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CIVITA is a poetic, observational film about Civita di Bagnoregio, an exquisitely beautiful Italian hill town 80 miles north of Rome. Known as both the enchanted city in the sky and citta che muore—the dying city—Civita sits atop a cone of volcanic stone. First inhabited by Etruscans in the 6th century B.C. and later by the Romans, the town is separated from the mainland as a result of centuries of violent earthquakes and erosion. Despite the loss of whole sections of the town to landslides and quakes, people have carried on living as their ancestors lived, day-to-day, century after century. The intention of the film is to capture the spirit and poetry of this fragile, ancient place by recording its daily and seasonal life with the passing of winter, spring, summer, fall.
The camera follows a Mediterranean sun as it extends and attenuates light across the decumanus maximus (Roman Road), piazza, church and bell tower, arched doorways, single surviving walls of houses set on a sheer precipice, grape and olive harvests, colossal reinforcement projects constructed to stabilize cliffs that crumble like ricotta cheese, swarms of invading tourists and encounters with the remaining long-term inhabitants who give witness to past and present, attempting to keep hold of the thread of hill town life that has worn so thin.
Civita’s year-round residents are now fewer than 10, though as many as 450,000 international tourists scrambled over the ruins last year. The enchanted city in the sky is becoming a postcard city—a commodity for consumption. The ancient social fabric and daily seasonal life are unraveling. Memories and culture are vanishing. The songs and stories of Vittoria Medori, Civita’s 99-year-old matriarch, and the special winemaking skills of Antonio Bastoni will exist no longer.
Yet the citta che muore resists death. CIVITA, the film, will deftly turn this hill town’s story into an allegory that urges us to consider: Can this ancient culture be authentically preserved?
photo credit: WMF
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed Civita on its Watch List in 2006, a designation that has assured extensive seismic work to stabilize Civita’s crumbling walls would commence.
Two years later, the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy/Civita Institute (NIAUSI/CI) joined WMF on a mission to put Civita on the international map with a symposium that addressed the hill town’s pressing geological and cultural issues. “A conservation master plan and tourism management plan are urgently needed if such an ancient settlement is to weather another century.”
This Spring (2015) Civita has been assaulted by disastrous landslides. Claudio Margottini, an advisor to this film who heads the geological preservation project at Civita, wrote: "A new landslide occurred on the 30th of April, near the foot of the bridge, which caused the closure of part of the road. Last week we made an urgent appeal to UNESCO to save Civita and gain its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This appeal has been supported by many Italian authorities including the former President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, scientists, intellectuals, and artists including directors Giuseppe Tornatore, Bernardo Bertolucci and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo."