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It’s a Small Country, After All

Italian student Myriam Ciliani stumbled upon the subject of her latest lesson at the Umbra Institute while strolling through her hometown of Todi, a small city near Perugia, last Tuesday.

Celebrated Italian director Sergio Castellito was filming in Todi last week, when Ciliani recognized him from last Monday’s meeting of “Blockbusters and Bestsellers: Italian Cinema and Literature of the Twenty-First Century,” an Umbra course taught by Elgin Eckert.

Eckert’s students had just finished “Don’t Move,” a novel by Castellito’s wife, Margaret Mazzantini, the day before and were about to watch Castellito’s adaptation of the novel the next day.

“I saw him on the street and thought, ‘Wait, I know who that is!’” recounted Ciliani. “I was very happy. I also told him about the class … and that we were going to see his film the day after. He thought it was cool. And that was it! Not too remarkable.”

Eckert was impressed by the chance meeting.

“(It) emphasizes the importance of what we do at the Umbra Institute: We put what we learn into context,” she said. “Just looking at the picture of the two of them and hearing the ‘unremarkable story’ of their meeting made Umbra students feel closer to the work itself … and look out for his next film.”

“Blockbusters and Bestsellers” is a cultural studies course that focuses on cinema and literature from the 21st century that are significant to contemporary Italian culture, “not works of many years past,” Eckert explained.

As a University of Perugia student enrolled at Umbra, Ciliani is in the rare position of an Italian studying her own culture through an American lens; Eckert noted that an Italian student’s perspective is invaluable in the classroom.

“At Umbra we study Italy, Italian literature, and Italian cinema right now, as it is happening,” Eckert said. “Having Italian students in our classrooms enhances our experience manifold!”

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