African Diaspora art film The Black Italian Renaissance to screen at RapidLion festival

The film that puts spotlight on little known history of black people in Italy during the Italian Renaissance will be screened on March 10, 2023 during the festival run.

By Edward Tsumele, CityLIfe Arts Editor
Film enthusiasts and researchers into the black diaspora dating centuries ago will be excited to know that they will be immersed in a film viewing that takes them back into the lives of formerly enslaved black people during the Italian Renaissance.

The film, which will be screened at the forthcoming eighth edition of RapidLion –The South African International Film Festival, pencilled for UJ Arts Centre at the University of Johannesburg, March 4-11, 2023, digs deep into this interesting piece of human history. It does this by perusing ancient documents and portraits. The Black Italian Renaissance reveals the untold tales of black nobles, enslaved people, ambassadors, and knights from this era.

The film which dissects this little-known but significant human history involving black people who were taken to several parts of the world during slavery, should be of interest to a wide audience, such as historians, students of history, general film lovers, as well as researchers. Apart from being taken to North America to work on farms as subjugated people, Europe had a fair share of this cheap slave labour from the African continent. Italy is one of those countries in Europe that became a beneficiary of this cheap labour to develop its economy.

This film should therefore rate as one of the most important films ever to grace the screens of RapidLion film festival since it was started by Johannesburg based creative Eric Miyeni seven years ago. The festival is a platform for films from Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) counties as well as the African Diaspora.

“RapidLion film festival is excited to announce the screening of the documentary, ‘The Black Italian Renaissance,”the festival said in a statement released yesterday, February 23, 2024.
Directed by Cristian Di Mattia, The Black Italian Renaissance uncovers the stories of Black people depicted in Italian Renaissance art.

The film introduces many characters that have, in their different ways, left their mark on history.
Their faces peek through the canvasses of some of the greatest art works of their time.
Their names are scattered among ancient ledgers in magnificent archives, lost among thousands of documents,
Looking at these ancient documents and portraits, the film reveals the untold tales of black nobles, enslaved people, ambassadors, and knights from this era.

The Black Italian Renaissance is a mosaic of ‘cold cases’ on the lives of black people during the Renaissance, all tied together by the spread of the geographic explorations that took place between the 15th and 16th Century.

“I think this film is important because through the narration of some of the most important works of the greatest painters of the Renaissance, we have discovered stories of afro-descendant characters. Stories of slaves, traders, ambassadors, and knights. Stories never told. Stories of men and women present both in the paintings and in the society in which they lived, but had remained invisible for 500,” says Di Mattia
This fresh depiction of Renaissance society brings together an international team of art historians placing a new lens on black history in Italy.

Di Mattia and screenwriter Francesca Priori have plugged a very important hole in history. 
This exploration of a history overlooked and erased offers an essential re-reading of the past.
“In my previous work about the painter Botticelli, I came across many figures of Africans of different ranks in the paintings of the greatest Renaissance artists.

Why didn’t art historians and historians consider them? There was not a single descriptive or in-depth line. Yet these were real portraits of African or Afro-descendant men and women, not mere stylistic inventions. These weren’t only servants, but merchants, ambassadors, intellectuals, even the first duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici, was of African origin,” says Priori.

About RapidLion – The South African International Film Festival
RapidLion was launched in 2015. It is the only film festival in the world, with a special focus on feature films from BRICS countries. Industry events at RapidLion include master classes and Q&As, with directors and producers of selected films. 

About UJ Arts & Culture

UJ Arts & Culture is a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA). It produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes, aligned to UJ’s vision of being an international university of choice, anchored in Africa and dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public, to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists, drawn from a full spectrum of the arts.

In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, including art, design and architecture, as well as being home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre.
.The Black Italian Renaissance will be screened on 10 March at 11:30am. RapidLion Film Festival runs from 4-11 March 2023 at the UJ Arts Centre, University of Johannesburg Kingsway Campus, Corner of Kingsway Avenue and University Road, Auckland Park.

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