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Study Day on Women in Italian Film Production: Industrial Histories and Archival Sources

Friday 15 March 2019

This conference is part of the AHRC major research project: 'Producers & Production Practices in the History of Italian Cinema, 1949-75.' For general information on this research project, click here.

suso on setsandrelli on setblasetti on set


10.00: Karl Schoonover (Warwick) Opening Remarks.

10.10 – 11.45: Identifying Subjects and Practices

Rosa Barotsi (independent scholar): ‘Seamstresses, cutters, editors: How to look for women workers in the Italian film industry’

This presentation focuses on an imaginary that repeatedly crops up in histories of the film industry, that of sewing. From the sewing machine as the technological basis for Lumière’s first camera, to seamstresses and textile workers migrating to film cutting rooms, to women’s ‘natural’ ability for editing work - I suggest looking at sewing as a gendered metaphor, a profession and skill; and a technology, that has the capacity to weave together a fuller and more deeply interdisciplinary picture of women’s labour participation in the Italian film industry. Using sewing as a methodological key, I propose that looking for its traces – in education, the labour market, and in the popular imaginary – can lead us to the women of the Italian film industry and their trajectories within it.

Rossana Capitano (University of Warwick): ‘Suso Cecchi D’Amico: the work of the scriptwriters’ workshop

Within the context of Italian art house film production, it has frequently been the custom to entrust the business of scriptwriting to famous, established novelists — with professional scriptwriters typically employed for more commercial cinema. Suso Cecchi D’Amico is arguably the most prominent exception: an immensely successful and prolific scriptwriter who worked across all genres from commercial to art house, but who never was (and never wanted to be) a great novelist. Indeed, her view was that good scriptwriting at all levels required skills, practices and pragmatism that are quite different from those required of a poet or a writer. Drawing from biographies, interviews, letters and my own interviews with Cecchi D’Amico filmed in 2006, in this talk I will investigate her working practices. With an oeuvreof over 100 films, a career spanning more than 60 years, and collaborations with Italy’s finest production teams and directors, Suso Cecchi D’Amico was incredibly modest about her talent: ‘like working in a workshop’ was how she called it.

Ilaria De Pascalis (Roma Tre): ‘Women Editors in Italy: The Challenges of Film Herstory’

As widely demonstrated by film historians all over the world, a considerable number of film editors in Hollywood and Europe have been women, especially because during the early years the dominant editing technology was similar to the sewing machines. The Italian industry was no exception, and multiple sources hint at the historical role of women editors, as well as that of women professionals in other departments. One of the tasks of contemporary film studies could hence be to collect these clues and reframe them, in order to build a still much-needed “film herstory.” This talk aims to discuss this need specifically for Italian film studies, as a broader awareness of the historical frame of women’s positions and gender struggles would benefit the theoretical knowledge on the topic and the discipline at large, as well as the recent and ongoing transnational feminist debate.

12.00 – 13.00: Short Takes

Stephen Gundle (University of Warwick): ‘Reading the Credits of Italian Films’

A review of the opening credits of Italians films made between the 1930s and the 1970s highlights a range of fields of activity: producer, director and assistants, cinematography, set design, costumes, sound, music, organisation and supervision, editing. From the all-male situation of the 1930s, gradually names of women start to appear in the 1940s, mostly as editors. The role of segretario di edizionebecomes partially feminised in the 1950s, when women also contribute to costumes. There are never any women cinematographers, composers/sound technicians, and almost no production managers or even segretarie di produzione. However, a close reading of credits reveals a number of interesting cases (Lydia Ripandelli, Marie Claire Solleville, Anna Davini) whose careers suggest that a few women were able to develop careers in production roles or as assistant directors. My talk also discusses the issue of hidden labour and raises some questions about possible trade union sources.

Clara Giannini (Oxford Brookes University): ‘Women behind the scenes owners of production companies founded between 1945 and 1959’

The Italian film industry landscape after the World War II is crowded with hundreds of production companies and more than one thousand films. Almost all these companies are run by men, but there are few examples that officially break with tradition. Several women appear as managers in some companies, together with other men, who were often relatives. However, there are three cases in which three women are the only managers of their production company. Fulvia Faretra, Rita Farinelli and Antonietta Montanari Bianchi are the only women between 1945 and 1959 that entered film industry covering just the role of producers. These women were the sole administrators of Faretra Film, N.A.R. Film and Roberta Film, small companies that contributed to the production trend of the time.

Karl Schoonover (University of Warwick): ‘Gendered infrastructure and infrastructures of gender: rethinking the architecture of production institutions’

Silvia Magistrali (University of Warwick): ‘Women working at Rizzoli and Cineriz’

Within the industrial narratives connected to Angelo Rizzoli, the professional histories of significant women emerge from a dispersive and fragmented documentation. From the insights of writers such Luciana Peverelli and Oriana Fallaci, to the tenacious efforts of his secretaries, various forms of “feminine” writing seem to have inspired or affected the entrepreneurial activity of Rizzoli. By working on archival materials and trade histories, this paper seeks to investigate different sources in order to analyse the impact of these contributions in the context of Rizzoli’s cinema production.

13.45 – 14.45: Roles and Itineraries

Barbara Corsi (University of Warwick): ‘Comparse o compagne: il mondo al maschile della produzione cinematografica italiana 1945-75 e la (parziale) eccezione di Marina Cicogna’

Il mondo della produzione cinematografica italiana dal dopoguerra ai primi anni settanta è dominato dagli uomini. Le poche donne produttrici o direttrici della produzione sono spesso legate, per parentela o legami matrimoniali, a uomini già introdotti nel cinema o in posizioni tali da offuscare il loro nome. La sola eccezione è Marina Cicogna, una figura che, grazie anche alla sua origine, riesce ad affermarsi a pieno titolo come produttrice. L’eccezione è parziale, però, perché neanche lei ha le redini del comando nella sua società.

