Worker-Management Standoff at Italy's Cinecitta Passes 50 Days

cinecitta - H 2012

No solution to the standoff appears to be in sight, as owners want to modernize the legendary studios and workers fear it will cost them their jobs

ROME -- The standoff between workers and management at Italy’s legendary Cinecitta Studios passed its 50th day Friday, with no end in sight.

Around 200 workers are on strike, with some of them camping in the blistering heat outside the studios beneath an increasingly tattered banner reading “Cinecitta Okkupata” -- a play on the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

The workers are worried that the owners’ €175 million ($214 million) plan to build a luxury hotel and day spa was the first step to transforming the studios into a kind of museum rather than a film studio, with them losing their jobs as a result. They are seeking assurances that the modernization plan will not include any layoffs.

For their part, the studio’s managers say the plan will transform Cinecitta into a “great hub” that will make the studios a more attractive destination for film projects. The studios have been losing work to less expensive rival studios in Eastern Europe, and they say their plan is to offer a higher-level service, touting the technical expertise of the studios and offering filmmakers more comfortable accommodations and state-of-the-art office space. Newspapers report they are hesitant to make any promises regarding potential layoffs. 

It’s an argument the striking workers aren’t buying.

“When a filmmaker comes to Cinecitta to make a film, they don’t want to stay out here, they stay in the center,” said Stefano Ballirano, one of the striking workers. “If the goal is really to emphasize the movie-making side, then do they really need a parking garage with space for 6,000 cars?”

The workers have a few high-visibility allies: a group of Italian film directors including revered auteurs Ettore Scola and Oscar-winner Bernardo Bertolucci has launched a petition based on fears that the plan to revamp Cinecitta would deemphasize the film side of the operations.

Early in the strike, which started July 4, Cinecitta, which was privatized in 1997, published an open letter attempting to assuage those fears, saying that, “The studios are well protected, historical, and inviolable, and cannot and will not be subject to any speculation that they will be abandoned. Instead, they will be made into the first major film studio in Italy with digital capabilities, with modern equipment, offices, and reception areas.”

Workers and management have been in talks in recent weeks, but workers say they have made little progress.

The fate of Cinecitta is an emotional one in Italy. The studios have been part of the production of scores of classic films, ranging from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur and La Dolce Vita from Federico Fellini to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and the HBO series Rome

The studios are a source of pride for many in Italy, and, at 75, they are also the oldest studios in Europe, harkening back to the days when Rome was known as Hollywood on the Tiber and was a chic destination spot for the brightest stars in the film word. But Cinecitta has struggled with rising costs and increased competition from the globalization of the film industry, and the number of projects produced from the studios has trailed off dramatically in recent years.