for creating a space for modern art in the city. The representatives for the Florence Biennial discussed the intention of giving artists a place in the city to exhibit their work and create a network within the artist community here. The event was interesting and illuminating, and prompted many discussions and questions that prove that there is still much work to be done in this area.

Middle East Now: An Overview


By Blair Simmons, NYU ’16

On Wednesday, April 9th, the Middle East Now Film Festival took over the center of Florence for its opening night. The Odeon Theatre, which seats over 400 people, was standing room only with at least a hundred patrons pushing to get inside. An air of great anticipation perforated the theater as audience members vigorously held their bladders to keep their seats before the show. The NYU student jury, who had been handpicked by Jim Carter and Alice Scolto-Douglas, was present and pleasantly surprised to see what they had gotten themselves into. I, being a member myself, was aghast at the sheer volume of people inside of the Odeon. It was exhilarating.

Kicking off the festival was Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese indie-rock band that is currently changing the face of Middle Eastern music, and was followed by a viewing of the 2014 Oscar nominated film Omar, directed by Hany Abu-Assad. This film depicted the life of a sensitive young Palestinian baker gone freedom fighter who has to face some difficult decisions, Omar left the crowd yearning what the MEN Festival had in store for them next. It was truly a great way to kick off the event.

The festival, which continued through Monday, April 14th, is the only festival in Italy entirely dedicated to contemporary Middle Eastern cinema, featuring the latest films from Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Afganistan, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria and Morocco. Showcasing a myriad of feature films, documentaries, animated films and shorts, the film festival was designed to underline the importance of the Middle East, a region that is completely visible in international media and politics in recent years. These films were overall eye-opening and heartbreaking. Other than one film, which appeared to be mimicking a Disney-short, the subject matter was quite intense. It was unclear whether the heavy subject matter was a product of the choices made by the festival, or if these films were a true representation of the cinema which has spanned the last couple of years in the Middle East. It is true that with war and heartache, cinema tends to follow suit. However, it is also true that with heartache comes an urge to laugh and an upsurge of comedy seems to be just as present. That was not the case during this weekend. Perhaps this was an attempt on the part of the festival to take the subject matter at hand seriously. Regardless, the films were important for the international community to see. After four days of watching these films, the struggles (in the family, in growing up, in everyday activities, in death, etc.) that permeate the Middle East, were apparent. The students all discussed, a number of times, the newfound emotional awareness about the Middle East they felt that could not be portrayed purely through the news and straight facts. It is cinema that humanizes a cultural experience.

The Cultural Map of Creation, under the artistic direction of Lisa Chiari and Roberto Ruta, organized this festival and rounded up the group of NYU student panelists to judge the short films. After a long weekend of screenings and intense deliberation, where fingers were pointed, yelling was permitted and opinions were shot down, the jury came to an agreement just in time for Monday night. The jury leaders, Jim and Alice, were happy to announce, in both Italian and English, that dialogue-free film, Condom Lead by Mohammed and Ahmad Abunasser, won the majority vote. They expressed that it was visually stunning, but also so subtly conveyed, that its emotional implications effectively imparted its intended message. This film portrayed how living through extreme bombings affected every aspect of a normal mundane life with ones family.

As a whole, the festival was not only well organized and heavily frequented by many Florentine people, but it was a necessary entity. It was a place where Middle Eastern culture and society could simply be represented and explored, without a filter.


Weekly European Union Briefing Politics, Friday, April 18

admin-ajaxThe last prediction of Pollwatch2014 forecasted an increase in support for the European People’s Party (EPP), and, for the first time, it predicts that the EPP will overtake the Socialists & Democrats (S&D). As we can see in the graph below, pollsters register 222 seats for the EPP and 209 for the S&D, while the last predictions assigned both 212 seats. The EPP managed to gain ground because of increased support for constituent parties in Poland and France, whereas S&D parties lost votes in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, France and Greece. This week’s prediction also sees a decline in the fortunes of the liberal ALDE group and the far-left GUE. ALDE lost 2 seats, GUE-NGL 2 and ECR 4. On the contrary EFD (Europe of Freedom and Democracy) and NI (Non-Inscrits) gained  2 and 3 seats respectively.

UntitledSource: www.pollwatch.eu

Last week was the final plenary session of the current European Parliament in Strasbourg, and one of the last things that they voted on was an amendment against Martin Schulz, current President of the European Parliament and candidate for the next Presidency of the Commission for the S&D party. Last Wednesday, MEPs censured Schulz for using his presidential office in his campaign to become president of the European Commission and for pushing through the appointment of his closest aides to civil service posts in the Parliament’s administration.

Member states are presenting candidate lists for the upcoming elections. In Finland, in an attempt to show that they are taking the elections for the European Parliament seriously, put[O2]  a number of politically experienced people on the lists. In Bulgaria, there were protests against the candidate Delyan Peevski. He, along with his mother Irena Krasteva, manages a growing media empire that backs whichever government is in power, and protesters believe that if he makes it to Brussels, he will continue managing his business from there rather than doing the tasks of a member of the European Parliament.

In Italy, after the lists presented by the Democratic Party led only by women, Forza Italia presented its list, and after 20 years it is the first time that Silvio Berlusconi is not a candidate. Among the candidates we see few new names, many current members of the European Parliament and many candidates with a background in the entertainment industry. On the contrary, the list presented by the Greens was not accepted because of insufficient supporting signatures. They wrote to  President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano and to  Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to protest against this decision. Furthermore, they ask for the intervention of the High Court. The result of this remains to be seen.

Quiltbag Italia Dialogue with Katrina Chua and Ragini Bali

Ragini Kat Kat introduction

By Caterina Dacey Ariani, NYU Florence student

Last night we saw NYU Florence students Katrina Chua and Ragini Bali’s vision for La Pietra Dialogues to host a dialogue concerning the LGBTQ+ community come to life. With politician Franco Grillini and activists Mauro Scopelliti and Sofia Carandini as guest speakers, we were able to witness a sophisticated and enlightening discussion on the history of the LGBTQ+ movement in Italy, as well as the current issues the LGBTQ+ community grapples with today. Although Italy’s progress in establishing equal laws for the LGBTQ+ population has been dramatically slower than its neighboring countries, the speakers remained optimistic in the nation’s ability to reach a just and non-discriminatory society. “If we change the society, everything will change,” said Mauro Scopelliti explaining that in order for us to see changes in legislation, the mentality and culture of the country has to continue to evolve.

It is dialogues such as these that help us understand cultures and ideas beyond the ones we were raised with, so congratulations Katrina and Ragini for orchestrating an evening that allowed your audience to leave with a greater understanding of such a prominent societal issue.

Middle Eastern Now Film Festival: Best Short Film Announced

By Blair Simmons, NYU ’16

Last night, NYU students gathered at the Odeon Theatre in Florence, Italy as part of a select student jury for the annual Middle East Now Film Festival. After a long weekend of screenings and intense deliberation, where fingers were pointed, yelling was permitted and opinions were shot down, the jury came to an agreement just in time for Monday night. The jury leaders, Jim Carter and Alice Sholto-Duglas, announced that dialogue-free film, Condom Lead by Mohammed and Ahmad Abunasser, won the majority vote. The runners up were Children of God from Iraq and I Am Mermaid from Qatar. The festival, which continued through Monday, April 14th, is the only festival in Italy entirely dedicated to contemporary Middle East Movies, featuring the latest films from Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Afganistan, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria and Morocco. Showcasing a myriad of feature films, documentaries, animated films and shorts, the film festival was designed to underline the importance of the Middle East, a region that has been at the center of international media and politics in recent years.