The goal of issue 3/2016 of CS – which could hardly be more timely, due to the industrial, normative, and cultural challenges that await Italian cinema after the promulgation of the Law 220/2016 – is to define what constructs the idea of quality in contemporary Italian cinema, from 2000 up to the present.
Though related debates regarding television in Italy have adopted a meaning of the term rooted in production values, in the context of cinema this question remains opaque. In legislation, in press releases, reviews, academic studies and in common discourse the idea of quality cinema is certainly present, though it overlaps with arthouse and auteur cinema, it intersects with the notion of political commitment, and it is officially defined by the category of the ‘national and cultural interest’ films promoted and supported by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism (MiBACT).
Within public discourses, quality cinema, in order to function as such, demands processes of cultural legitimation. These processes rely upon the work of certain institutions, critical discourses and audience behavioural trends, all of which contribute – despite (or as well as) box office takings – to the formation of taste, the construction of shared social categories and to the successful “function” of this kind of product.
Such processes are investigated in this volume, which uses a wide range of methods and considers Italian cinema in connection with other European national cinemas, as a product to be financed and marketed, as an element of the contemporary mediascape, and as a cultural asset whose value solicits the attention and intervention of different institutions.
L'obiettivo di questo nuovo numero di Comunicazioni Sociali– in uscita in un periodo che non poteva essere più appropriato, a causa delle sfide industriali, normative e culturali che attendono il cinema italiano dopo la promulgazione della Legge 220/2016 – è quello di definire ciò che sta costruendo l'idea di qualità nel cinema italiano contemporaneo, dal 2000 fino ad oggi.
Mentre nel dibattito sulla TV sta prendendo piede anche nel nostro Paese un'accezione del termine quality fondata sull’idea di production value, in ambito cinematografico la questione resta più opaca. Nei provvedimenti legislativi, nei comunicati stampa, nelle recensioni, nei saggi accademici e nei discorsi comuni l'idea di cinema di qualità, infatti, si sovrappone spesso a quella di cinema d'arte e d'autore, incrocia la nozione di impegno e ottiene una sua definizione formale nella categoria di “film di interesse culturale nazionale” promossa e sostenuta dal Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo (MiBACT).
Sul piano dei discorsi collettivi il cinema di qualità, per poter funzionare come tale, ha bisogno di processi di legittimazione culturale articolati, che chiamano in causa il lavoro di certe istituzioni, i discorsi critici, i comportamenti delle audience e tutto quanto contribuisce, al di là (o al di qua) degli incassi, alla formazione del gusto, alla costruzione di definizioni socialmente condivise e al “buon funzionamento” di questo tipo di prodotti.
Tali processi sono al centro di questo fascicolo, i cui articoli, utilizzando un ampio ventaglio di approcci metodologici, considerano il cinema italiano in relazione ad altre cinematografie nazionali europei, come un prodotto che richiede di essere finanziato e messo sul mercato, come un elemento del panorama mediale contemporaneo, come bene culturale il cui valore sollecita l'attenzione e l'intervento di diverse istituzioni.
This paper offers a critical overview of some of the underlying bases on which certain kinds of quality status are characteristically ascribed to films. An inclusive notion of quality is employed here across a considerable spectrum of types of film that are marked as distinctive, to varying degrees, from that which is associated with the work of the most commercial mainstream. This ranges from what can be identified as the ‘quality’ end of Hollywood production to various examples that fall into categories such as ‘art’ or ‘independent’ film. A number of textual and extra-textual characteristics of such films are identified, in broad terms, with an emphasis on the essentially relative nature of the concept of quality. Textual features include the claims made by many such films to certain varieties of thematic significance or importance, including formal qualities such as claims of objective realism or more expressive or reflexive approaches. A key aim of the paper is to identify the long-standing hierarchical schema and implicit assumptions within which such notions of quality are discursively established, and a number of related assumptions according to which particular value is usually ascribed to films that fall within a broad notion of quality such as that which is employed here. Quality is identified here as an unavoidably elitist concept, within a variety of particular manifestations, one that typically implies a denigration of other kinds of film and that raises a number of questions particularly relating to its use as a basis for decisions about state or international funding support. The paper concludes with a call, not for the abandonment of the employment of such a notion but for the importance of acknowledging the very particular and partial nature of the bases on which it rests.
