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This past Wednesday night, near the top of an island paradise located 20 miles off the coast of Naples, on the picturesque grounds of a 16th-century castle once occupied by Michelangelo, dozens of Italian actors, musicians, models, influencers, government officials and paparazzi — all dressed to the nines — along with a handful of Hollywood denizens, gathered for night four of the weeklong Ischia Global Film & Music Festival, which has been held every summer for 19 years. (Full disclosure: your humble correspondent was invited to this year’s fest, and to prior editions, to serve as a panel moderator, and finally decided that this story was too colorful to leave untold.)
A buffet dinner and song and dance numbers were followed by the presentation of awards to showbiz figures ranging from 13-year-old Italian actor Ibrahima Gueye, who starred opposite Sophia Loren in last year’s The Life Ahead, to Bennett Miller, the Oscar-nominated American director of 2005’s Capote. Miller, upon being called up to the stage to receive the festival’s inaugural ‘Truman Capote Award,’ wryly said of the event, “It’s like being in a Fellini movie — on LSD. I’m not sure that any of this is actually happening.”
This — the chaotic co-mingling of boldfaced names from two very different countries that are both hubs of cinema lovers — really does happen every night at the Ischia Global Film & Music Festival, as well as at the Capri, Hollywood Film Festival, which is held across the Gulf of Naples in the winter, and across the Atlantic at the Los Angeles, Italia Film Fashion and Art Festival, which takes place during the week leading up the Oscars. And it happens because of one man: Pascal Vicedomini.
The 59-year-old Neopolitan — a veteran television personality and producer, currently for RAI Television — is, and long has been, one of the most colorful characters in the entertainment industry. He is a vestige of a bygone era in which a select few larger-than-life people — people like Cecil B. DeMille, Mike Todd and Joseph E. Levine — hustled and blustered their way, against all odds, into becoming what they always wanted to be: showmen.
“I like to make things happen,” says Vicedomini over lunch at the hub of his Ischia event, the five-star Regina Isabella hotel. “I like to create. I try to create opportunities for people to meet and network. And then they become family.”
Vicedomini’s real family is comprised of Concetta, his longtime partner, and Mateo, their 15-year-old son, as well as David, a 24-year-old son from a prior relationship with the actress Lara-Joy Korner. But this year in Ischia, his extended family includes Gueye and Miller; Sting and Trudi Styler; Oscar-winning filmmakers Paul Haggis (Crash), Bobby Moresco (Crash), Fisher Stevens (The Cove) and Nick Vallelonga (Green Book); international filmmakers Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) and Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant); Victoria Zinny, a veteran actress best known for Bunuel‘s 1961 classic Viridiana; actress Gina Gershon; 29-year-old Italian Pietro Castellitto, who won the best screenplay prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival for The Predators, a film which he also directed and starred in; and musicians ranging from Tony Renis, the co-writer of the 1962 classic “Quando, Quando, Quando,” to Clementino, the Italian Eminem, to New Orleans native Nicole Slack Jones.
It is just the sort of eclectic group that Vicedomini has always curated. Consider some of the other boldfaced names he has brought to his homeland over the years: Ted Sarandos, Selena Gomez, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Oliver Stone, Terry Gilliam, Alan Parker, Norman Jewison, Neil Jordan, Jeremy Irons, Laura Dern, Sheryl Crow, Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Clive Davis, Baz Luhrmann, Terry Gilliam, Stephen Frears, Joseph Fiennes, Steven Zaillian, Francis Ford Coppola, Antonio Banderas, Taylor Hackford, Helen Mirren, Christoph Waltz, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes, Hugh Dancy, Dominic Cooper, Armand Assante, Harry Belafonte, Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Forest Whitaker, Matt Dillon, Vanessa Redgrave, Zoey Deutch, Gerard Butler, Channing Tatum, Josh Hartnett, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Joel Schumacher, Emmanuelle Seigner, Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Mark Canton and the then-presidents of the film Academy (Cheryl Boone Isaacs), TV Academy (Hayma Washington) and recording Academy (Neil Portnow).
For many Hollywood types, Vicedomini and his events take some getting used to. Honors, which are chosen through a slightly opaque process, are sometimes strangely named and not presented until 2 or 3 in the morning. Some do not know they are presenting or receiving an honor until Vicedomini calls them to the stage. And some called to the stage are inadvertently forgotten about — Vallelonga was summoned at the same time as a singer and two dancers, who then performed a number while he stood off to the side, after which he deadpanned that it was “the most awkward moment in the history of the festival.”
But almost invariably, Vicedomini — who Castellitto describes as “the essence of Italy” — wins over skeptics with his tireless energy and unabashed passion. Some film festivals are primarily about screening and selling films; Vicedomini’s certainly showcase films, but they are more about networking, seeing and being seen. To cite but one example, Avi Lerner met Lee Daniels and agreed to finance Daniels’ 2012 film The Paperboy while they were hanging out by the Regina Isabella pool.
