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Once Upon a Time in the Leone Family

Growing up as Sergio Leone’s career escalated segueing from the so-called “Dollars Trilogy” to “Once Upon a Time in the West” up to their father’s final masterpiece, “Once Upon a Time in America,” led his children Raffaella and Andrea to become steeped in two inextricably linked passions: film and family.

“Film has always been an aggregating element of our family,” says Andrea, speaking with Raffaella in the office that used to be their father’s in a villa on Rome’s outskirts, now the company’s headquarters. “In the evenings we would discuss movies and our father used to talk to us about his projects.”

Raffaella remembers spending every other summer of her childhood on one of the director’s sets in Spain, in the desert of Almeria where “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” as well as other Leone films, were shot.

“At first I could not understand why my friends got to go to the seaside, and I would go somewhere dusty,” she says. “But for me it was this big fun caravan. My biggest wish was that the seamstresses would make me a pretty costume!”

“The problem I’ve had with dad is that he left us when I was really young,” notes Andrea.

He was 21 when Sergio suddenly died of a heart attack, at 60. He had just returned from Russia where they had travelled together to scout locations and meet with government officials to mount the production of “Leningrad,” Leone’s dream project, which had “an incredibly big budget.”

Leone only left one written page of “Leningrad,” a love story set against the backdrop of the city’s 900-day siege during World War II.

“But during a press conference in Moscow the master described the film scene by scene,” Andrea says. “So he had every sequence [worked out] in his head.”

Never having had the chance to be on set with his father as an adult, prompted Andrea to become “passionate more about the business aspect [of the film industry] rather than the creative side.”

Still, since going into business both Leone siblings “more out of affection than for economic reasons” set out to buy back rights to their father’s movies, most of which they didn’t inherit. They’ve managed to do that with all his works except his first swords-and-sandals pic “The Colossus of Rhodes,” produced by MGM.

Both Leones are proud that their dad’s works have been beautifully restored by the Cineteca di Bologna film archives, which recently organized a major exhibition with the Cinémathèque Française titled “Once Upon a Time There Was Sergio Leone,” which opened last October in Paris and will soon travel to Rome.

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