SARONNO, Italy - Unless you saw the 2011 documentary film made about Cinecitta’ you will probably be surprised to hear that the during World War II, Cinecitta’, the Italian movie studios in Rome, were converted into a refugee camp.
|Rome's "City of Dreams" Cinecitta'|
But even before that, it had been used as a concentration camp for about nine hundred men caught by the Fascists in the nearby Quadraro quarter. Italy’s alliance with Germany was never a solid one and on October 16, 1943, the Nazis plundered Cinecittà and loaded their loot into 16 train cars and left Rome for Germany and Salò Republic. In January, 1944, the studios were bombed by the Allies – it was one of the fifty bombings Rome would suffer.
On June 6 1944, the “City of Cinema” was taken over by the Allied Control Commission, as a holding station meant to house thousands of refugees. The partially bombed modernist movie complex was quickly transformed into a refugee camp. One section was run by the Italian Post-war Assistance Ministry. The other half was controlled by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Its occupants were people of 30 different nationalities, among them Poles, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Gypsies and Jews – including survivors of Nazi extermination camps. Half of them were under 18 years of age. Life in the camp was extremely hard. Buildings, backdrops and sets – from Roman temples to French boudoirs – were adapted to accommodate the refugees’ most basic needs.
Before its conversion, the 400,000 square meter studio had been equipped with sound stages and back lots, editing rooms and office spaces. Originally built by private investors and heavily subsidized and supported by the fascist government, Cinecittà opened with grand fanfare on April 27, 1937 with Mussolini overseeing the ceremonies. In the six years between 1937 and 1943, nearly 300 films were produced there, films like The Iron Crown which won the Golden Lion Award at that year’s Venice Film Festival and Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossolini, which won the Palm’d’Or at Canne and the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1945.
|Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday|
The studio wasn’t until 1947 that the studio opened for business again, and by late 1950s, Cinecittà became known as Hollywood on the Tiber. By the 1950s, American production companies in search of cheap facilities began to turn their attention to Cinecittà. Films like Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain took advantage of both the facilities at Cinecittà and the possibilities for location shooting in Rome itself. The studios also hosted many epic productions, like Quo Vadis? in 1951. Ben Hur was filmed here in 1959, and the production of Cleopatra was moved from London to Cinecittà following problems with budgeting, bad weather and Elizabeth Taylor's health.
|Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra|
Since those days of Ben-Hur, the studios have played a large part in many international productions including Helen of Troy, (1956), Francis of Assisi (1961), Cleopatra, (1963), The Agony and the Ecstasy 1965), Fellini’s Casanova (1976), Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), La Traviata (1982) and many other grand film productions. More recent films include those by Roberto Benigni and Woody Allen. If you can find any of the Italian oldies, they are still worth watching, more than worth watching, they are actually great.