The National Italian American Foundation launches grant program for aspiring filmmakers

If asked what is the first thing that comes to mind when one mentions the words “Italian” and “movies,” most answers would likely involve some combination of Godfather, Goodfellas, or Casino. There might even be a Bronx Tale or The Sopranos thrown in for good measure, even though the latter was a series on HBO and not a film. While these are all seminal classics, there is so much more to the Italian American story, which is why the National Italian American Foundation wants to help tell them. 

To change this narrative and enhance the cinematic cultural experience regarding Italians and Italian Americans, NIAF is hosting its first-ever “De Laurentiis Film Prizes Program,” inspired by the work of legendary filmmaker Aurelio De Laurentiis. It’s a film competition that provides a fantastic opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to submit their work that features “a story pertaining to Italians and Italian Americans.” 

“When Aurelio De Laurentiis came on board, he brainstormed with NIAF leadership on how he could impact the Italian American community,” Gabriella Mileti, NIAF’s Director of Special Programs and Public Relations, told me. “They decided to launch a film program that could provide young filmmakers from anywhere in the world. This is open to any emerging aspiring filmmaker who wants to tell a story of an Italian experience or an Italian American experience. It could be a documentary, a narrative, a fiction, or a nonfiction film.”

NIAF’s film initiative can potentially revolutionize the industry regarding Italians and Italian Americans. It allows young filmmakers to be an integral part of yet another Italian renaissance in art. The possibilities are truly endless, with NIAF again being at the forefront of innovation in promoting Italian American culture. And this time, they are doing so by helping novice filmmakers live out their dreams. 

“The prizes provide critical funding for their budgetary needs to help tell that story. The program will award five filmmakers with a $10,000 grant. The grantees will have one year to create their film project and submit their film for review,” NIAF’s website reads. The five films will be chosen to screen during the NIAF Gala weekend, and the award-winning filmmaker will receive a mentorship opportunity with Aurelio De Laurentiis and his team, and an additional $10,000 winning prize to promote the film.”

Additionally, finalists will have the honor of having their films screened at the organization’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2025. Their work will be the latest contribution to NIAF’s cultural legacy. Each filmmaker will become part of NIAF’s history. 

“This year’s applicants will be screened at the 50th Anniversary NIAF Gala in 2025,” Miletti told me. “It’s really exciting because the 50th will be a huge celebration. They’ll receive the grant this year, but they’ll have a whole year to produce the film. The winners will be notified on April 1, and they have until April 1, 2025, to submit their completed film project. Then, in October 2025, we will screen those five films. At the gala dinner, the finalist, the award-winning film project, will be announced,” Miletti said.

This is a big deal and indicative of the organization’s ambitions that are on the horizon. Even though the De Laurentiis Film Prizes Program is in its first year, NIAF anticipates significant growth and development for the contest and films focused on the Italian experience. Miletti elaborated on how this film competition is only the beginning, with visions of expansion in the future.

“I think it would be great to see an actual film festival for these films. Like a proper film festival like Venice, like Cannes, just highlighting these films, maybe it takes place in Rome every year,” she said optimistically. Why can’t there be a star-studded festival that showcases these films? That would be awesome.”

“Although, Aurellio owns the Naples soccer team, so maybe Naples instead of Rome,” Miletti said.

Furthermore, the value of NIAF’s work, efforts and contributions to cinema can be seen with the upcoming film Cabrini. Separate from the aforementioned film competition, the movie is a biopic based on the life of Francesca Cabrini, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in the 19th century. It’s an incredible story largely omitted from history and today’s culture. The film’s trailer was screened at the NIAF Gala in 2022.

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“It’s a movie that’s going to come out on International Women’s Day, on March 8, nationwide, produced by Angel Studios, the same producer as Sound of Freedom,” Miletti told me. “NIAF was an early financier of the film. It recounts the story of this incredible Italian nun who came to America and was the first American citizen to be canonized as a saint.”

NIAF makes significant contributions and efforts to empower Italian American culture annually. This year is no different. Adding the De Laurentiis Film Prizes Program is just the latest part of that process. NIAF is setting trends, creating opportunities, and paving its own path in establishing a new appreciation for the elegance and sophistication of all things Italian. What the Medici were to Renaissance Florence, the National Italian American Foundation is to the contemporary revitalization of Italian American culture.

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