Cinema of Italy: The beginning of the film industry

The first pioneer movies (1896-1902)

The first Italian movies were documentaries, filmed in a few seconds in which those fierce pioneers (first and foremost a former cartographer of the Military Institute in Florence, none less inventor, camera operator and director, Filoteo Alberini) would record facts and people of their times, including royals and popes, with a simple crank-operated camera.

The first film of which we know the title, from 1896 and filmed by Alberini, has been lost; it showed the King and Queen of Florence. The first film that has lasted until today and still viewable is about Pope Leo XIII going to pray in the Vatican gardens and he uses the camera to perform the first filmed blessing by a Pope, the film is exactly 2 minutes long.

The first Italian movie ever made was La Presa di Roma, released on September 18th 1905 and directed by Filoteo Alberini. The movie describes the last moments of Rome in the hands of the Pope, divided from the rest of Italy, as it was in 1870. In the opening scene, blindfolded General Carchidio is escorted from Ponte Milvio to General Kanzler of the Papal Army. Carchidio issues an ultimatum to surrender to Kanzler which is refused, and a breach in the city walls is stormed by troops (la breccia di Porta Pia).

The film recorded a crucial moment in the country’s recent history: the capture of Rome by the newly-formed Italian army and the election of the city as the country’s capital. It was produced with the co-operation of the country’s Ministry of War and its goal was to strenghten the feeling of “Italianity” among the populations, putting in a bad light the role of the catholicism during the unification.

The beginning of the cinema industry (1903-1909)

The Italian film industry began a few months after the first public presentation by the Lumiere brothers, on December 28th 1895 in Paris After World War II the Italian cinema will become one of the most influential and prized worldwide. The new art form was brought to Italy by the Lumieres during 1896. In March 1896 the first movies arrived in Rome, then in Milan, in Naples in April, in June in Livorno and in August in Bergamo, Ravenna and Bologna. In Pisa, the oldest and still operating Italian movie theatre, The Cinema Lumiere, was built in 1899.

During the period between 1903 and 1909 the cinema, seen until then as circus act belonging to traveling shows, became an industry of its own, with production houses in the major Italian cities such as in Turin with the Società Anonima Ambrosio, Aquila Film, and Itala Film, in Rome with Cines, Milan with the best equipped movie productions of the times and built by Luca Comerio who also founded a production company with his name, later called Milano Film; in Naples the Partenope Film, in Venice and subsequently a vast network of movie theatres in the urban centers.

This transformation brought a new production of movies, called “subject movies”, and during the “silent movie” period were shown along documentaries and finally replacing them at the dawn of WWI. The first “subject movie” was created by Alberini in 1905, the historical piece “La presa di Roma”, but the most popular genres along the public were drama, romance and history, followed by the show-closing comedies, as it was already done for decades in plays performed in theatres.

The first Italian movie with sound was shown on October 19th, 1906 at the cinema Lumiere in Pisa by Professor Pietro Pierini and it was produced by Fabbrica Pisana di Pellicole Parlate.

A History of Italian Cinema


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