The idea of creating a national school of cinematography dates back to 1930 and is due to the director Alessandro Blasetti.
The origins, the fascism and the First World War
The following year Anton Giulio Bragaglia submitted to the Entertainment Corporation a report about the foundations of this body: there is assumed a polytechnic institute dedicated to the formation of all the crafts of cinema. On the first, as a branch of the conservatory of Santa Cecilia, it was only made the part of the project dedicated to acting, with the direction of Blasetti and under the cross-check of the ministries of the National Education and the Corporations.
In 1934, the count Ciano created the Directorate General for Cinematography, which grouped the skills on cinema before divided among the various ministries, thus placing them under closer and more direct control of the regime. Luigi Freddi is placed at the direction of this new body, which considers the training of new levers to be the main need and, considering the action of the School insufficient, creates in its place the “Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia”, to which the literary critic Luigi Chiarini puts in charge. Freddi deals with the administrative part and the relationship with the state, while Chiarini outlines the structure of the courses on the basis of a study of the very few foreign institutions that had already faced similar experiences. The aim is to combine filmmaking with extensive cultural preparation.
The National School of Cinematography was dissolved and on April 13, 1935, the new Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia temporarily settled in the basement of a middle school, while the design of the complex of Via Tuscolana, entrusted to the architects Antonio Valente (attachment available for download) and Pietro Aschieri, began. Construction began in 1937 with funds that, on the initiative of Freddi, were diverted from the taking of the Venice Casino to finance the company. The project has international resonance, also because the building is a jewel of the beautifully equipped architecture. With Chiarini collaborates Umberto Barbaro, translator of Eisenstein and Balazs, critic, narrator and playwright. Blasetti continues to teach directing, while to teach the history of cinema is called Francesco Pasinetti who had shot, at the age of twenty-three, the film The channel of angels based on the aesthetic canons advocated by Chiarini and Barbaro.
The courses begin on October 1, 1935 and are divided into five branches: acting, optics, phonics, set design and production. Some teachings (aesthetics and history of cinema, social function of cinematography and art history)are in common at all addresses. The course lasts two years, plus a third for those who apply. The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia is equipped with a library and a cinema library, which it was rich of many masterpieces of world cinema. Another pillar of the Centre’s activity is the publication of “Bianco e Nero”, a magazine of history and film criticism for the absolutely innovative era. In those years the Centre also curated the publication of a series of books on technique and aesthetics in cinema and the production of educational films always on the film technique, first of which L’inquadratura of Renato May. From 1938 the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia began to collaborate in the creation of feature films by professionals such as L’ultima nemica of Barbaro and The Sieve of Amleto Palermi, shot in the same establishments of the Center. In 1942 he self-produced Chiarini’s film Via delle cinque lune, with the collaboration of teachers, students and alumni.
In the last phase of the war the Centre is forced to close: it is looted by the Wermacht and in particular the Cinemathema is looted, the materials are permanently lost, with the exception of a dozen films fortuitously hidden by some employees. In this decade the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia is the focus of the formation of authors who will be the protagonists of the new era of Italian cinema: Michelangelo Antonioni, Giuseppe De Santis, Gianni Puccini, Steno, Luigi Zampa; of actors such as Gianni Agus, Paolo Carlini, Andrea Checchi, Arnoldo Foà, Massimo Serato; of the “divas” Clara Calamai, Carla Del Poggio, Irasema Dilian, Mariella Lotti and Alida Valli; of set designers and costume designers such as Mario Chiari, Vittorio Nino Novarese (two Oscars in the post-war period), Gianni Polidori and Maria De Matteis (who in the years to come will land in Hollywood); and of directors of photography such as Pasqualino
We remember the somewhat anomalous cases of students like Pietro Germi, who graduates as an actor but becomes famous as a director; Leopoldo Trieste, who graduated as a director but became an interpreter of many Fellini and Germi films; and Dino De Laurentiis, who attended acting classes and later became one of the world’s greatest producers. And also future journalists like Ermanno Contini and Mario Pannunzio, or politicians like Pietro Ingrao. In the years of fascism the Centre is a place of development of critical consciousness in antagonism with the regime. Among the teachers of that first, fundamental period we also remember Rudolf Arnheim (who then moved to America), the art historian Giuliano Briganti, the director and writer Corrado Pavolini, the director Ferdinando Maria Poggioli, the cinematographer Piero Portalupi, the director Piero Scharoff, the costume designer Gino Sensani, the organizer Libero Solaroli, the architect Antonio Valente.
