Fellini, Visconti, Loren, Heston, Hepburn, Peck, Taylor, Burton … a dream dinner party of talent graced the grounds of Rome’s renowned Cinecittà film studios during the so-called “Hollywood on the Tiber” period — named after the river that runs through the Italian capital.
From the epic Quo Vadis in 1951 right through to Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther in 1963, the city was burning with big film-production energy. Hollywood studios clamored to record runaway English-language projects there, lapping up the local subsidies, lower costs and unfrozen international funds; peaking with Cleopatra in 1963 — at that time the most expensive title ever made. And now, thanks to both technological advances and a similar dynamic that created the post-war boom time, the U.S. film world is starting to take very frequent Roman holidays once again.
“Italy, in recent years, is experiencing a new renaissance in the movie industry,” says Alessandra Rainaldi, trade commissioner of the Italian Trade Agency’s (ITA) Los Angeles office. “This is thanks to a stronger strategy to become a film-friendly destination on the global market and a combination of different tools.”
Perhaps the most major tool remains Cinecittà itself, which, at nearly 100 acres, is still Europe’s largest film studio. It was the brainchild of Benito Mussolini — he inaugurated it himself in 1937 — to both generate propaganda and recharge the then-wilting Italian moviemaking scene. It only flourished, however, after 1948, boosted by funds from the United States’ Marshall Plan, created to support pummeled European economies. And now, “Cinecittà’s legacy [includes] over 3,000 films in its 80-plus-year history,” Rainaldi highlights. “At least 51 of them have won Academy Awards and became international masterpieces.”
Fast-forward to 2021 and Cinecittà was awarded a sizable sum for investment from Italy’s wedge of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, announced by Italy’s then-Prime Minister Mario Draghi during a press conference at the studios themselves, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in attendance. Since then, Cinecittà has been home to more than 50 productions. Its CEO, Nicola Maccanico, is reported to have said that occupancy levels have increased from 30 percent to 80 percent, and the studio is profitable once more. There are also rumored to be ambitions to add five more soundstages, as well as confirmation of more international partnerships.
The sheer amount of film history also means that there are now hundreds of skilled and experienced professionals based in Italy and fully ready to work behind the scenes for entire production cycles, from shooting to postproduction, distribution to promotion.
“Cinecittà is the past, the present and future for the Italian movie industry,” Rainaldi says. “It can combine its long-standing legacy and the art of contemporary movies to become a new attractive site for international productions, offering both a rich history and infrastructure for film and television production and an established setting for new movies and stories, chosen by directors and producers for films, documentaries, TV series and music videos.”
Recent standout examples include HBO/Max’s The White Lotus, which brought great visibility to Italian acting talent; Finally Dawn with Lily James, which was shot at Cinecittà and chronicles a young actress’ experience shooting a movie at the studio in its ’60s heyday; and The Little Mermaid, which was filmed on Sardinia’s shores, both employing a big local production team and involving the Environmental Office of the region to guarantee biodiversity protection.
“Now we are very excited for the immigration drama Me Captain,” or Io Capitano, says Rainaldi of the film by Matteo Garrone. “It won the Silver Lion for best direction at the Venice Film Festival, and we hope it will represent Italy at the Oscars.”
Of course, what has further made Cinecittà and Italy increasingly appealing to American filmmakers is its tax incentives. “It’s one of the most competitive film tax credits in Europe, currently under revision, with significant fiscal benefits for shooting in Italy,” explains Rainaldi. “A 40 percent tax credit of the eligible cost of the international production, for a maximum of 20 million euros ($21 million) per year, allocated through an Italian executive producer.”
Italy itself also offers a number of diverse landscapes to shoot in, from unique historical and cultural landmarks and architecture to its natural, almost antique-like light.
“Regional diversity and specificity are an additional attraction because they provide an inexhaustible source of inspiration and broaden the range of setting opportunities,” says Cristina Priarone, president of IFC Italian Film Commissions. “It’s a variety that is highly sought-after and appreciated by the American public. All this has both increased the number of productions and lengthened the stay in the territories of productions with larger projects.”
Rainaldi puts forward lesser-known areas to shoot in, too. “Southern Apennines and the region of Calabria offer stunning landscapes with ancient villages and a sense of untouched Italy. Le Marche has a diverse range of landscapes, from hills and vineyards to pristine coastlines. There’s the city of Turin that served as capital of Italy and the entire Piedmont region, which offers an exceptional collection of palaces. The portal Italy for Movies [italyformovies.com] is an excellent tool to explore all our production locations.”
Indeed, the film commissions themselves — nonprofit entities where motion-media production crews (including movies, television and commercials) find regional and national support and advice for permits, locations and local services — have also played a large role in firing up Italy’s international film industry, via coordinated marketing strategies and fostering close, long-term relationships with foreign operators. “Italy is rich in opportunities and ready to accogienza [welcome] with professionalism, creativity and great skill,” Priarone says.
Helping communicate this buzz in the U.S. is the new website italymeetshollywood.com, launched last year by the Italian Trade Agency office in Los Angeles. “The site is to help us in our double mission: To support the distribution of Italian audiovisual products in the U.S. and attract U.S. productions to Italy, facilitating the connection between American filmmakers — producers, writers, directors — with Italian counterparts,” explains Rainaldi. A space where professionals can stay informed and establish such partnerships, the Marketplace section introduces key players from both sides of the Atlantic, while the bimonthly newsletter includes interviews with prominent figures from the American audiovisual industry, such as Nancy Cotton, executive vp, scripted programming at Epix, and Lionsgate exec Sandra Stern.
So what of Italy’s presence at AFM? Will this second coming of Hollywood on the Tiber come closer to actual Hollywood?
“The American Film Market is one of the most efficient marketplaces where production and distribution deals are finalized,” says Rainaldi. “This is why ITA is bringing a delegation of 11 companies — distributors, producers and film commissions — to Los Angeles, providing them with access to the epicenter of the global entertainment industry. AFM serves as a unique platform for our companies to network with key industry players.”