The State and Status of Film: A study of the effect of politics on Italian filmmaking

by Roberto SILVESTRI

The state of Italian film making comprises not only stalwarts like Nanni Moretti, Matteo Garrone, Francesco Rosi, Sabina Guzzanti, Paolo Sorrentino,  Marco Tullio Giordana, but also names like Michelangelo Frammartino, Pietro Marcello, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Del Bono, Daniele Ciprì, Roberta Torre, Franco Maresco, and Stefano Savona; making the industry multi-faceted. The neo-realism of 1945-1948 saw a resurgence of a country in ruins and split by the European Recovery Program, which preferred American corporations taking advantage of low wages in a country beholden to the Western superpower. Today, that same country is still in ruin, spiritually and morally.


The importance of cinematographic and literary neo-realism has been expressed in various ways:

1. To live and struggle as a popular political-ethical movement around the rise and fall of Fascism. While never being populist, after the somewhat fraudulent electoral loss of ’48, it passed on, having emerged from the ruins, to other more complex experimentations in reality, without becoming too codified in dogma or traditionalist aesthetic ideologies. Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Roberto Rossellini were, in this sense, “consistent” neorealists, because those who simplify reality are always “subrealists”.

2. To return Italy to the living flow of international culture after 20 years of racist obscurantist autocracy and colonization. As the French critic André Bazin wrote, its greatness was reworking the social realism of photo-essay and cinematography of the Roosevelt New Deal with new emotional and visual elements.

3. To significantly reduce production costs using new filming technologies and the industrial high-tech craftsmanship emerging from Cinecittà, thereby regenerating the film star system and associated politics.

And so was born the auteur (Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Alberto Lattuada, Giuseppe De Santis, Luigi Zampa, Pietro Germi, Mario Monicelli…). It was the film director, no longer the studio system, who became the productive focal point of the cinema – and consequently the target of frenzied state censors. For the first time Italian cinema became art, and the cinematographer became an artist on a par with authors, musicians and painters. Rossellini was the first of this new wave. Today the most socially conscious Italian cinematographers cannot take advantage of the “inattention” of public or private post-war powers. The cinematic world, a crumbling industry enslaved by television and the viewing public, is rigorously controlled by the State; that is to say, those who play private games with public money. It was the public, the civil society, who until the mid 1970s allowed cinema to exist in the “North American” style; therefore, this system was mixed and while marketing operations were still possible and ongoing in selling our films abroad in the Series A market, this no longer holds any true power. The gap between experimental filmmaking and filmmaking of a commercial quality became greatly enlarged, and those using public funding sorely needed a “foreign cover-up” and co-production (such as Michelangelo Frammartino, Carlo Hintermann, Alba Rorhwacher, Pietro Marcello, Matteo Garrone); or those forced into self-production (Ciprì, Torre, Maresco, Gianikian-Ricci Lucchi); or even those whose option was to escape abroad. The neo-neo-realists have, for the most part, escaped and fled to other shores.

Certainly there is no such fractured gap between commitment and “fun”. From Shakespeare to Hawks, popular success is the result of ongoing permanent experimentation. But the same Straub who is selling his films all over the (civil) world, and continues to sell them for several decades, always profits more than film director Fausto Brizzi, making far-superior escapist films because, in a society that imprisons good people but frees the criminals, the problem lies in allowing the good to escape. In recognizing this, the minor-quality commercial “comedy” nevertheless holds a special place in the hearts of the general public (the comedies of the Vanzina brothers are studied in North American universities, but not here at “home” in Italy); even though films of commercial quality (from Sabina Guzzanti, Nanni Moretti, Carlo Verdone, Roberto Benigni, Claudio Bisio, the Manetti brothers and many other caustic young filmmaking warriors) have a greater international appeal. Sure, we have been investing everything in “fake, false comedies” for a long time! Rai and Mediaset, the oligopolies that control everything, the two commanders who control our imaginations, have ordered the filmmakers to keep everything as status quo, to put everything else on the back burner.

Despite all this, despite the atrocious law currently regulating the film market, and even despite a system of points for financing films which oblige the filmmaker to star the same actors playing the same parts again and again, ad nauseum; these same stars win the same awards in the same tired festivals (and possibly even fictitious festivals) . . . the same screenwriters, cinematographers, editors, costume designers and musicians, everything is status quo. The “fake comedy” remains and is adored. It fills a hole and has its place in the grand scheme of the cinematic world where even the big screen fills us with the bodies and faces of television stars. No longer do we see our old friends Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, Alberto Sordi or even Paolo Villaggio. But if we analyze this “bath of stupidity”, which is at the core of the non-exportable Italian cinematic product, we cannot blame any one person in particular. Everyone has their own degree of responsibility, from Walter Veltroni to Francesco Rutelli (former Mayors of Rome), Sandro Bondi to Giancarlo Galan (former Cultural Ministers). Those who have and ignore a conflict of interest, and those who allow this to happen and complicit in its continuance. Apparently, the world’s (political) center-right and center-left are attracted to such an irresistible and fatal idiocy. Meanwhile, the film critics (including theater and musical critics) no longer exist. Only reviews are written, chauvinistic and obsessive apologies, while all those who would be useful to filmmakers working to better express themselves, and who deal with films and artists appreciated anywhere in the world but here, are subjected to a lynching. When will the works of Thai independent film director Weerasethakul Apichatpong arrive to primetime Rai stations? Italy’s expenditure for culture in all aspects is very low, not exceeding one percent (1%), which is worse than Burkina Faso in Africa. Culture is not the end, but the means for development and growth. All of us need to invest not in films, but in good film schools, in facilities, laboratories, production and post-production technologies, and in the field of experimental films, documentary and short films and cartoons. At that point, as has happened in France, Germany and England, the state could be responsible for targeted and mixed public-private funding and partnerships and in co-producing specific connected projects.

About the Author


Roberto Silvestri (Lecce, 1950) giornalista e operatore culturale, è critico cinematografico del quotidiano il manifesto e responsabile del suo settimanale culturale Alias. Conduce un programma radiofonico della rete pubblica, Hollywood Party e dirige attualmente due festival, Sulmonacinema e Ca’Foscari Short Film Festival, dopo avere collaborato in qualità di esperto con la Mostra del cinema di Venezia (per 4 anni), il Torino Film Festival e le Giornate del cinema africano di Perugia. Tra i festival diretti in passato Riminicinema, Bellaria, Lecce e Aversa. Ha pubblicato saggi su riviste nazionali e internazionali e in volumi collettivi. Tra i suoi libri “Macchine da presa” (Minimum Fax), “Da Hollywood a Cartoonia” (Manifestolibri) e “Cinema Attack!” (Einaudi). Sta scrivendo a sei mani con Mariuccia Ciotta e Rossana Rossanda una conversazione sul cinema per Bompiani. Membro di giurie in numerosi festival italiani e stranieri.