The countryside of Umbria has been a tourist attraction for Italy and the lifestyle has ensured the growth of a hospitality sector that is developing apace. But Umbria’s splendid towns, villages, valleys and historic sites have also attracted another type of visitor: film-makers. Umbria is not as advanced in this sector as neighbouring Tuscany but it is catching up.

Umbria offers advantages for film-makers and their potential backers. Hotel prices are considerably lower than those in Rome and trades unions in Umbria work to more flexible rules, providing cost savings. Umbria is no more than 70 miles from Rome, making the capital city accessible for film-makers who require urban settings.

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The agent for Umbria’s development as a film centre is Roberto Benigni, a well-known Italian film producer, actor, director and Oscar winner. Mr Benigni is Tuscan but has made his home in Umbria and is a supporter of the region. As well as shooting his films in Umbria, he also played a key role in the creation of Umbria’s famous film studio, Papigno. The studio won acclaim as the setting for some of the most sombre concentration camp scenes in Mr Benigni’s film, Life is Beautiful, and it has not looked back.

Force for film

Early this year, another force entered the Umbrian film production scene: Cinecitta Studios. The company has been associated with Italian film production for almost 70 years, and in particular with the Italian film doyen Frederico Fellini. Cinecitta, which is based in Rome, entered a deal with Mr Benigni to take a majority stake in his company. It now plans to put its marketing and sales reputation and authority at Papigno’s disposal to promote the studios and facilities in Umbria worldwide.

Film-making in the region is set to take off with a new drive and energy, according to Cristina Giubbetti, co-ordinator for the Umbria Film Commission (UFC).

The focus of this drive is the Papigno site. The studio has every technical and administrative form of expertise for an international film-maker. When it caught Mr Benigni’s attention in the mid-1990s, the site – located outside Terni, the region’s steel-making centre – contained a decaying and atmospheric factory building. Mr Benigni was looking for an ominous and tragic setting for part of Life is Beautiful (other scenes in the film are set in sunny Arezzo) when he came upon the factory. He and his partner, Nicoletta Braschi, raised funds through their company Spitfire and began to convert the open spaces of Papigno into stages and settings that a film producer might relish. Local office buildings were also converted into changing rooms for actors and offices for administrators.

Useful dereliction

Mr Benigni worked in collaboration with the site’s freeholder, the local authority of Terni, the Terni Public Administration and its mayor. The agency welcomed a derelict piece of real estate being put to a good use. It also appreciated the studio’s environmental friendliness, in sharp distinction to the chemical works that had operated there. Local development agencies, in particular SviluppUmbria, place enormous importance on environmentally-friendly development, as illustrated by the plethora of companies committed to the environment that have set up headquarters there (see fDi February/March 2005).

The successful conversion of the Papigno factory gave Mr Benigni the confidence to announce that the film he planned after Life is Beautiful, Pinocchio , would also be filmed there. Pinocchio was completed in 2003. The studios were also used for the filming of Italian television programmes, like Pride and Lavorare con Lentenzza. Mr Benigni’s next film, The Tiger and the Snow, will be filmed there. Few film producers can have been so associated with a single studio.

Umbria’s local development authority quickly realised the value of these studios to the region. The setting of films and programmes was a good advertisement for the countryside and amenities, and it attracted international money. Hotels benefited as film-makers filled them with stars and production people, who also made use of local restaurants and places of entertainment. Umbria and the region were determined to make the most of the publicity.

That prompted the creation of the UFC, which today offers a range of services and facilities for film-makers who are interested in shooting in Umbria. For example, the commission offers to read film scripts and suggest local locations. It plans to ensure that the multitude of publicly-owned historic and interesting sites will be put at film-makers’ disposal, and to assist companies in drawing up contracts with private owners of local sites. The commission offers substantial hospitality grants – up to 80% – for film-makers spending time in Umbria and making use of the region’s hotels. And it offers to take film-makers through the administrative hurdles involved in complex logistics.

Boost for Papigno

The arrival of Cinecitta will ensure the Papigno studios become known worldwide – and by some of the largest and most prestigious film producers. Although Cinecitta has acquired a majority stake in Papigno, and therefore controls the management of the site, it expects a continuing, strong link with Mr Benigni, who is still the only other shareholder in Papigno’s management company. He has first choice in selecting the Papigno studios for his films.

Cinecitta brings many advantages to the newly emerging Umbrian film industry. It recently moved out of state ownership but over the years it has come to represent the modern image of Italian film-making. Its two sets of studios, one in the centre of Rome and the other outside Rome and nearer the sea, have housed leading Italian film producers and others for 70 years. It has representative offices in Los Angeles, New York and London.

Drama and colour

Lamberto Mancini, Cinecitta’s general manager, regards Papigno as an important addition to its repertoire. He believes that it will enable the company to offer film producers access to the Umbrian countryside, to add to the drama and colour that is modern Rome and its surroundings.

“We hope Cinecitta Post Production, the Cinecitta brand and Cinecitta international networking add something to Umbria’s competitive position, just as Umbria’s position brings something to us,” he says.

He believes that the addition of Papigno will strengthen Italy’s position in the highly competitive world market for film sites.

The combination of Cinecitta’s urban spirit and Umbria’s rustic atmosphere could provide a formidable force for the Italian film industry. And that force would benefit Umbria in the long run.