Campania’s filmmaking renaissance

Ancient culture, new policies bolster business

Campania, the southern Italian region that gave the world Sophia Loren, Sergio Leone and Dino De Laurentiis, is fast becoming Italy’s contempo cinematic hotbed.

Last year’s Cannes pics “Gomorrah” and “Il Divo” hailed from this particularly culturally fertile area of the Italo peninsula. Both were supported by the Campania Film Commission, which recently lured Sony’s “Angels and Demons” as well as John Turturro, who plans to shoot a tribute to Neapolitan song in the region.

Naples, the sprawling port city in the shadow of active volcano Mount Vesuvius, has been bubbling with creative energy since its days — two millennia ago — as an ancient Greek colony, and it is currently enjoying an artistic mini-renaissance that began in the early 1990s.

“Campania for the past 15 years or so has been a breeding ground for cinematic talent,” says producer Nicola Giuliano, whose Indigo Film has been instrumental in the careers of several talented Neapolitan natives — including helmer Paolo Sorrentino. Indigo co-produced the director’s latest work, “Il Divo.”

“It has to do with the vitality of a city, Naples, which is rooted in traditions that go back many, many centuries,” says Giuliano.

But the new Neapolitan wave also stems from fresh financial resources and new entities and policies geared toward making the region more friendly to the film and TV industries.

Campania’s recent artistic achievements in movies, literature, theater and music are concurrent with a new vision on the part of its administrators and cultural operators, who see performing arts and the industries behind them as an effective tool to counter some of the area’s age-old social ills.

The region’s governor, Antonio Bassolino, has made culture and production a plank of his plan for urban renewal since the 1990s, when he was mayor of Naples.

“We continue to invest in culture and in the audiovisual industry because we are convinced that it is strategic to the development of Campania and an integral part of our history and identity,” Bassolino tells Variety.

The governor has just given the go-ahead for new state-of-the art film and TV studio to be located in a converted steel mill in Naples, with a targeted 2010 completion date.

“Despite many drawbacks, such as the organized crime plague and our now, resolved garbage-collecting crisis, Campania has been able to forge ahead with new projects for the audiovisual industry conceived in a spirit of innovation,” says Claudio Gubitosi, founder and artistic director of the Giffoni Film Festival for kidpics.

Gubitosi’s unique celebration of movies focused on life’s first phases is giving rise to a Giffoni Multimedia Valley with ambitions to turn the area into a prominent kiddie-targeted productions hub.

The emergence of art as a tool to fight crime is poignantly made plain by “Gomorrah,” the expose (now published globally) of the Camorra, as the local organized syndicate is known, by journo Roberto Saviano. Matteo Garrone turned it into the powerful eponymous pic, distributed worldwide.

Significantly, Garrone shot his naturalistic crimer in the mob’s real stomping grounds, thanks to local authorities and to the film commission. The pic, which went on to become Italy’s top-earning drama last year, has provided plenty of impetus to local efforts to eradicate the mob plague.

Ties between Campania and the film industry, including Hollywood, go back a long way. Curiously, the tiny hamlet of Torella Dei Lombardi, to the northeast of Naples, is the homestead of both spaghetti Western maestro Leone’s family and the De Laurentiis dynasty, whose most famous son is L.A.-based producer Dino De Laurentiis. His nephew, Aurelio De Laurentiis, who is Italy’s most prominent indie producer, also owns the Serie-A Napoli soccer team, though his movie activities are Rome-based.

Loren, whose hometown is the Neapolitan suburb of Pozzuoli, is known to be a huge fan of the Naples team and also of the movie “Gomorrah.” The actress returns regularly to the area.

“What happened at the start of the 1990s is that Neapolitan cinema started becoming independent,” says Angelo Curti, topper of theater and film company Teatri Uniti. Curti’s avant-garde, interdisciplinary approach to the theatrical biz prompted him to venture into film in 1992 with Mario Martone’s “Death of  a Neapolitan Mathematician,” the pic that paved the way for the city’s increasingly prolific indie film scene.

The Campania Film Commission, which has been active since 2004, is playing a key role by making shooting in the region more enticing.

Of course, there is room for improvement. Giuliano laments the lack of a more incisive industrial strategy that could yield more resources.

The model he cites as a goal is Italy’s northern Piedmont region, which has set up a mixed private/public film fund.

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