Out in the World: Gay Italian consul general celebrates filmmaker Pasolini

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday September 8, 2022
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Gay Italian intellectual and artist Pier Paolo Pasolini. Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia
Gay Italian intellectual and artist Pier Paolo Pasolini. Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia

A three-month celebration of gay Italian artist and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini kicks off at the Castro Theater this month.

San Francisco's LGBTQ neighborhood's historic movie palace is the right place to launch the centennial celebration of Pasolini's birth, said gay Italian Consul General Sergio Strozzi and Ilaria Giacomi, deputy director of the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco.

Pasolini, an openly gay man during a time when being LGBTQ wasn't accepted, was Italy's most important intellectual of the 20th century. Up until his assassination in Ostia, Italy in 1975, Pasolini's films and writing focused on controversial topics and people who lived on the fringes of society.

Strozzi compared Pasolini's importance as a major figure in Italian society to Dante Alighieri, who established Italian literature.

"For us Italians, [Pasolini] is a major figure as much as Dante could be," Strozzi said.

Strozzi explained that Pasolini's contribution to Italian society during a period of economic growth after World War II in Italy, and his focus on Italy's poor and suburban people and the country's social struggles, was "huge." His intellectual perspective trumped traditional beliefs and pushed Italian progressive movements and society forward without entering politics, he said.

"I think for [the] LGBT community [he] is a major figure just because he had the courage to show himself to come out of the closet much before the society was ready for it," Strozzi said.

Giacomi stated that Pasolini's "work and his legacy — it's still considered kind of controversial," but remains relevant to society today. He gave voice to people who did not have a voice, she said. His films and writing addressed Vatican City and "many topics are still interesting for us and that still reflects the everyday life of Italian people."

"It's very interesting the way his movies are both extremely, extremely real, almost cruel sometimes, and at the same time, extremely aesthetic," Giacomi added.

Strozzi believes the Italian community in America and Italian Americans know Pasolini, but he isn't as sure that they've had the opportunity to watch his films.

Pasolini retrospective

The Castro Theatre will host a daylong retrospective, "Pasolini 100: Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini," with a screening of four of Pasolini's films Saturday, September 10.

The retrospective will include "Accattone (1961)," "Mamma Roma (1962)," "Medea (1969)," and "Salo (1976)."

Many of his films are so contentious that they have never been shown on mainstream Italian TV, especially "Salo," his most controversial film, which was released after his death and was censored for its cruel and sexual content. The film criticized society's rules and the societal system.

"It's just basically a call for freedom," Giacomi told the Bay Area Reporter.

The film festival will start with "Pasolini," a 2014 documentary about his life. A reception, La Roma di Pasolini, will be held from 8 to 10 p.m., followed by a screening of "Salo."

The event is presented by Cinecitta, Cinema Italia San Francisco, and the Italian Cultural Institute San Francisco in cooperation with Associazione Artistic Soul, under the auspices of the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco and the Consulate General of Greece in San Francisco. It is sponsored by the Italian Ministry for Culture, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis, and the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation.

Other events are being planned for October and November around the Bay Area.

Sergio Strozzi is the Italian consul general to San Francisco. Heather Cassell  

Gay Italian representation
Celebrating Pasolini is the second Italian gay event Strozzi has hosted since his arrival in San Francisco in May 2021. (He officially took over as consul general that June.) In June of this year, he co-hosted the "father" of Italy's LGBTQ movement, Franco Grillini, with the screening of the award-winning documentary, "Let's Kiss: Franco Grillini, Story of a Gentle Revolution" ("Let's Kiss, Storia di una rivoluzione gentile") in conjunction with the institute.

Calling San Francisco a "big and fantastic adventure," Strozzi is excited to represent Italy in San Francisco and the Western states and Pacific territories for the next four years. The 49-year-old diplomat moved to San Francisco from Rome, where he served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with his husband, architect Simone Mazzetto, 50, and daughter, Caterina Strozzi, 18.

He estimates the consulate serves nearly 30,000 Italian registered citizens and hundreds of thousands of Italian Americans with dual citizenship living and working in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the United States territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. It also represents unincorporated American territories Johnston Atoll, Midways Islands, and Wake Island, according to the consulate's website.

The Italian Consulate of Los Angeles represents Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Strozzi is the second known gay Italian consul general. Mauro Battocchi, a gay man, was the first out Italian consul general to hold the position from 2012 to 2016. His husband, Asher Berry, lived with him during his tenure in San Francisco.

A lawyer with expertise in international law, international private law, and European Union law, Strozzi also obtained a specialization in commercial issues and topics, particularly technology diplomacy.

Strozzi sought out the opportunity to be placed in San Francisco. In Italy, San Francisco is a dream to reach, he said.

"You dream of it because it's a place with a huge history of social relations and life," said Strozzi. He said San Francisco was a "natural" deployment for the Italian diplomat who was born and raised in Alessandria in Piedmont, Italy.

Strozzi started his diplomatic career in 2001. He served as the counselor for economic-commercial affairs at the Italian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary; as consul general in Valona, Albania; and in Rome twice before coming to the Bay Area.

Strozzi's goals during his tenure at the consulate are to strengthen business relationships between Silicon Valley's technology and biotechnology industries and Italy, leverage academic and "scientific cooperation," and continue fostering Italian culture.

His predecessor, Lorenzo Ortona, stewarded Italy's first Innovation and Culture Hub, which opened in San Francisco in September 2021.

"I think in our DNA as Italians we always have both things culture and business," said Strozzi, talking about how Italy always mixes up culture and business.

He was also impressed by Americans' love for Italy.

"People, they just love Italy in many ways. They're very much in favor of fostering and boosting the relations with the Italian economy and places," Strozzi said, noting an increased interest in American investors wanting to invest in Italy.

Strozzi has been most impressed by the San Francisco Bay Area's strong ties to Italy and its Italian American community.

"Italians have made history here in San Francisco," he said, talking about former mayors Joseph Alioto and George Moscone and their work for civil rights. "We are very proud of that."

In November 1978, Moscone was assassinated with California's first openly gay elected official San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.

Strozzi marched with other European colleagues in this year's San Francisco's Pride parade. He noted LGBTQ Italians and Italian Americans are "very well integrated" into the local communities, which pleased him.

Since 2000, progress has been made in Italy's LGBTQ movement and Italians have become more accepting of LGBTQ people, said Strozzi, calling it a battle balancing Italians' two souls: tradition and modern civil society. It's a challenge Italians have learned how to deal with, he said.

"Italy can be a model of how we can get to a co-existence," he said, referring to heavily religious countries matching "religious thoughts and beliefs with a more contemporary and up-to-date civil society."

"Pasolini 100: Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini" is on September 10 starting at 10:30 a.m. at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street in San Francisco. General admission tickets to individual movies are $15 and $12 for seniors and IIC members. Festival passes, plus the reception, are $80. Tickets to the reception are $35. Tickets are available here.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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