Cinecittà: 70 years of showing Rome to the world

Article published on April 26, 2007
Article published on April 26, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

On April 28, Rome celebrates seventy years of its own dream-factory, with the birth of a new generation of artists recalling the golden years of the ‘50s and ‘60s

To some, it is a European Hollywood; other, younger people have never heard of it. Cinecittà is a mythical film studio created in 1936 to produce Fascist publicity for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Its glory years spanned the middle of the 20th century. To date it has made more than 3000 films, including 48 Oscar winners: Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963), War and Peace (King Vidor, 1955) and Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973), some of the films that have made this a renowned studio.

Close to Hollywood, far from Europe

Located in the outskirts of Rome, Cinecittà has always been closer to Hollywood than the European film scene. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ (2004), Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic (2004) and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) are just three recent super-productions to come out of the studio. Italian cinema also features heavily. 'Around 80% of Italian films come out of here,' according to Catherine Lowing, Cinecittà's public relations officer. Other European productions go pretty much ignored.

All that said, these studios have been smart enough to move with the times. Today, a large part of their business is recording TV programmes, such as the Italian version of Big Bother or the huge drama series Rome. As we wander through the more than 20 hangars that make up the studio compound, Lowing explains: 'The studio offers such a wide range of activities, that anyone who wants can come to Cinecittà and shoot their own film or programme.' Today, it continues to grow and adapt to the needs of the film industry. In January 2005, Cinecittà acquired film studios in Marrakech, thus becoming one of the biggest in the world.

Rome: Cinecittà’s backdrop

Rome has always been a city whose history and scenery have inspired all manner of filmmakers, from the most commercial to the most independent. To list all the films that have some relation to Rome would be as near impossible a task as it would be to count the churches in this world capital of Catholicism. William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959), Quo Vadis by Mervyn LeRoy (1951) or more recently, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) have entered history through the eyes of North American directors.

Many non-Roman Italians have also succumbed to the capital’s charms. Ettore Scola, from Trévico (Avellino, in the south), whose recent comic reconstruction of the Gente di Roma ('People of Rome', 2003) pays homage to the vitality of the city through the daily lives if its inhabitants; or the revolutionary Pier Paolo Pasolini – born in Casarsa (Pordenone, in the north-east) – whose films often had a religious tinge, and whose Mamma Roma ('Mother Rome', 1962), tells the story of a prostitute who leaves her job in order to sell fruit. Neither should we omit to mention water-polo playing filmmaker Nanni Moretti, who although born in Bolzano, northern Italy, has lived all his life in the city which has left a marked impression of his œuvre: how could we forget his trip through the African quarter on scooter in his 1998 film Aprile?

If we have to pick out one Italian filmmaker whose entire output is a reflection of this city, it would have to be Federico Fellini. Virtually all of his work is infused with the inspiration that breathes on every street corner: La Dolce Vita (1960) with its Fontana di Trevi historic sequence – which we have all wanted to imitate at some time or other, and scenes of which were shot in Cinecittà using a replica of the fountain. His passion for the city is clear to see in Roma (1972), in which the city is compared to actress Anna Magnani: 'She could be the living symbol of this city. Rome, a she-wolf and a vestal virgin, an aristocrat and a whore, a sombre clown.'

New talent

In recent years, a new generation of actors and directors have begun to re-establish their hometown as a place of significance on both European and global levels: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, 32, with the Oscar -nominated La Bestia Nel Cuore ('The Beast in the Heart', 2005), or L’Ultimo Bacio ('The Last Kiss', 2001). Sabrina Impacciatore 35, who also appears in L’Ultimo Bacio and also N - Io e Napoleone ('Napoleon & Me', 2006). Both are from Rome and examples of this new and exciting wave of entertainers. As for directors, Gabriele Muccino, 39, and Matteo Garrone, 38, are two of the most acclaimed Romans. Whilst not as youthful as the two actresses mentioned, they still belong to this new generation, given that their most recognised work dates from the last five years.