A season of nine Italian films is set to be screened on Sunday afternoons, courtesy of Manchester Film Weekender.

With a programme that ranges from Italian neorealist classics such as Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves to more recent fare like Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, the season presents a unique opportunity to see a host of Italian favourites on the big screen.

The films will be screened at Altrincham Little Theatre on Sundays, beginning in September with Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and ending in February with Gianni Di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch.

As with Manchester Film Weekender’s previous season, Cinema on Sundays, each film will be introduced by Manchester film lecturer Maggie Hoffgen, who will also lead an audience discussion after every screening.

Manchester Film Weekender is the brainchild of 76-year-old film enthusiast John Grieve, a former veteran of the motor trade who currently works in a funeral parlour.

John was inspired to set up Manchester Film Weekender after the demise of a similar event that he used to attend regularly at Alston Hall in Lancashire.

“The people who attended were always fairly regular and everybody said it was a pity and that they’d like it to go on,” he says.

“So because I also host an Open University thing at Altrincham Little Theatre, we decided to have a meeting there about what we would do about the film weekends. In doing so, I put together a package with Chancellors Hotel and Conference Centre and everybody said, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s go for that’.”

John’s first venture was a weekend of German movies in 2014, also introduced by Maggie Hoffgen, who had written a book on German cinema and frequently does film introductions at HOME. The success of that weekend encouraged John to expand his horizons.

“The thing I’d always wanted to do was to run a season of films from a country,” he says.

“I decided on Italian, and last year I ran a season of Italian cinema, which was very successful. It allowed me to finance the next film season I was able to put on.”

In fact, John’s first season of Italian films was so popular that it led to a second season, despite his plans to expand into other languages.

“At the end of the last Italian season, I said to everybody, ‘Do you want this to go on here?’ and they said, ‘Yes, we do’. I said, ‘Well, I’m interested in doing a variety of languages, Japanese, Polish and so on.’ They said, ‘Oh, can we have another Italian season, John?’ I said, well, ‘Can do’.”

When planning a season of foreign language cinema, there is obviously a wealth of films to choose from. So how does John decide which films to include?

“A lot of the films are chosen by Maggie and myself basically because people may not have seen them,” he says.

“Some will be familiar. We’re also attracting a lot of people who are learning Italian, so the teachers are encouraging their students to come along and watch the films.

“From my point of view, I like to have films that will provoke discussion afterwards”.

In addition to the upcoming Italian season, John has another Manchester Film Weekender event planned for early next year, screening a weekend of Latin American films over the first three days of February 2019 at the Chancellors Hotel and Conference Centre in Manchester.

Details of the films will be available closer to the time on the Manchester Film Weekender website.

The Italian film season runs from 2nd September until 24th February. Tickets cost £7 per film, but you can book for the whole season for £40 or buy a five film ticket for £25.

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