For decades, Italy has been a major producer and exporter of ‘quality cinema’. This paper examines how active that role is today. It focuses on what are officially designated ‘Cultural Interest films’, which the Italian culture ministry (MiBACT) recognises for their “significant cultural, artistic or spectacular quality”. Drawing on the quantitative analysis of industry data, it is argued that Cultural Interest films – which account for about a quarter of Italian film output – are more likely than other Italian productions to display attributes associated with quality cinema, including large budgets, high production values, international co-production partners, highly regarded creative personnel, showy mise en scène, genre ambiguity, major awards, festival appearances and positive reviews. They also sell more cinema tickets in both Italy and the rest of Europe, suggesting these quality indicators have a positive impact on the box office performance and international circulation of Italian films. At the same time, the performance of Cultural Interest films outside of their domestic market is still very low compared with films produced in other major European countries. Thus, while Italy can still claim to be a major producer of quality cinema, it is no longer a significant exporter of such films. It is argued that one reason why Cultural Interest films do not circulate abroad as well as films from other major European films is because international distributors tend to prioritize those films which display conventional quality indicators (e.g. well-known director, major awards, festival appearances) at the expense of films with elements (e.g. a strong, clear story with both humour and social relevance) which actually appeal to international audiences. These findings have implications for both the Italian and the wider European film industry.
Building on Renga’s survey study of the Italian cinema taught in Anglophone universities (2014), this article aims to assess whether and to what extent the notion of ‘quality’ plays a role in the selection of contemporary films to teach across the higher education curriculum in the teaching of Italian Studies. In particular, it considers whether there is any consonance between Italian government intervention in the film industry via the MiBACT funding and support scheme for ‘film d’interesse culturale’ (a process updated under the Legge Urbani in 2004), and the films selected for teaching. Our conclusions suggest that certain topics, stars and directors remain prominent in the teaching of Italian cinema, at the expense of popular cinema and films by female directors. The reasons for this lie in a complex knot of factors relating to a notion of quality as tied to particular topics and aesthetics, to the international festival and awards circuit and press discourse, and above all, to the availability of films with international distributors. If there is this inevitable bias within teaching always towards ‘more of the same’, the reasons for the neglect of certain films lie also within the Italian system itself, relating to the MiBACT support system, in which women are broadly under-represented.
In our paper we analyse the distribution and promotion of Italian films in English-speaking countries, using as privileged point of observation that of the Istituti italiani di cultura all’estero (Italian Cultural Institutes). We interviewed a number of them and other agencies or individuals that regularly screen and organize screenings of Italian films. We conclude that chance, special occasions, and random choices seem to drive much of this kind of distribution of Italian films in the Anglophone countries, a conclusion that is not a value judgement but rather an observation. We also note how a certain realist tendency of Italian cinema seems to be still accepted and promoted, as are social and political themes, in part thanks to many documentaries that do not always get distributed in Italy but that are often screened abroad. Finally, we hope this preliminary research will soon be complemented by other research of this kind, possibly in collaboration with scholars from other disciplines ranging from cultural economics to the sociology of organizations.
In the long history of the enduring connection between Italian cinema and national television, recent years have brought several new developments. Due to the economic crisis, and hence a quest for creative and production methods to achieve greater return at lower cost, the ‘border’ between film and TV has become the arena for several textual and productive experiments, with varying degrees of success, contributing to the foundations of a new model. On the one hand, television is ‘serializing’ stories that were successes at the cinema presenting them as sequels or reinterpreting the original story in a different way. This trend is exemplified by several premium fictions associated with pay operator Sky Italia, as Romanzo criminale and Gomorra/Gomorrah, or the Netflix project Suburra. On the other hand, forms of actual ‘joint production’ for both film and TV are starting to emerge, representing not merely a desire to spread content over several TV slots, but also the wish (and need) to envisage a dual outlet for a text right from the time of writing and production. Two separate objects are planned and prepared from the outset, as in the case of Tutta colpa di Freud or Chiamatemi Francesco/Call Me Francesco, forcing the writing and production routines to adapt and take due account of the specific traits of the two media, and of their target audiences. Through interviews with professionals, viewing figures and promotional materials, it is possible to identify the motives behind these projects, the modifications in their production routines, and how concepts like taste, success and quality are being reformulated in such a scenario.
