Cinecitta Labor Talks Break Down, Makeover Plans on Hold

Italian studio workers fear a plan to invest $210 million to update the studios and build a hotel and health club would de-emphasize film and leave them without work.

ROME – The standoff between workers and the managers of Rome’s storied Cinecitta Studios came to a head Wednesday after talks broke down, with the local media reporting that neither side was willing to budge and the €175 million ($210 million) makeover for the studios in a holding pattern.

Cinecitta, Europe’s oldest film studios that were home to epic dramas ranging from William Wyler’s 1959 classic Ben-Hur to Gangs of New York from Martin Scorsese 43 years later, is looking to attract more international business by updating the studios and adding a hotel, a health center, and more office space, and pulling in new stakeholders.

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But workers fear the plans could leave them out in the cold, and around 200 of the studio’s employees have pitched tents and lived at the studios in a form of protest. Newspapers showed a sign over their encampment reading “Cinecitta Okkupata” -- a play on words linking it to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S.

Police had questioned some of the workers living on the grounds to determine if they were connected to a fire that burned part of Cinecitta’s Studio 5 in the early hours of July 19. So far, that investigation has failed to reach a conclusion on the causes of the blaze.

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Meanwhile, some Italian film directors including Ettore Scola and Bernardo Bertolucci have launched a petition for the plan to revamp the studios be halted on fears that they would de-emphasize the film side of the operations.

For their part, Cinecitta officials said that the changes were part of Cinecitta’s efforts to compete with lower-cost studios in Eastern Europe by increasing the level of service at Cinecitta.

The two sides had been in talks in recent days in hopes of ending the standoff. But those talks broke down Wednesday, according to the Italian press, when studio officials said the overall plan was not open to compromise and workers said they needed a guarantee there would be no layoffs.