Italians are known to gather in public spaces they call piazzas for outdoor performances and social occasions.
The folks at Hot Italian restaurant in midtown Sacramento have, for the past two years, replicated that tradition with a bike-in Italian film festival held at a nearby city park.
This weekend, the old Modern Italian Film Festival becomes the new Moderno Italiano Festival, featuring an Italian-design showcase and a tasting event today and Saturday at Hot Italian, followed by a movie screening each night across the street in Fremont Park.
The entire event is free, and a free bike valet service is available.
"We have, from the get-go, been all about the Italian lifestyle and felt like we were more than a restaurant," said Hot Italian founder and creative director Andrea Lepore. "We wanted to be a part of the community and offer things we haven't had before in Sacramento. There wasn't an Italian film festival, so we started one. There isn't an Italian design festival, so we started one."
From 6 to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, the restaurant at 16th and Q streets will be partly transformed into a pop-up Italian-style showroom created by Sacramento retailer Lumens Light + Living and featuring contemporary Kartell furniture, Alessi tableware and Foscarini lighting. Nothing will be for sale, just for show.
Fiat cars will be on hand for viewing and test drives. Ducati and Vespa motor- cycles and scooters, and Italian bicycles also will be on display.
Lepore and her staff worked with Italian and area purveyors to create a tasting room at the restaurant. It will feature Corto olive oil from Lodi, Fra'Mani handcrafted salumi from Berkeley, Galbani cheese and Baci chocolates from Italy, Peroni beer and various Italian wines.
"The more people know about Italian food and design and films, the more they will appreciate them," said Lepore, who hosted a similar event Thursday night at Hot Italian's Emeryville location.
Both today and Saturday, festivalgoers will be able to purchase pizzas, paninis, salads, gelato and drinks at the restaurant to carry over to Fremont Park for the 9 p.m. movie screenings.
Film buff and local high school French teacher Joan Taylor selected the two Italian-made movies for this year's festival. Both are subtitled and will be shown on an enormous, inflatable movie screen.
Today's film is the 2010 comedy "Welcome to the South" ("Benvenuti al sud"), starring Claudio Bisio and Valentina Lodovini. It's a remake of a French film and tells the story of a postal worker whose transfer to southern Italy displeases him, until he realizes it was the best thing that ever happened to him. The running time is 102 minutes.
"It's enchanting," Taylor said.
For Saturday, she chose the 2009 thriller "The Double Hour" ("La doppia ora"), named best Italian film at the Venice International Film Festival. The 95-minute film stars Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi. Rappoport's character falls for Timi's, an ex-cop she meets at a speed-dating event.
"From that point on, nothing is what it seems," Taylor said. "It has many twists and turns, and you'll be in good hands with the writing and directing."
Hot Italian's two previous festivals attracted about 1,500 people for two nights of movies. Lepore believes the added design showcase will bring in even more fans, or would-be fans, of all things Italia.
"We have such great nights here, and it's like you're in a piazza, with cars going by, hanging out, watching a great film with friends and family."
MODERNO ITALIANO FESTIVAL
When: 6-11 p.m. today and Saturday (outdoor movie screenings start at 9 p.m. both days)
Where: Hot Italian restaurant and Fremont Park, 16th and Q streets, Sacramento