The San Diego Italian Film Festival pays tribute to its late founder

In March, the San Diego Italian Film Festival lost its founder Victor Laruccia to an aggressive form of stomach cancer. He was 80 years old. The festival will celebrate his life with a screening of the Italian film “Vaganti Mine / Loose Cannons” to Photographic Arts Museum.

Victor Laruccia was a big teddy bear of a man, and like a teddy bear he exuded warmth and comfort. You just felt better in his presence. He also had a brilliant mind, an avid curiosity and a passion for life.

San Diego Italian Film Festival

San Diego Italian Film Festival founder Victor Laruccia (center) stands next to his wife Janice during a festival event in this undated photo.

Laruccia came to me over ten years ago to pitch the idea of ​​an Italian film festival in San Diego and wanted to know if I could get some advice. I knew immediately from his enthusiasm and energy that nothing could stop this from happening and that he didn’t need anything from me. But I also knew that I wanted to be part of it because he had the same love for cinema as me.

The festival started small but grew into a successful, multi-location, year-long event not only about Italian cinema, but also about what he liked to call “an Italian perspective”.

When I think of what Laruccia created, it wasn’t just a film festival. It was a gathering place for movies, food, wine and conversation. Lots of conversation! No other festival has encouraged the kind of long, deep, argumentative and wonderful conversation. And Laruccia is one of the few people who seemed to enjoy disagreeing with people without ever offending or being mean. He just liked the difference of opinion and the fact that people were willing to discuss what they saw.


Lamia Khorshid

Diana Agostini, Victor Laruccia and Antonio Iannotta at an event for the San Diego Italian Film Festival. Photo taken in 2018.

In recent years, Laruccia had been trying to take a step back from his leadership role in the festival in order to give younger colleagues such as Antonio Iannotta and Diana Agostini a chance to take on more duties and responsibilities. He was always present at events and during the pandemic on the festival’s Zoom chats, you could always find him raising his hand to speak or spark conversation with a question.


San Diego Italian Film Festival

Antonio Iannotta, Victor Laruccia and Laruccia’s daughter-in-law Jennifer Davies on the San Diego Italian Film Festival red carpet. Undated photo.

Laruccia’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer Davies, has taken on the role of board chair and hopes to keep Laruccia’s vision for the festival intact in the future.

“We want it to stay very true to Victor de la Piazza’s vision,” Davies said. “I want it to be a place where people feel welcome and can come together and experience things together, whether it’s movies or food or just celebrations or conversations. But as I tell people, Victor is irreplaceable so I can’t do the things that Victor could do where he could talk in depth about Italian movies and history and culture so it’s like for people who don’t know the intimate details of how the film festival goes, we want people not to notice that there’s a difference, right? That for them, they’re still going to have these big conversations, these big parties. But we’re going to have to, ultimately, do a lot of things that Victor didn’t do, because Victor could just do it by being Victor and having a coffee and sort of, oh, that’ll be fine. So we’re going to have to be a bit more professional at the end. But we don’t want anyone to see that. We don’t want anyone to know.


Focus World

An undated handout photo from the 2010 Italian comedy ‘Mine Vaganti/LooseCannons’. The film is screened as part of the San Diego Italian Film Festival’s tribute to its late founder Victor Laruccia.

On Friday, the festival will serve Italian pastries with prosecco, show a video tribute to its founder, screen a film and, of course, debate.

“I always say that for Victor, knowledge was never a lonely quest,” Davies said. “It was never a monologue. It was a discussion and a dialogue. And through that discussion and that dialogue, you could learn more about each other, about the art and about this exploration. And that’s what excited Victor the most I think about the Italian festival or the films or any kind of acquaintance was the ability to work together, to find a solution or a conversation And even if you weren’t Okay, this trip was very important. He always wanted to know who he could collaborate with the Italian Film Festival, even if it was far away and the normal person wouldn’t see it, he always found connections.”

The film selected for the event is a 2010 Italian comedy titled “Mine vaganti/Loose Cannons”.

“He’s based in Puglia, where Victor’s family is from,” Davies said. “And it’s a fun comedy about family identity and business. And it’s just kind of a night to remember him and kind of feel in tune with him, even if he’s not there in person, he will be in spirit.”

The event is free to the public but it is also a fundraiser for the festival if people wish to donate in memory of Laruccia.

About Debra D. Johnson

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