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Rome's Cinecitta studios showcases the golden age of Italian film

Legendary studio opens to the general public as Italian film industry seeks global audiences.

“In America, if you’re good, no matter who you are or your last name, you have an opportunity to work in this business,” said Diana Santi, the overseas program director for the New York Film Academy. “Here, it’s really tough unless you have a heritage. I don’t want to sound too much against Italy, but it’s just that it’s in our blood. It’s who we are. In any field. Even if you have a bakery shop: If your dad owns the bakery shop, you’re going to be working there.”

That’s why many in the industry use the word "artigiano" to describe Italy’s film landscape. Like Italy's leather workshops and bakeries, it is "artisanal." By keeping companies “within the family,” Italy retains the traditions and, in some ways, the high quality that sets its products apart. But it also keeps out fresh talent. Santi said that, every year, some 200 to 250 Italian students contact her about moving to the United States, hoping they’ll find better luck in their careers abroad.

In the unending hand-wringing over Italy’s film industry, though, it can be easy to forget that, even in the midst of the cinematic heyday, not all was perfect. In 1954, when the actress Gina Lollobrigida was making an unheard-of six figures, Alberto Sordi was starring in "An American in Rome," and Sophia Loren had become a household name, not everyone was so sure the industry was solid. “The awful truth,” wrote a reporter for Time Magazine that year, is that “the Italian movie industry is just about the craziest thing constructed in Italy since the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and it may fall down and go broke at any moment.”

Today, those in the Italian industry today are striving to put it back together again. And, despite the many obstacles, they say they just might succeed.

“I think we are growing up,” said Piersandro Buzzanca, a Rome-based director who studied in the United States. “If producers start to put more of their own money into films, if they don’t hire their friends but professionals, we will have a chance.” But, he adds, “This is Italy, so you never know how it will end. You never, never know.”

As for Cinecitta? Out of every 10 Italian films, four use Cinecitta’s services. From January until April of this year, the studio saw production or post-production work on 40 different films or television episodes (34 of these were films), including the Cannes-destined "Habemus Papum." And it's come a long way since the mid-1990s, when the studio nearly went bankrupt; now a private company, Cinecitta Studios' annual income is double what it was then. So there's reason for optimism.

Then again, with both a theme park and a museum in the works, Cinecitta has clearly decided investing in the golden age of Italian film is a smart move — especially since the future is uncertain.