The Post-War Period
Since the post-war period, the political struggle between Catholics and Marxists has led to a continuous alternation in the management of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. When it reopened in 1946, Umberto Barbaro took over as director of “Bianco e Nero”. On 20 January 1947, the first two years were inaugurated. Michelangelo Antonioni and cinematographer Carlo Nebiolo were teaching at the Center; there are seminars held by Visconti, De Sica, Germi, Soldati, Lattuada.
A 1949 law established the National Cinematheous and provides (for the first time in a western country) the mandatory storage of all films of national production. On 31 May 1955, the new statute drawn up by Nicola De Pirro and Giuseppe Sala became operational, giving the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia an active function in the field of research and publishing, as well as the training and preservation of the national film heritage.
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia publishes the Filmlexicon degli autori e delle opere, the world’s first international biofilmographic dictionary, and makes the editing film Antologia del Cinema italiano; it is one of the promoters of the creation of the Centre International de Liaison entre les Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision (CILECT); it equips itself with television structures, transforming one of its soundstage and demonstrating, among the first schools in the world, a strong interest in the new medium. In these years it became a reference point not only for Italian cinema, but for the cinema all over the world. Many aspiring filmmakers are from foreign countries. A case among many: alumni Gabriel García Márquez and Fernando Birri founded the Cuban Film School, that is still the most important in Latin America.
Other students of this period include directors Silvano Agosti, Marco Bellocchio, Liliana Cavani, Roberto Faenza, Nanni Loy, Francesco Maselli, Folco Quilici,but also Antonello Falqui, one of Italy’s leading directors of television variety; cinematographers Giuseppe Lanci, Vittorio Storaro, Luciano Tovoli, Nestor Almendros and Renato Berta; the set designers Francesco Bronzi, Gian Tito Burchiellaro, Mario Garbuglia and Beni Montresor; actors Claudia Cardinale, Antonio Cifariello, Carla Gravina, Paola Pitagora, Stefano Satta Flores, but also Renato De Carmine and Giulia Lazzarini,who will become pillars of the theater company directed by Giorgio Strehler, the tv showgirl Raffaella Carrà and Domenico Modugno, “Mister Volare”; the writers Manuel Puig and Angelo Maria Ripellino.
Among the teachers of these years, in addition to those already remembered: Paola Borboni, Andrea Camilleri, Veniero Colasanti, Luigi Comencini, Orazio Costa, Edmo Fenoglio, Nanni Loy, Virgilio Marchi, Luciano Mondolfo, Antonio Pietrangeli.
The 68th and Roberto Rossellini
In 1968 Roberto Rossellini was appointed special commissioner of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, and held this position with the idea of setting in motion interdisciplinary research on the whole of the mass media, with an eye on television; also aims to radically rethink normal courses. The technical ones are joined by courses in psychology, history, economics and sociology, in a new order that no longer provides for the parcelling of the different crafts of cinema, but aims at the formation of “global filmmakers“.
The student movements and intellectual protests of 1968-1972 put many Italian film institutions such as the Venice Film Festival in crisis and caused serious difficulties to the Rossellini experiment. In 1974, the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment removed Rossellini from office. Among the students of these years we remember Carlo Verdone and Peter Del Monte, and, among the teachers, Ennio Guarnieri, Carlo Lizzani, Vittorio Storaro, Valerio Zurlini.
From the 1980s to the 21st century
In 1981, while the 37th congress of the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) takes place at the Scuola Nazionale di Cinema, the school went back to the distinction of the courses through professional orientation: directing, filming (i.e. film photography), set design and costume, organization of production. The Board of Directors was reassembled in 1982: fifteen members of public and private bodies are part of it.