This article investigates the role of the actor in contemporary Italian cultural interest film. It offers two lines of analysis. First, it examines the correlations between films financed by the Italian ministry, MiBACT, for being ‘of cultural interest’ and the various prizes won by the actors that appear in significant roles within those films during the 2004-2014 period. Second, it analyses the star-image of actors in quality cinema, following the developments provided by the recent evolution of celebrity and stardom studies including the Italian context. Its aim is to illustrate: 1) how certain actors can elude the judgment of the box office, which is typically used to evaluate the presence/performance of the star within the film industry; 2) how they can accumulate reputation capital, making them better placed to bring a kind of quality label to their films; and 3) how they define themselves in an oppositional (but also contradictory) way with respect to the standard modes of constructing stardom. It focuses in particular on the trajectories of two exemplary actors in the field of quality cinema, for reasons that are made clear in each case. Margherita Buy and Toni Servillo.
Italian films are typically financed through the same formula and it appears that at this stage of the production process there is little room for alternative possibilities. Starting from this preliminary consideration, the article aims to demonstrate that alternative sources of financing exist, and moreover can generate positive benefits for the films themselves, both in economic and aesthetic terms. To do so, the article analyses the financing of In grazia di Dio (Edoardo Winspeare, 2013). To make the film, the producers invented an innovative tool that they called “pacco-baratto”, which is based on the free donation of goods and services by the local community. The article first investigates analogies and differences between the pacco-baratto method, on the one hand, and barter placement and crowd funding on the other. Second, it shows how pacco-baratto can improve the textual and extra-textual qualities of the film.
This article identifies a recent trend of critically acclaimed, accessible mafia narratives, and offers a possible interpretation of the films as belonging to the quality sector. Following a discussion of ‘quality’ in the Italian industry, the article first provides a historic overview of Italian mafia films in order to contextualize the recent shift in tone and form. The second section then offers an analysis of the production, distribution and performance of ten mafia films released between 2004 and 2016 in relation to Mary Wood’s definition of quality filmmaking. By employing a methodology that moves from cultural history to production studies, the article reveals the continued relevance and (often institutional) legitimation of mafia narratives, therefore raising further questions about the specificity of the Italian quality sector, its boundaries, and its problematic relationship with popular film.
This paper analyses a corpus of Italian films produced in the last 15 years that, in various ways, have dealt with the Holocaust theme. All of these films were recognised as ‘film d’interesse culturale e nazionale’ (films of cultural and national interest). Starting from this observation, the article will trace the connections between didactical purposes, quality claims and the concept of ‘impegno’ (political and cultural commitment), which all come to light from these films. After a brief overview, based mainly on quantitative data, the paper focuses on a specific case study, which is also the most recent Italian Holocaust film to be circulated in movie theatres: Anita B. (2014, R. Faenza). Through an in depth analysis of the critical reception and the distribution patterns, the article illustrates how, on the one hand, the production of the film seems to adhere to several precise cultural and memorial paradigms; and on the other, how the marketing strategy distances the film from every previous case.
Strategies of film marketing are usually put in practice through a range of discourses and contexts. Despite the vast amount of research on marketing and communication in film, little is known about the promotion of contemporary Italian art house cinema. This article addresses Il giovane favoloso (M. Martone, 2014), a film about the figure of Giacomo Leopardi, by focusing on production, distribution and marketing strategies, and paying particular attention to the construction of the cultural value of the film. More specifically, looking at the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Paul DiMaggio, I investigate how marketing strategies define the audience and the cultural field of Il giovane favoloso by linking the ideals of poetry, territory and culture at a local level, and considering the contribution of the Regione Marche film commission and the impact of film on the tourism industry.
