The Mecene: Cinematic Chopard

The Mecene: Cinematic Chopard
The Trophée Chopard, founded in 2001, recognizes young breakthrough acting talent.
(Courtesy Chopard)

Cinecittà Studios, once known as Hollywood on the Tiber and home of films like Ben-Hur and La Dolce Vita, is on a mission to recapture its halcyon days. And it has found a glamorous and generous partner in Chopard to help complete it. The Swiss jeweler’s first order of business, upon signing a three-year partnership with the studios in 2014, was to fix the face of one of the best examples of modernist architecture in Europe, which had been damaged by years of heavy pollution.

Raffaella Rossiello, International Communication Director of Chopard, says, “The facade really needed restructuring. It was losing its original look, style and architectural design. After years of layers of paint jobs, the original color had also changed completely.” Designed by one of the great Italian architects of the time, Gino Peressutti, Cinecittà was commissioned by Benito Mussolini in 1936 and conceived as a propaganda tool under fascist rule. Virtually synonymous with Federico Fellini, the studios have produced more than 3,000 films by directors both Italian and international, such as Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Anthony Minghella. Many American filmmakers began arriving at Cinecittà in the early 1950s, drawn by the studio’s reputation for creative talent and Italy’s low production costs relative to the United States, producing such epics as Helen of Troy, 1956, Ben-Hur, 1959, and Cleopatra, 1963. In recent years, however, Cinecittà has become more of an event venue for gala dinners and private parties than Oscarwinning film production.

The golden age of Cinecittà started waning in the 1970s with the rise of television productions, and the studio nearly went bankrupt in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful bid to attract filmmakers with a 25 per cent tax break and facing continually falling film production revenues, the government sold 80 per cent of its stake in the floundering enterprise to a consortium of private investors (Italian Entertainment Group) in 1997. Since then, Cinecittà has also survived three mysterious fires in the last six years, most recently on December 15, 2013. The first blaze, in 2007, destroyed the sets of the BBC/HBO series Rome, while another one swept through the site’s famous Teatro 5, Fellini’s studio of choice, in July 2012, just before the owners were due to meet with unions and workers. Putting on a bold new face became the natural thing to do after these multiple first-degree burns. Thanks to Chopard, the iconic main facade of the lot was completely restructured last year and unveiled to the public at a glitzy cocktail event.

Rossiello says that the family-owned company’s involvement with Cinecittà was borne out of its love of cinema, its support of cinematic talent, and its longstanding sponsorship of celebrities: “It all started 17 years ago when Caroline (Scheufele, the firm’s co-president), decided Chopard should be a partner of Cannes Film Festival. In particular, she proposed to redesign the Palme d’Or trophy, which was looking old, and wanted to create a trophy with a jeweler’s approach.”

In fact, last year, it tweaked the Palme d’Or trophy again, crafting it from Fairmined gold — gold that is extracted by artisanal and small-scale miners in a manner respectful of human beings and the environment, certified under a specific ethical standard created by the Alliance for Responsible Mining, which guarantees strict adherence to the rules of economic, social and environmental development in the mining process. In 2001, Chopard also founded the Trophée Chopard, which recognizes two young actors making breakthroughs in their career during the Cannes Film Festival every year. Scheufele sits on the jury of professionals — which last year also included movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Colin Firth, and the Editor-In-Chief of Variety, Steve Davis — that makes the selections.

The jeweller is also active in its support of the Venice Film Festival, collaborating in the promotion of different movies in different ways, and even campaigned for Marion Cotillard to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose in 2007. It also presents special exhibitions about historical pictures of important movies, such as “Backstage at Cinecittà” in Cannes this past May, which showed photography of candid moments of actors and directors that were captured off the set or in the midst of filming, including a shot of Henry Fonda taking a quick nap between scenes on the set of War and Peace, 1955, as well as Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini discussing the script of Journey to Italy, 1953. Given its love affair with the post-production stages of film, then, it seemed natural for Chopard to extend its support right to the beginning.

Thankfully, it is not alone in its efforts to glam up Cinecittà. Italian Entertainment Group — which counts producer Aurelio De Laurentiis and Tod’s Group CEO Diego Della Valle amongst its partners — unveiled the $338 million Cinecittà World theme park in July to much fanfare. Conceived 10 years ago as an Italian take on Universal Studios and designed by Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti, Cinecittà World boasts 20 attractions, including several state-of-the-art roller coasters, a dark motion simulator ride called Dante’s Inferno, and welcomes visitors through the gigantic mouth of the Temple of Moloch (inspired by the 1914 silent blockbuster epic Cabiria) and a promenade that is a replica of the 19th century New York set of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Next up on the Chopard agenda is a plan to possibly rebuild and restore Teatro 5, and restore or reproduce important old films, with a view to screening them at special sections dedicated to classic movies at the Cannes Film Festival. Says Rossiello: “The partnership is quite large and we can choose the projects we want to support. There are a lot of possibilities.”