Why Naples Is Italy's New Filmmaking Hotspot

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Matteo Garrone's dark Naples-set drama 'Dogman' is Italy's official foreign-language Oscar submission.

The region has become a go-to locale for projects seeking a gritty alternative to the glamour of Rome.

While Rome continues to be the center of the Italian film industry, Naples is stealing the spotlight as a destination for filmmakers. Directors are flocking to the region, along Italy's southern coast, to capture a rarely seen side of the country.

Film fans worldwide may be more accustomed to seeing Italy through the lush lens of Federico Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita or Paolo Sorrentino's glamorous Oscar-winner The Great Beauty. But films like Matteo Garrone’s Naples-set Mafia drama Gomorrah (2008), and the hit TV show based on the same material, have what it takes to explore Italy's seedy underbelly.

"This ground is like a magnet for me," says director Edoardo De Angelis, whose child-trafficking drama The Vice of Hope, which is set in the drug-ridden Castel Volturno outside Naples, has its European premiere in Rome. "Watching a movie, I think an audience wants to find a synthesis of life. Everybody has an underbelly." Garrone's Dogman, a fable about a good man turned criminal, is Italy's foreign-language Oscar submission this year. Its desolate Naples-set cinematography recalls the best of Italian neorealism, as does its story about a gentle dog groomer forced into a world of violence.

Rome's MIA film market will present several Naples-set projects this year, including a preview of HBO's My Brilliant Friend by Saverio Costanzo, which debuted in Venice and bows on the network Nov. 18. The series, based on the best-selling Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, shows the desolation and desperation of the city in the years following World War II.

Francesca Comencini, a showrunner for the Gomorrah series, echoes many in the industry when she says she sees this long-neglected region as a shadowy mirror for Italy as a whole.

"For me, Naples is a large, dark incubator of life, swarming with microorganisms and energy," she says. "The north can shine and show its luminous face, with its modernity and economic success, but it would not exist without the dark chamber of extreme genius down there in Naples."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.