Film Studies Research Unit (FSRU)
ITALIAN CINEMA AUDIENCES
A collaborative research project exploring cinema audiences in Italy in the 1950s. Led by Daniela Treveri Gennari (Oxford Brookes University), Catherine O’Rawe (University of Bristol) and Danielle Hipkins (Univeristy of Exeter). Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
About the project
This project will provide the first study of cinema audiences in Italy in the 1950s, when Italians went to the cinema more than almost any other nation in Europe. It is crucial to conduct large-scale empirical research into Italian film audiences of the time before those audiences disappear. The project extends the findings of our pilot project undertaken in 2009 on cinema-going in Rome, funded by Oxford Brookes. It will explore the importance of films in everyday life in Italy, and the social experience of cinema-going, by interviewing surviving audience members, analyzing their responses using data analysis software, and contextualizing these responses through further archival research. The innovative nature of the collaboration between our universities and six Italian organizations is vital for the success of our project.
These organizations will provide contacts, data and expertise in their area, which are needed to guarantee the success of this large-scale project:
Our research is guided by these questions:
- How does cinema-going figure in the memories of daily lives of people throughout Italy at that time? What material factors in the everyday experience of cinema-going have been overlooked by film history?
- What was the relationship between audiences and film genres and how did this vary according to gender and place? How do we re-evaluate questions of gender by examining the particularity of female and male spectators’ responses?
- What role did stars play in determining audience response to films?
- How did audiences respond to Italian cinema, Neorealism in particular, and to Hollywood?
- How do the film press and the popular press of the time complement the memories of the period?
- How did Italian cinema-goers select and watch films? How did the press and the studio publicity influence cinema attendance in Italy at the time?
- How might cinema-going preferences in the period have related to wider social trends and changes in Italy as a whole?
- What might our project help us understand about the nature of memory work? How might questions of selective memory, forgetting and interference come into play?
The oral history approach will remain the core of our project because it provides a ‘thick description’ (Kuhn, 2002) of the role of cinema in the period, while also ‘allowing access to subjectivity’ (Labanyi, 2005). The empirical research will investigate cinema-going memories in post-war Italy. First we will ask over 1000 people to complete a questionnaire on cinema-going. This quantitative phase will be used to identify the recurrent themes and patterns, which we intend to explore further. Thereafter we will conduct structured video-interviews with 160 interviewees about their experiences. This oral history approach will be complemented by statistical surveys of audiences, box-office takings, and relevant period press material, adapting Barker and Mathijs’ (2008) audience project framework.
The study will involve 4 stages:
- Audience questionnaire: The survey will involve a 4-page questionnaire given to over 1000 individuals (aged 65 to 90), based on a probability sample. Twentytrial interviews have been already conducted (available at www.memoro.org). Based on analysis of the interviews and a trial of 10 questionnaire respondents, we revised the questionnaire. The questions will now be tested on a pilot cohort of 20 people in order to check for ambiguities and to assess the face validity of the questionnaires. The 1000 questionnaires will constitute the body of the statistical analysis, but we have also integrated more discursive open-ended questions in order to allow other memories of cinema-going to emerge. The questionnaires will be managed by a Blumedia researcher trained by the PI, to ensure that the data gathering process is systematic and consistent.
- In-depth video-interviews: We will revise our interview questions in the light of our findings from the questionnaires to address emerging patterns and groupings. Interviews will be half an hour each in length with a sample of 160 interviewees. Quota sampling will be used to target the respondents. For the oral interviews a range of participants will be chosen from eight areas within Italy: 8 rural and 8 urban locations. We have selected eight regions in order to explore key socio-economic characteristics: urban/rural, industrial/agricultural, central/periphery, north/south and the impact of political and religious geography. The cities of Bari, Rome, Turin, Milan, Palermo, Naples, Cagliari and Florence have been selected from the 12 ‘città capozone’ used to monitor box-office intake in the chosen period and will therefore allow for contextualization of the material with these figures. Urban locations will be complemented by rural locations in Tuscany, Lombardy, Piedmont, Lazio, Sicily, Campania, Puglia, and Sardegna. 5 members of each sex will be interviewed and the class distribution of interviewees will be monitored and adjusted as the interviews progress.
- Data analysis: The ethnographic approach will involve the identification of the main topics in the questionnaires and then the in-depth interviews, followed by a systematic coding of the most important quotations (using NVivo software), which will then be used to interpret the findings. Working with the RAs, this software will allow us to divide the answers into thematic topics, organized around the project’s research questions. We will cross-tabulate the data in order to compare answers in different areas.