Nowadays, as never before, technology has come to participate in the synthesis of new values and of new evaluation criteria. As well as contributing to the post-humanistic challenge (the new Utopia), technological innovation enables social actors to perform further (irreversible) improvements, reaching higher and higher levels of quality. This paper, therefore, has the following objectives: a) to define the limits of this Hypercomplex (and Interconnected) Society by analysing its risks and implications; b) to propose a hypothetical “New Humanism” for this civilization, a kind of humanism whose main concern is not technique, but “the Person”. At the same time, the current communication ecosystem is causing radical changes in codes, cultures, and in the hierarchical procedures of production and sharing (disintermediation).This authentic, anthropological metamorphosis has several implications regarding cultural paradigms, citizenship and inclusion, all of which heavily influence identity and subjectivity – with many potential variables and concauses. Such a sizeable metamorphosis does not necessarily provide a unique occasion for innovation and social change, but rather risks favouring elites and exclusive social groups. Thus, a hypertechnological civilization requires not only renewed concern about rules and rights, but above all a systemic approach to complexity, uniting both knowledge and skills, which are otherwise kept distant. The interconnected economy requires strategic choices as well as new ethical attention on the problems of social actors, systems of relations, and the importance of knowledge. It follows that a new communication culture is necessary, one which would be open to sharing and understanding, and capable of influencing social mechanisms to develop and favour trust and cooperation. Nevertheless, there is increasing demand for communication to recompose a global context that appears fragmented and chaotic. Only when this kind of communication can be interpreted as a social process of knowledge sharing, i.e. social interaction, will it be able, in all its complexity, to overcome individualistic egoism as well as to connect and enhance the social production of knowledge.
This article analyses the representation of the social practice of passing on recipes on two popular Italian and British web forums, and the power relationships that they produce. It draws on Foucault’s category of examination; on Rosello’s links between Foucault’s examination and writing recipes; and on Appadurai’s theory that recipes are fundamental in the construction of national culture. Moreover, specific studies on Italian and British food culture highlight similarities and differences between the two countries. Qualitative textual analysis is applied to the forums La Cucina Italiana and BBC Good Food. They have purposely been chosen in that they represent two ‘food institutions’, and this study wants to focus on mainstream food media in particular. Finally, this analysis addresses the visual structure of the forums. The results show that the two forums generate different examples of Foucauldian examination. The Italian users (all women, or at least using female names) approach their examination not on the forum, but at home or among friends, before or after writing the posts. The forum is seen either as a place of resistance, in which they ask help from the other users before being examined by relatives, or as a place in which they may show off that they have passed the exam. In Britain, the examination occurs within the forum, and users (men or women hierarchically relating to each other) are both examiners and examined; each user is examined when they post a recipe, and examines the others when comments are made on the recipes of the others.
In the 1960s and 1970s Giulio Macchi employed leading figures of Italian contemporary art to design the sets and the titles of some of his most famous Rai broadcasts. Macchi understood the potential of an ‘artistic’ approach to television – that in those years was reflecting on mass society and was opening up to the environmental and spectacular dimension. As such he became the promoter of a new dialogue between artists and the Italian public broadcaster, a relationship that to date has been almost completely unexplored by scholars. This article reconstructs these relationships historically as part of a broader reflection on the way Macchi conceived cultural television programming, as well as the artistic context that enabled this dialogue. The analysis of these artistic projects reveals the unlikely convergence of new forms and dimensions of art and the “spazio schermico” of Italian television, to cite the term by Gianfranco Bettetini in his book Forme scenografiche della televisione (1982), that is still today an essential reference from both a methodological and critical point of view.
Quale idea di qualità nel cinema italiano contemporaneo? Questo numero di CS, pubblicato subito dopo la promulgazione della Legge 220/2016 sul cinema e l'audiovisivo, riflette sulle sfide industriali, normative e culturali attualmente all'ordine del giorno.