English translation: The world of Italian film production from the post-war period to the early seventies is dominated by men. The few women producing or directing films are often linked by family or marriage to men well-connected in the film industry or are in positions that are uncredited. The only exception is Marina Cicogna, a figure who, thanks also to her privileged background, succeeded in becoming a fully-recognised producer. However, even this exception is partial because not even she was in full control of the company that she ostensibly headed.

Daniela Treveri Gennari (Oxford Brookes University): ‘Reconstructing film industrial history of women through personal memories and artefacts’

In the 1950s, cinema was one of Italy’s most important industries. At its peak, the country’s exhibition circuit boasted some 8,000 cinemas. Despite the important role that cinema played within the social, cultural and economic fabric of 1950s Italy, we know relatively little about the workings of the distribution and exhibition networks across urban and rural contexts. We know even less about the women whose working lives depended on the cinema industry. I will make use of micro-history case studies to explore some of the broader questions associated with working women in 1950s Italy. I will be using both the oral history collected during the Italian Cinema Audiencesproject and the crowd-sourced digital artifacts donated by members of the general public during the creation of CINERICORDI, an online archive that allows users to explore the history of Italian cinema-going through the integration of video-interviews with public and private archival materials.

14.50 – 15.50: Mara Blasetti: Testimony and Archive

Michela Zegna (Cineteca di Bologna): ‘“Ci sarebbe una donna...”: Mara Blasetti: storia della figlia di Alessandro, padre del cinema italiano sonoro’

Ho conosciuto Mara Blasetti nel 2008, quando ho avuto l'incarico di curare l'archivio di suo padre, Alessandro Blasetti. Ogni anno, in occasione del Festival del Cinema Ritrovato, la Cineteca di Bologna ha dedicato a questo Maestro del cinema italiano un dossier di approfondimento che affrontasse da diversi punti di vista la sua carriera, nel tentativo di proporre prospettive nuove, svincolate dagli schemi po' logori in cui è stata incasellata la sua opera. Questi dossier sono stati forieri di scoperte interessanti, non solo su Blasetti, ma sul contributo che Mara stessa ha dato al cinema italiano. Ha lavorato al fianco del padre per quasi dieci anni e - cosa davvero straordinaria negli anni Sessanta - ha successivamente intrapreso una sua carriera indipendente, ricoprendo ruoli sempre più importanti nell'ambito manageriale della produzione cinematografica. Alla fine del 2012, Mara ha donato alla Cineteca il proprio archivio che contiene la documentazione dei film a cui ha lavorato: sceneggiature, soggetti, storyboards, preventivi di produzione, contratti di attori e tecnici, corrispondenza con produttori e registi, piani di produzione, elenchi dei sopralluoghi per la ricerca di location, ordini del giorno, elenchi delle sequenze girate, preventivi di spesa e ordini di acquisto per le necessità produttive più diverse. Un universo ancora tutto da scoprire. Per catturare la memoria di Mara, io e il professore Alfredo Baldi – un suo caro amico e profondo conoscitore dell'opera blasettiana - l'abbiamo intervistata. Queste conversazioni hanno avuto luogo tra il 2014 e il 2016 e sono state il motore principale che ha dato corpo all'idea di costruire un documentario suddiviso in capitoli che illustrasse da un lato, il modo di lavorare di Blasetti e dall'altro, la carriera di Mara.

English translation: I met Mara Blasetti in 2008, while I was in charge of the archive of her father, the director and screenwriter Alessandro Blasetti. Every year, on the occasion of the Cinema Ritrovato festival, the Cineteca di Bologna dedicated an in-depth dossier to this auteur that examined his career from different points of view, proposing new ways to frame his work. These dossiers brought to light interesting discoveries, not only about Blasetti, but also about the contributions to Italian cinema made by Mara herself. She worked alongside her father for almost ten years and subsequently embarked on an independent career, assuming increasingly important roles in the managerial field of film production, a truly extraordinary accomplishment in the Sixties. At the end of 2012, Mara donated an archive to the Cineteca, containing the documentation of the films she had worked on, including screenplays, storyboards, budgets, contracts, correspondence, shooting schedules, records of location scouting, call sheets, shot lists, and a range of other production details. This archive represents a universe still to be discovered. Working with Professor Alfredo Baldi, a close friend and profound connoisseur of Blasetti’s oeuvre, I interviewed Mara in hopes of preserving her memories. These conversations took place between 2014 and 2016. The interviews were also the inspiration for making a documentary. The documentary is divided into chapters that illustrated not only Blasetti's way of working but also the career of Mara herself.

Dalila Missero (University of Milan): ‘Mara Blasetti’s Personal Archive and Other Fragments: For a Feminist Perspective on Italian Production Studies’

This paper investigates the material and affective aspects of the personal archive of Mara Blasetti. Her career started in the late 1950s with her father, the director Alessandro Blasetti, and after few years she became one of the only three female production managers active in post-war Italian cinema. A careful reading of Mara’s heterogeneous archive – which gathers very different materials such as screenplays, letters, contracts and production plans – reveals how affect played a crucial role in the negotiation of gender discrimination in her professional life. These documents also reveal the material traces of Mara’s affection to her profession. Considering these multiple levels of care and affect, the paper analyses Mara’s career through the lens of feminist historiography. As such, it emphasizes on the subjective and partial qualities of the archive, seeking to complicate binary notions such as “exceptionality” and “exclusion” which characterize the historical accounts about women in filmmaking.

16.30-17.30 Concluding Roundtable

Catherine O’Rawe, University of Bristol
Rachel Moseley, University of Warwick
Karl Schoonover, University of Warwick
Stephen Gundle, University of Warwick