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December 26, 2021

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Major upgrade for ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’

Once the stomping ground of Italy’s greatest directors and actors, from Federico Fellini to Sophia Loren, Rome’s renowned Cinecitta film studios are planning a much-needed makeover for a new era.

Dubbed “Hollywood on the Tiber,” Cinecitta was at the heart of the golden age of Italian cinema, and now hopes to regain some of its former luster thanks to European Union post-pandemic funding.

Italy is the main beneficiary of the bloc’s recovery fund, and the aging studios are in line for a 260-million-euro (US$292-million) windfall to expand and modernize, capitalizing on the different ways to watch films and television.

“We can give back to this place the light that has always characterized it and that it deserves,” said Cinecitta Chief Executive Officer Nicola Maccanico.

Cinecitta — which means “the city of cinema” in Italian — has been the backdrop of more than 3,000 films, including 51 Oscar winners.

In recent decades, although critically acclaimed films such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” and Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” were shot at Cinecitta, major productions have become more scarce.

The studios were inaugurated on the southern outskirts of the Italian capital in 1937 to churn out propaganda for the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini.

They have since endured the upheavals of Italy’s modern history: the Allied bombings in 1944, the repurposing of the studios as housing for people displaced by war, the economic “miracle” of the 1950s-60s and subsequent economic decline.

In its heyday during the golden era of film, major Hollywood blockbusters such as “Ben-Hur” in 1959 and some of cinema’s most seminal works like Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” in 1960 were filmed at Cinecitta.

But since the end of the 1960s, it has been unable to recapture its former prestige due to competition from television and major international productions opting for better-equipped studios elsewhere.

‘Unique opportunity’

Cinecitta loses out on about 25 million euros per year due to the studios’ current inability to meet potential demand from TV series and films because of the small size of its stages and other deficiencies, according to business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

“For Cinecitta, this is really a unique opportunity, because it brings together two situations that are difficult to reproduce: the recovery plan and a booming market,” Maccanico said.

The lion’s share of the money will help double the surface area of the studios, which currently cover about 40 hectares, with the creation of five new sets and the renovation and expansion of five others.

Further improvements will include an indoor pool for underwater filming, a theater with a 360-degree green screen and two sets for virtual reality with LED panels.

Maccanico said the increased number of platforms for content has created unprecedented opportunities for film studios.

“It’s within this market context that the idea of re-launching Cinecitta was born, making it a new reference hub for the new European audiovisual production market,” he said.

To boost its income, Cinecitta has offered public tours since 2011.

Groups of tourists wander through the imposing Teatro 5 — Fellini’s favorite and the largest in Europe at 2,880 square meters — and the white faux-marble, open-air sets of ancient Rome and 15th-century Florence.

A museum with film clips, photographs and costumes is also open to visitors.

A film-themed park associated with the studios, Cinecitta World, opened on the outskirts of Rome in 2014, designed by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti.

In 2019, Italy produced the most domestic films in Europe, 312, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.


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