Part 3 Cinecittà Studios
One of the most important feature that contributed to the success of Italian Cinema was the creation of Cinecittà Studios. Founded in 1937, it was founded by Benito Mussolini, his son Vittorio and the head of cinema, Luigi Freddi that the enormous undertaking came to fruition. The purpose was not solely for propaganda, it was intended to support the recovery and expansion of the Italian feature film industry. In retrospect, it is clear that the industry’s low point was reached in 1931, but the films of the Telefoni Bianchi held great promise thereafter.
The Cinecittà studios were Europe’s most advanced production facilities and greatly boosted the technical quality of Italian films. Its roots can be traced back to 1934, when the Italian government created Direzione Generale per le Cinematografia – the General Directorate for Cinema and appointed Luigi Freddi its director. With the approval of Benito Mussolini, this directorate called for the establishment of a town southeast of Rome devoted exclusively to cinema, dubbed Cinecittà or Cinema City. Completed in 1937, Cinecittà provided everything necessary for filmmaking, including theaters and technical services. It even had a cinematography school called Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, to ensure that up and coming filmmakers would have a place to learn their craft. Even though the studios were under the thumb of the fascist regime, it was a hugely progressive approach to the art. Cinecittà Studios were Europe’s most advanced production facilities and greatly boosted the technical quality of Italian films.
Mussolini inaugurated the studios on April 21, 1937. Sets and post-production units were constructed and extensively used. Early films such as Scipio Africanus (1937) and The Iron Crown (1941) showcased their technological advancements. Seven thousand people were involved in the filming of the battle scene from Scipio Africanus, with live elephants brought in as a part of the re-enactment of the Battle of Zama. Within six years, almost 300 films had been made at the new studios.
During this period, Mussolini’s son, Vittorio, created a national production company and organized the work of noted authors, directors and actors. Remarkably, there were even some political opponents in the mix, which only added to the stimulating professional interaction.
In 1943, Italy surrendered and the Germans took over the country. They looted Cinecittà and the film production facilities were moved to temporary accommodations in Venice. Over the next two years, the Roman studio was subjected to Allied bombing with devastating effects. Following the war, for two years between 1945 and 1947, the studios of Cinecittà were used as a displaced persons camp and could have spelled the end to the studios. The rebuilding was slow and in the interim period, movies were often shot on the streets of Rome, as well as other cities. This was the beginning of the famous Neorealism period, which will be covered in Part 4 of this series.
In the postwar years, the studios were used once again for their post-production facilities, which were up and running years before the massive sound stages and outdoor sets could be reconstructed. The progress was steady and with the creativity that was bursting at the seams in Italy, in the late 1940s and 50s, the studio was transformed into la fabbrica dei sogni – the dream factory. It became the headquarters of Italian cinema and was developed into the cinema-city that its name suggests. With Cinecittà Studios as its base, Italian cinema entered into its most productive period. Cinecittà can be credited with giving Italy a place on the world cinema stage and allowing film makers to develop their careers.