Italy's Donatello Awards Criticized as 'Laughing Stock,' 'Farce'

Italy's David di Donatello Award

Touted as Italy's version of the Oscars, some in the industry say a bloated jury has damaged the honors' reputation.

ROME – On the eve of Italy's David di Donatello awards, some Italian industry voices are rising to ask whether the ceremony that bills itself as Italy's most prestigious film honors has lost its way.

The Donatellos are usually seen as the most important of Italy's "big three" film honors, which also include the Nastri d'Argento (Silver Ribbons), Europe's oldest film prizes, and the Italian Golden Globes, voted on by the foreign press.

The selection of the massive voter list that selects the Donatello prizes has long been a source of criticism: last year there were more than 1,700 "industry figures," but that included political and business figures and some of their family members in a jury film journalist Michele Anselmi has called "bloated, unrepresentative, and uninformed."

Another Italian journalist, Malcom Pagani, said the awards are hurt by featuring a "friends of friends" jury.

Lately, the honors have drawn more fire, mostly from high-profile industry figures, including comic-turned-actor Checco Zalone, whose last two films are the two highest-grossing productions ever in Italy. He called the awards a "laughing stock."

And Zalone's producer, Pietro Valsecchi, said they represent "cinema of the clique" for failing to recognize even in secondary categories popular low-brow comedies like Zalone's Sun in Buckets (Sole a catinelle), No. 1 on Italy's all-time box office list.

They are not alone: director Gabriele Muccino, a Rome native best known outside Italy for Hollywood hits The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) and Seven Pounds (2008), called the Donatellos "a farce of lobbying for Italian cinema." He lamented that the honors lost their prestige they had when Donatello winners were celebrated even in the U.S. "They used to be heavyweight awards; now they are paperweight awards," he said.

And a study by magazine Eight and a Half showed that winning a Donatello no longer had an impact on a film's box-office performance or the way the production is viewed by the public.

To be sure, the Donatellos, which were first presented in 1955, have their defenders who point to the long history of the event and accuse critics of sour grapes for not having films selected.

Gian Luigi Rondi, the esteemed former president of the Rome Film Festival who is also the president for life for the Donatellos, says the awards still aim high: "We aim to be the Italian version of the Oscars," he said.

The 58th edition of the awards takes place Tuesday. Paolo Virzi’s The Human Capital (Il capital umano) led the way with 19 nominations, one more than the 18 nominations for The Great Beauty (la grande bellezza), the foreign-language Oscar winner from Paolo Sorrentino.

Twitter: @EricJLyman