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Helen Mirren Brings Environmental Message to Italy’s Ora! Festival and Warns: “Misogyny Is Always Lurking”



Oscar winner Helen Mirren is an ideal godmother for Italy’s Ora! Fest, a festival featuring films and series highlighting such issues as the environment, sustainability, and social justice, which is taking place in Monopoli, Apulia on Italy’s southern coast June 3-7.

Even her outfit — a shocking pink calf-length number, studded with beads and sequins, with a matching headscarf — paid homage to the region, known locally as “Puglia.” Mirren playfully called it “peasanty Puglia.”

Officially, Mirren attended the festival for the Italian premiere of 1923the Paramount + prequel to the western hit series Yellowstonein which she stars alongside Harrison Ford as an early 20th-century pioneer, battling pandemics, droughts, and the Great Depression.

At Ora! however, Mirren’s battle is focused on Save the Olives, the non-profit environmental organization of which she is a member and whose name she carries with her, handwritten on a piece of paper, holding up for the cameras at the festival photocall ahead of a small roundtable interview with a group of female journalists.

What do you think of this festival, which is dedicated to environmental issues?

Often film festivals completely ignore where they are. You could take a festival like Cannes or other big festivals and move them to another place and you would always find the red carpet, the photographers, the paparazzi. The Ora! Fest is very different, the roots of this festival are in this territory, and that makes the difference.

Let’s talk about Save the Olives. Do you think this is a really underestimated problem in Italy?

Olive trees are part of the historical, cultural landscape but also the economic heritage of Italy, especially the south. Around our masseria |farmhouse]in Salento, there are thousands of acres of dead olive trees. It is estimated that 60 million trees will be lost to Xylella |a bacterial pathogen]. It is an unimaginable disaster and you cannot point the finger at the farmers of Salento, who in large part, in these areas, are small farmers. The epidemic is spreading, and soon it will touch other parts of Puglia. Xylella seems to have come to Italy from Costa Rica, it is the result of globalization, and I think it needs to be managed nationally, even internationally.

These are battles in which the conflict between capitalism — in the sense of a Western globalized worldview — and nature seems to dominate, a theme that also features in 1923

It’s true! It is a real conflict, and it is also a leading theme 1923. If we think about the 1900s, it was an extraordinary century, it started with no cars and no electricity and it ended with computers and the Internet. All in just 100 years! And I think the 1920s were very interesting: they were the years when the effects of the industrial revolution were beginning to be felt, and they were the years when we and the West began to mistreat nature, in the grip of our stupidity and ignorance. And we’ve gone on like that until today. I hope we have started to open our eyes.

Your role is that of a strong woman. Do you think these kinds of characters are the result of an attempt to create more “gender equality”?

I think characters like mine have always existed, (their stories) just weren’t being told. During my research into my character, I read autobiographies of “pioneer” women. We’re talking about women who crossed the US to go to the West, incredibly strong, yet their stories were ignored, because only men’s stories were told. But women were there and had enormous willpower.

What advice would he give to a younger you?

I would like to tell her: “Don’t worry, things will get better.” For me, it was shocking when I hit puberty, when I was 13, 14 years old and I realized how we women were disadvantaged. I was angry, enraged! I didn’t come from a wealthy family, my father was a taxi driver, and the concept of economic independence was central. My sister and I were not brought up with the idea that a man would come along and marry us and everything would be fine, in fact, it was the opposite. What I understood, and what I think is the most important thing, is opportunity: You can choose to ride opportunity or not, but when there is no opportunity, like when I was younger, everything becomes utterly impossible. And if I may add, it is 1,000 times more so if you are a black actress. And I in that sense have been lucky. But times are changing.

Times are changing, but there is still much to be done.

Misogyny is always lurking, it’s under the rug, and if you lift it up, you see it creeping in. I hope very much that the battles waged by women and men — because I don’t exclude men from this debate — in the last 20, 30 years have been fought and won, but you never know. The triumphs of certain political figures around the world make me think: “My God, are we really going back to the 1950s?” To me that’s the biggest challenge, making sure we never go back.

Do you have regrets and remorse in your career?

Of course, I have so many! But that’s life, you have to learn to live with it, and the good thing is that regrets give experience and wisdom. I would not have liked to live life without mistakes.

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