26 February 2018

Dante Ferretti – set designer

Three-times Oscar winner worked with Fellini and Scorsese

Dante Ferretti has worked in the film industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti has worked in the film
industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti, who in more than half a century in movie production design has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won three, was born on this day in 1943 in the city of Macerata, in the Marche region of central Italy.

Ferretti, who works in partnership with his wife, the set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, won two of his Oscars for films directed by Martin Scorsese, with whom he has enjoyed a collaboration that began 25 years ago this year.

Nominated for his first film with Scorsese, The Age of Innocence (1993) and subsequently for Kundun (1998) and Gangs of New York (2003), he was successful with The Aviator (2005) and Hugo Cabret (2012).

Both Oscars, for Best Scenography, were shared with Lo Schiavo, with whom he also shared an Oscar for Tim Burton’s 2008 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Ferretti also enjoyed long collaborations with Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and worked with a string of other major directors, including Elio Petri, Ettore Scola, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Minghella, Brian de Palma, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh.

Born a few months before Macerata would become something of a battleground in the Second World War, occupied by Nazi troops in the wake of Mussolini’s downfall and then subjected to allied bombing, Ferretti had design in his blood, coming from a family of furniture makers.

Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built
by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
After completing school, he went to Rome, graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and, fascinated with the film industry, began working at the Cinecittà studios, where he would eventually have his own permanent office.

After cutting his teeth as an assistant on a number of Pasolini titles, he landed his first appointment as set director for Pasolini’s 1969 film Medea

His work on that movie caught with attention of Fellini, his partnership with whom he described as a “dream come true”.  Notable successes over the next two decades included The City of Women and Ginger and Fred.

In the mid-1980s, he worked outside Italy for the first time, on such titles as The Name of the Rose (1986), French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film version of the novel by Umberto Eco, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), directed by the former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on
nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
His association with Scorsese did not begin until 1993, although they had met some years earlier at Cinecittà. To date, they have made nine films together, the most ambitious and challenging of which, he said in a recent interview, was Gangs of New York, the epic period drama set in the notorious Five Points district of New York, for which Ferretti constructed full-scale models of New York street scenes within Cinecittà. There was even a set designed to represent the Hudson River, complete with a full-size ship.

More recently, he and Lo Schiavo worked on Scorsese’s Silence, his film about Jesuits in Japan persecuted for their Christian faith in the 17th century, which involved reconstructions of the Japanese city of Nagasaki and the Chinese port of Macau.

A passionate fan of opera, Ferretti has also designed sets for some of the world’s most famous opera houses, including Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra in Paris, the Royal Opera House in London and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

The Ben Hur set at Cinecittà World, outside Rome
Travel tip:

As well as admiring his work on the screen, fans of Ferretti’s sets can see examples of his creativity at first hand at the Rome theme park, Cinecittà World, which was opened in 2014 in the grounds of the former studio complex Dinocittà, which was set up in the 1960s by the producer Dino De Laurentiis. Containing 26 sets to represent different themes and genres in cinema history, all of which were designed by Ferretti, the park is at Castel Romano, about 25km (16 miles) south of Rome in the Decima Malafede nature reserve.

The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
Travel tip:

The city of Macerata, home to about 43,000 people, is situated in an inland area of Marche, about 48km (30 miles) south of Ancona and 30km (19 miles) from the coastal town of Civitanova Marche. Not a well-known tourist destination, it nonetheless has a charming hilltown feel, with a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and one of Italy’s oldest universities, dating back to 1290. It is the setting each summer for a month-long opera festival at the atmospheric Arena Sferisterio, which has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars.

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