The venues of the Festa – 5. Peppino Rotunno and Cinecittà

Peppino Rotunno has worked in up to 80 films since 1954, including movies by masters such as Federico Fellini (Amarcord, City of Women and Fellini´s Roma) and Luchino Visconti (Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard). He also photographed the film Five Days One Summer, starring Sean Connery, which is scheduled to be shown as part of the RomeFilmFest’s tribute to the Scottish actor in the section The Actor’s Craft.
Rotunno summons up his memories of Cinecittà, one of the most renowned film studios in the world and part of the upcoming RomeFilmFest.
“Cinecittà wasn’t just our workplace but our home as well. Fellini had his own apartment inside the studio, where he slept and where we used to meet everyday for breakfast before going on the set. A cup of coffee and a slice of parmesan cheese. Just like any good emiliano (from the Italian region of Emilia), Federico never did without parmesan cheese. Later on we started to work. Cinecittà was our headquarters, it was where we worked from dusk till dawn, it was where we slept and lived for week after week. In the famous Studio 5, the Teatro Grande, we built many spectacular sets. It felt halfway between theatre and moviemaking.
We had the feeling that we could make our visions come true without taking any risks with natural light, either daytime or night-time. Inside the studio, anything was possible. For the movie Casanova, we built a 30-meter-high and 100-meter-wide board, placed by a swimming pool, the very same one where we shot a scene for Amarcord later on. Since we didn’t have the most advanced technology, we had to put an extra dose of imagination in producing handcrafted sets, which brought the movies closer to reality.
“Nevertheless, I also had the opportunity to work with sophisticated equipment at Cinecittà, like in the shooting of Terry Gilliam’s The adventures of Baron Munchausen, for example, where we used the blue screen technique. Above all, it made the riskiest scenes easier. The actors performed in front of a blue screen where the backgrounds were projected. Afterwards, the final image was put together through a complex process.”
What are the Cinecittà studios like today? “Cinecittà has changed quite a lot. It feels strange to go back there. You see lots of Americans with their expensive cameras but it’s missing the people who made Cinecittà great. Fellini’s not around anymore. I was very attached to him. The first movie we shot together was Toby Dammit, the third episode of the movie Spirits of the Dead, based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. I also worked on his last project, The journey of G. Mastorna, the most famous unfinished movie of all times, according to Mollica. We worked hard on it but then Fellini got sick and we gave up.”
Rome and the movies. Rome and the Festa del Cinema. “Rome was our home. It was open and alive. There are many places in Rome I feel attached to. The Coliseum, for instance. Anyone who has worked in Rome has shot there at least once. I know the place by heart. I learnt to light it so well that even the City Council of Rome consulted me on how to show it to its best advantage. In Fellini’s Roma, we drew the Coliseum on a thick canvas where we applied the lighting of the actual Coliseum. The effect was stunning, but it collapsed due to the wind in the last take.”


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