This project explores the history of Italian cinema audiences. It is the first to use qualitative and quantitative data to examine the nature of cinema-going in Italy in the post-war period, and to trace national and regional patterns in cinema exhibition and audience preferences.
This is an innovative collaboration with 6 Italian organizations: the first, Memoro, interviews elderly Italians and uploads the interviews to their website to preserve the memories of previous generations (www.memoro.org); the second is Blumedia (www.blumedia.org), which supports activities that foster understanding between generations; the third is ANASTE, the national organization of residential care homes for the elderly in Italy (www.anaste.it). The fourth and fifth are SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori) and AGIS (Associazione Generale dello Spettacolo), national bodies that collect data on the entertainment industry. The sixth, Unitre (Universita' della Terza Eta') has around 300 branches which disseminate culture amongst elderly in Italy.
Memoro will conduct interviews with 160 people; a link to our website on their website will allow dissemination to over 3 million visitors, and world-wide reach, with dedicated international sections. Blumedia, ANASTE and Unitre will use their contacts to help us with the dissemination of 1000 questionnaires on cinema-going. SIAE and AGIS have agreed to supply box-office data for the period in question.
Memoro are collaborating with us because our project chimes exactly with their goals: to promote greater understanding of the Italian past, and to encourage younger generations to engage more deeply with the lives of the older generations. There has already been wide media interest in their project in Italy and abroad: their work has had coverage on national Italian and British television (Rai Uno, Due and BBC) as well as in international newspapers and magazines (La Repubblica, L'Unità, La Stampa, Le Monde).
In order to engage witmembers of the public and interest them in our project, research findings will be communicated to Italians via talks at events i.e. SeViCol (http://www.sevicol.it), an annual exhibition and conference in Rome on the elderly, as well as a "Sharing Memories" event at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin. In the UK, we have made contact with the director of the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, at the University of Exeter (www.ex.ac.uk/bdc), who is interested in mounting another "Sharing Memories" event, using the Centre's holdings of film memorabilia, and inviting local groups of older people who might be interested in sharing their own memories of cinema-going. Further potential beneficiaries are organizations involved in the study, support and research into old age, as well as Europe-wide policy-makers and practitioners, those interested in learning about new ways to increase the engagement of older people with new technologies. For example, ANASTE are happy to facilitate the distribution of questionnaires in the nursing homes they operate throughout Italy; they see it as an important way of reaching out to the disenfranchised elderly, and they are interested in expanding the project to their European partners. The project will integrate Italian audience studies into the burgeoning field of audience studies within film studies and social sciences. It will offer cinema historians and sociologists a fuller understanding of cinema-going trends in Italy, and of the experiences of audiences in post-war Italy. It will also offer an innovative platform for bringing together academic researchers and policy-makers; for example, the PI has been invited to present the project at Oxford University's Institute of Ageing, where she will emphasise the use of digital video cameras as a way to capture memories and disseminate them via internet.
We know a lot about the directors and stars of Italian cinema's heyday, from Roberto Rossellini to Sophia Loren, but what do we know about the Italian audiences that went to see them? In the golden years of Italian cinema, the 1940s and '50s, when Italian cinema produced the internationally influential Neorealist movement, with figures like Rossellini, De Sica and Fellini achieving world renown, cinema-going was the most popular national pastime, at its peak representing 70% of leisure expenditure by Italians. However, we know little about how Italian audiences chose films, which genres and stars they preferred, and how region, location, gender, and class influenced their views. With this project, for the first time, oral and written accounts of film-going in the period will be contextualised by press reception, box-office figures, and industry data in order to uncover the hidden side of Italian film history: its spectators.
The project, a collaboration between three academic experts in post-war Italian cinema, Daniela Treveri Gennari, Danielle Hipkins and Catherine O'Rawe, will draw on the support of six non-profit organisations in Italy. Three of these (ANASTE, Blumedia and Unitre) will help us distribute 1000 questionnaires amongst groups of Italy's over-65s, in order to gather statistics about cinema-going in the 1940s and '50s. Then, drawing on the survey's findings, Memoro (an organization that records and disseminates online video interviews with elderly Italians) will conduct 160 interviews on cinema-going, with a carefully chosen sample of interviewees from across Italy. These interviews will form the core of our understanding of the everyday practices of cinema-goers in the 1940s and '50s. An initial 20 interviews we recorded in Rome (available at www.memoro.org) already challenge our views of cinema-going. Moreover, thanks to the successful British Academy Mid Career Fellowship Funding, the data the PI is gathering (250 questionnaires and 50 interviews in Rome) will provide further evidence on audiences memories.
This is precisely the kind of information that we want to elicit: stories that expand the speculative official history of Italian audiences, which was based on limited numbers of interviews, often carried out by left-wing intellectuals with an ideological desire to promote certain kinds of film-making (see, eg, Pinna 1956). We will be asking participants questions about genre, stars, and gender, and placing these subjective accounts in the context of our archival research, aided by two statistical bodies: SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori) and AGIS (Associazione Generale dello Spettacolo). We will examine how preferences expressed by interviewees relate to box-office figures and contemporary reviews. We will ask how regional location might influence admiration of a particular star or genre. Readers' letters and contemporary diaries will also play a crucial role in our project, moving us away from repetitive auteur-led readings of Italian cinema.
We will develop a website that provides access to the interviews and the data taken from those and our questionnaires (using NVivo software). We will also disseminate our research through papers at three international conferences, two articles and two books, and our PhD student will receive a strong foundation for research in Italian film.
This project offers a unique opportunity to uncover a hidden history that is fundamental to Italian and European identity. In a period when Italy went through one of its most dramatic changes, from a predominantly agricultural nation to a leading industrial power, cinema was a constant for its people. Crucially, at the centre of this project are those people whose stories about cinema need to be told, understood and disseminated. We believe their stories, and the project, will be important for all those interested in the culture, history and sociology of Europe.