Giovanni Grazzini is appointed to the presidency and Ernesto G. Laura to the directorship. The first call for the new management was published in 1983 and included 50 places divided into 35 Italians and 15 foreigners. The acting course is experimentally restored. The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia reaches an agreement with the Producers Union for the inclusion of its graduates in the production activity.
1987 is an unlucky year: there are problems in the Board of Directors and a fire destroys Theatre 1 where, among other things, about 3000 films were kept. Since 1988, Grazzini has been succeeded by director Lina Wertm, producer Alfredo Bini and university professors Orio Caldiron and Lino Miccichè, who run the Centre in different styles, and promote a general renewal. In 1991 the National Cinema presented in Venice the restored copy of Il Gattopardo, the first stage of a restoration effort that will become systematic.
There is a wide range of publishing activities, including the powerful history of Italian cinema in 15 volumes. The computerisation and the increase of structures continues.
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia also takes a central place in the international context, taking over for eight years the chairmanship of the Groupement Européen des Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision (GEECT) and – since 2000 – that of the Centre International de Liaison des Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision (CILECT).
In 2002, the sociologist Francesco Alberoni, rector until 2001 of the IULM University in Milan, became President. He is joined as advisers by the set designer Dante Ferretti, the actor Giancarlo Giannini, the painter, sculptor and expert in the mechanics of the movement Carlo Rambaldi and the writer and publicist Gavino Sanna.
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia diversifies on the national territory: the School dedicated to animation cinema is enhanced in Turin; in Ivrea the National Archive of Corporate Cinema is established; in Milan, in the Lombardy Headquarters, courses are created in Business Cinematography: Documentary and Advertising and Creation and Fiction Production, in addition to the Research Center and the Laboratory of Cinema. In addition, in 2008 the Sicilian Headquarters was established in Palermo and, in 2011, the new headquarters of the CSC in L’Aquila for the training of film-makers specialized in the field of historical and current reporting. And in 2019 has been established a school of film restoration in Lecce, Puglia.
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia consolidates during this period the relations with RAI Cinema and with Medusa Film for the co-production of the graduation films of the students of the National School of Cinema made by CSC Production (a company wholly owned by the CSC).
Among the students of these years: the directors Francesca Archibugi, Fausto Brizzi, Gabriele Muccino, Alessandro Piva, Salvatore Mereu, Eros Puglielli, Paolo Virzì, Costanza Quatriglio, Gianni Zanasi, Michele Carillo, Claudio Cupellini, the documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Pannone; the actors Carolina Crescentini, Iaia Forte, Ana Caterina Morariu, Francesca Neri, Stefania Rocca, Enrico Lo Verso, Alba Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Filippo Nigro, Daniela Virgilio; the editors Francesca Calvelli and Jacopo Quadri; the writers Luigi Guarnieri, Melania Mazzucco and Susanna Tamaro; the directors of photograph Gian Enrico Bianchi and Arnaldo Catinari, the sound engineers Giovanni Rossi and Paolo Ketoff; the costume designers Daniela Ciancio, Silvia Nebiolo and Andrea Sorrentino. Among the teachers: Age, Gianni Amelio, Piero Berengo Gardin, Gianni Bisiach, Vincenzo Cerami, Alessandro D’Alatri, Luigi De Laurentiis, Piera Degli Esposti, Giuseppe De Santis, Franco Di Giacomo, Carlo Di Palma, Giulio Gianini, Alfredo Giannetti, Giuseppe Lanci, Roberto Perpignani, Ugo Pirro, Domenico Procacci, Giuseppe Rotunno, Furio Scarpelli, Piero Tosi.
In 2012 Stefano Rulli, Italian screenwriter and director, was appointed president. At the end of 2016 he was succeeded by journalist and cultural organizer Felice Laudadio, former CEO of the Luce Institute, president of Cinecittà Holding, director of festivals such as the Venice Film Festival and the Bifest in Bari. In May 2017 she was appointed Conservator of the National Cinema Daniela Currò, to which, in 2020, succeeds Paolo Cherchi Usai, while to lead the Scuola nazionale di Cinema was confirmed Caterina d’Amico, to which, in 2019, succeeds Adriano De Santis.