- Triangulation of different data sources: The fragility and subjectivity of memory is something recognized by all researchers into historical audiences (Anderson, 2009).This was apparent in our pilot project, in which we found that memory interference was significant in itself, as many of our interviewees had overlaid official accounts of Italian post-war cinema on their private, autobiographical memories, producing a kind of ‘prosthetic memory’ of the period (see Hipkins, O’Rawe and Treveri Gennari, 2011). We are also attentive to issues of generational difference, and to the operations of ‘postmemory’ (Hirsch, 2008), by which later generations strive to reactivate through affective work the received accounts of the past. Our project aims to construct an account of Italian cinema spectatorship in which audiences’ ‘memory stories’ (Kuhn) can be interpreted in relation to ‘official’ discourses around cinema in the period. The memories collected through the questionnaires and the interviews will be read alongside reception material: exhibition and programming material, press accounts, and private records from the time. We will also use data available about box-office records from the SIAE and AGIS.
Newspaper and magazine reports will be used to identify trends in audience behavior over the period as well as to better understand press influence on audience choice. Information from trade journals, in conjunction with adverts in the popular press, articles in cinema magazines and personal diaries will enrich the recorded oral history. In this way, for the first time in Italian cinema history, oral history can be read against quantitative data about film distribution, box-office records, cinema attendance, and publicity, and alongside critical readings of the press and diaries.
Several non-academic Associate Partners have agreed to provide their expertise and support to the project
- Memoro (www.memoro.org), is a non-profit online initiative founded in Turin in 2007, with branches all over the world. The organization collects and disseminates short video recordings of interviews with elderly people, and will conduct the filmed interviews as well as acting as a platform for the circulation of findings.
- Blumedia (www.blumedia.org) is a cultural association founded in Rome in 2006, whose aim is to promote cultural initiatives across Italy through the collaboration of public and private enterprises. Blumedia will be responsible for the data collection of the questionnaires.
- Unitré, the University of the Third Age in Italy, have agreed to distribute the questionnaire to their 268 regional branches in Italy.
- ANASTE is the national association of old people’s homes in Italy, which includes over 80.000 residents. They will give us access to their database of care homes to select the participants in the project.
- The office of statistical data of the SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori, a national body that collects data on the entertainment industry) will provide relevant data on exhibition and box office takings.
- AGIS is the Associazione Generale dello Spettacolo. They will supply relevant data about box-office takings that will contextualize our ethnographic research.
An advisory board will oversee the project and include academic experts in Italy, the UK, and the US, as well as Oxford Brookes University Research Director. The board will receive quarterly progress reports, attend annual project meetings in Oxford, and assist in quality control through sampling of research and analysis undertaken by the Investigators.
- Professor Mariagrazia Fanchi (Università Cattolica di Milano)
- Professor Martin Barker (Aberystwyth University )
- Professor Jo Labanyi (New York University)
- Professor Paul Whitty (Oxford Brookes University)
We will be working on a volume on rural cinema-going worldwide, which will be published before the end of the project.
Journal Articles and Book Chapters
We have already published some articles and book chapters on the pilot project in Rome (see below) and are also working on several journal articles for the peer-reviewed press.
- Treveri Gennari, Daniela. 'Moralizing cinema while attracting audiences: Catholic film exhibition in post-war Rome'. In Moralizing cinema: Film Catholicism and Power (eds. Daniela Treveri Gennari and Daniel Biltereyst, New York: Routlege, 2014).
- Treveri Gennari, Daniela. '“If you have seen it, you cannot forget!” Film consumption and memories of cinema-going in 1950s Rome' The Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, 2014).
- Treveri Gennari, Daniela, Sedgwick, John. ‘Film popularity, Programming Patterns and Film Audience Choices in 1950s Rome’ (forthcoming 2015).
- Treveri-Gennari, Daniela, Catherine O’Rawe & Danielle Hipkins. ‘In Search of Italian Cinema Audiences in the 1940s and 1950s: Gender, genre and national identity‘, 'Participations, Journal Of Audiences and Reception Studies, Volume 8, Issue 2 (November 2011)
Recent conference papers by members of the team.
- Post-war cinema audiences in Rome: A comparison. Paper presented at the CinéPop50 conference, Université Bourdeaux Montaigne.
- Discriminated Users: Engaging the Elderly with Online Audiovisual Heritage. Paper presented at the EUscreenXL conference in Rome (October 2014).
- The Lost Italian Audience: digital approaches to cinema-going memories. Paper presented at the HoMER@NECS Conference in Milan (June 2014).
- Cinema through the senses: memories of child audiences in 1950s Rome. Paper presented at the XXVth IAMHIST Conference, Childhood and the Media, University of Leicester (UK) (July 2013).
- Film exhibition and memories of audiences in 1950s Rome. Paper presented with Prof John Sedgwick (Research Institute for History and Culture (OGC) – University of Utrecht) at the NECS 2013 International Conference in Prague (June 2013)
- In search of Italian cinema audiences in the 1940s and 1950s. Paper presented at the Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference (June 2011)
For more information on this project visit the www.italiancinemaaudiences.org.