Haggis, who has been attending the Ischia festival since 2006, says he cast Charlize Theron in In the Valley of Elah while riding a moped around Ischia. His script for the Bond film Quantum of Solace called for it to be set on the island. He also made friends for life at numerous editions of the fest, particularly one at which he, Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts and Matthew Modine decided to take a late-night skinnydip into the ocean while Vicedomini held off the paparazzi. “There are great little festivals, and I’ve been to several,” he says. “But no one really pulls together interesting people like Pascal does. I don’t know how he does it.”
Vicedomini says he draws upon a lifetime of experience in public relations and journalism to try to determine a mix of people and programming that will attract his countrymen and foreigners to his fests, while also benefiting Italian filmmakers and cinema. He receives some financial support from the Italian government and corporate sponsors, but largely bankrolls the events himself. “There is always a risk,” he acknowledges. “But I am not a poker player. I won’t bet on just anything.”
In his youth, Vicedomini was a semi-professional tennis player. He established Italy’s first Nick Bollettieri training academy on Capri and subsequently began providing PR services for a wide variety of sports merchandise companies, including Converse shoes, becoming prominent in Italian sports circles. In 1987, he was recruited by Luca di Montezemolo, the former president of Ferrari and Fiat, to serve on the organizing committee for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, having previously served in a similar capacity in connection with the in 1986 World Cup in Mexico (where he created House Italia, a sort of Soho House before Soho House). In the meantime, he was also getting into TV, working as a correspondent at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and ultimately becoming chief of the international broadcasting center — and interviewing the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele — when the 1990 World Cup finally arrived.
Di Montezemolo urged Vicedomini to draw upon his experience in public relations and journalism and become a producer. “He discovered my talent and he gave me a reputation,” says Vicedomini, who shortly thereafter became assistant general manager of RAI Television. That gig didn’t last long, however, “because of politics,” he explains. “You know, in Italy, there’s the spoils system, so if your boss is kicked out so are you. And so I was unemployed.”
Vicedomini spent the following summer licking his wounds on Capri, where he took note of a steady stream of Hollywood personalities — among them Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier, Jim Belushi and Naomi Campbell — passing through the island. It was then that he began thinking of producing not just television, but also events. “I said, ‘Well, this year I’m not going to Hollywood, but Hollywood is coming to Capri, so I should make Capri, Hollywood. And that’s the way I started.” The first Capri, Hollywood Film Festival was held in 1995.
The fest in Ischia launched in 2003 after the owner of the aforementioned Regina Isabella encouraged Vicedomini to hold an event on his island, too. “I was very scared that it was going to screw Capri,” Vicedomini admits. “But then I realized, ‘No, this is totally different. Ischia should be in the summer, and Capri should be during Oscar season.’ Everyone said that Capri in winter would never work, but Capri for New Year’s Eve is always an exciting opportunity. Capri is a brand that works all year long.'” With encouragement from the most powerful Italian-American in Hollywood at the time, MPAA chief Jack Valenti, he decided to give it a try, and never looked back.
Three years later, Vicedomini created a third and final festival, this one in the belly of the beast: Hollywood. “I always have been representing Italy abroad,” he says, noting that he has covered Oscar night for decades as a journalist. “I thought, ‘I invited Hollywood to Italy; now I should bring Italy to Hollywood.'” L.A., Italia is, like Vicedomini’s other fests, a weeklong event, but the night of its awards gala — which is held within the TCL Chinese cineplex and is every bit as Fellini-esque as the Italian fests — attracts the attendance of hordes of Italian-Americans and gives them a taste of the motherland via a subtitled Italian film, an Italian dinner and Italian-American honorees like Jimmy Kimmel, Liza Minnelli, Sylvester Stallone and Al Pacino.
Vicedomini has also traveled to Hollywood on numerous other occasions that he helped to make possible, from the Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremonies for Bernardo Bertolucci (1998), Andrea Bocelli (2010), Ennio Morricone (2016) and Lina Wertmuller (2019), to the 2019 presentation of an honorary Oscar to Wertmuller, for which he had spent years lobbying the Academy.
Back in Ischia, Vicedomini notes that the regional government has lately been less supportive of his efforts than it once was. Copy-cat festivals have popped up and asked for a bigger piece of the pie, but he says they do not understand what they are getting into: “It’s not about just having the sea or a beautiful beach or good spaghetti alle vongole. It’s a combination of many things — taking care of details, making people happy and especially trust.”
Vicedomini, who received the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2018 for service to his country, has countless treasured memories from his festivals but says he has lately been thinking about one involving Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who attended the Ischia fest several times prior to his death in 2018. Allen enjoyed it so much that in 2015 he hosted a party for Vicedomini and festivalgoers aboard Tatoosh, his 300-foot yacht, the world’s 60th largest. “One of the moments that I remember with nostalgia, emotion, love — one of the magical moments of my life — was at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Vicedomini recalls. “Everyone was still having fun, and I walked from the harbor to the hotel, listening to the music from afar. It was like La Dolce Vita with Fellini. I was almost crying.”
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