Twin Roots In Ferrara

Written by  Folco Quilici
«...coming back to Ferrara to sunshine or fog, to revisit the countryside and the places where I feel "AT home"...»
Having left Ferrara and a house penetrated by two bombs that had mercilessly fallen from the sky - but mercifully had not exploded - I found myself evacuated to Rome, a student at the Tasso grammar school, where I was put in a class held by an intelligent Italian teacher who didn't oblige us to write essays only on Dante or Manzoni. And so, out of a sense of nostalgia for the city I had left behind me, I wrote him an essay about the fogs of Ferrara.
If I still possessed the four regulation sheets that I handed in to my teacher that day I would not be ashamed to publish them here; in any case, the teacher liked my essay, which persuaded him that I possessed a literary bent.

On reading what I had written he had become involved in a stroll through the streets of my city, it was as if he had caught a glimpse of Ferrara and its houses, palazzi and monuments limned by the faint light as it filtered through the fog.
He didn't know Ferrara and since my essay had made him curious, he asked me to tell him about it and - if possible - to show him some pictures. I brought him an album of the woodcuts my mother had made for the covers of a magazine, the Rivista di Ferrara, showing some evocative views of our town.

That teacher became a friend of the family after having imbued me for three years not only with a love for the arts, but also after having convinced me I could write. I've never stopped ever since. And when I look back I see again those far off beginnings, four pages of scribbles about the fogs of my home town; and I feel a twinge of nostalgia when I remember that one of the two sides of my profession - writing - has its roots in that brief sketch of Ferrara.
On the other hand, the other side of my professional life -the cinema - also has remote roots in the city where I was born. One summer's day (in 1942 I think) some friends and I went to «see how a film was really made». This amounted to watching from afar as Luchino Visconti shot a scene for his film Ossessione, set in the little square behind the castle.
That day would not have left any particular mark on my memory were it not for a piece of cast-off of film: I happened to be standing near one of Visconti's technicians just as he threw away an empty tin containing a length of leftover film.

That gift destined for the city dump attracted me instantly; careful to avoid being seen, I recovered the container. Later on, at home, I opened it and found that it did not contain blank film, but part of a take that had gone wrong. It was useless for "them", but not for me. That piece of cinema fascinated me right from the start: but my interest was not focused on the images were impressed, but on the film itself.

I had read somewhere that, if immersed in hot water, film would become completely transparent again. The experiment was a success, even though the cost was some fairly serious damage to the pipe that drained the water from the family bathtub. Once in the bath, that twenty-odd metres of film picked up in the street released a flood of gelatinous emulsion that accumulated like a viscid glue in the drain pipe, to the supreme desperation of the plumber called in to effect repairs.
I rewound the film to make a reel; and as I twirled it between my fingers I realized that I was in possession of my first reel of film ready for use.
I asked a classmate for help. He was very good at making tiny drawings in India ink and I suggested that he make the images for each frame by hand: «From this day we're onto something really big! We can make newsreels... It'll be a huge success, you'll see!».

He succeeded, using not only black, but red, blue and green inks. I don't remember very well what that first film of ours was about; but I can assure you that I watched it an infinite number of times. It was not only unique, but also avant-garde, because in those days the cinema had yet to produce newsreels in colour. We were immensely proud of our efforts as only adolescents can be.

There in the darkened room where we projected our hand-drawn film, I could hardly have imagined that I had contracted a dangerous infection: the cinema "bug". And so my two professions both have their roots in my city. Roots whose diversity and particularity are such that - to tell the truth - I had never really made the connection before now, not even when going through my earliest memories.

Although they may seem fragile and tenuous these are roots that resist with an unfailing vigour; theirs is the influence that draws me back to Ferrara to find sunshine or fog, to revisit the countryside and the places where I feel "AT home" even though I have made my home - many homes - in various parts of the world. But I have only one real home; and it awaits me there where - for me - everything first began.

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