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The murals of Gherardi: cinema and street art to revitalize the town

Twelve mural paintings dedicatd to the deeply-rooted relationship between the territory of Ferrara and the seventh art

«Cinema speaks the language of dreams», Federico Fellini used to say, giving expression to his words in his masterpieces. But sometimes it is the dreams that – in order to come true – use the language and imagery of cinema. That is actually happening in Gherardi, a section of Jolanda di Savoia, a small town in the Lower Ferrarese area, in Emilia Romagna, where an operation based on culture and creativity – closely tied to the film industry –  is underway to revitalise a territory that is currently suffering a decline in population, by activating processes of urban regeneration.

The starting point is street art: in the small planned town, which arose in the era of the great land reclamation along the Po River, built in the early twentieth century and with a population today of a few dozen inhabitants, twelve murals were painted in less than a year and a half, dedicated to the deeply rooted relationship between the territory of Ferrara and the seventh art.

The Gherardi il Vilaggio del Cinema project was conceived – and before that “dreamed”  by Stefano Muroni, an actor, producer and founder of the creative production chain Ferrara La Città del Cinema, who grew up in Tresigallo, a location on the plain of the Lower Ferrarese, only a few kilometers away.

“Gherardi was my grandparents’ hometown and – he explains – in their stories and in my memory, it has always been a wonderful, idyllic place, but today it is inexorably fading away, as the population has declined dramatically over the past fifteen years, like the other towns in the area. To try and reverse this trend became my fixation.”

The Gherardi il Villaggio del Cinema initiative began in the summer of 2022, with the inauguration of the first five movie-themed murals in September of that year, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of this little “garden town”. Another seven were painted last September and «the goal is to paint a total of twenty murals», dedicated to great Italian cinema that was conceived or passed throgh Ferrara and Emilia Romagna, from landscapes to imagery: «These lands, recalls Muroni, gave birth among others to Neorealism, with Luchino Visconti, Giuseppe De Santis and Roberto Rosellini, to the modern documentary, thanks to Florestano Vancini and Michelangelo Antonioni, to the “Po valley dark” with the cult films of Pupi Avati  and to the art of special effects, interpreted by Carlo Rambaldi’s suggestive works». The mural art tour thus presents a “overview inspired by films that have been national and international hits».

Along the main – and only – road that runs across the town one can admire the murals painted by established street artists (such as Wasp, Mozone, Pasa, Basik, Bolo, Psiko, Luca Siano), beginning with the first five completed in 2022, inspired by La neve nel bicchiere by Vancini, Bitter Rice by Giuseppe de Santis – with images, from the cartmen to the rice weeders that recall scenarios from the countryside surrounding Ferrara –  as well as The River Girl (a film set in Comacchio, which consecrated Sofia Loren as a dramatic actress), The Garden of the Finzi Continis, the classic by Vittorio De Sica adapted from the novel by Giorgio Bassani, and a tribute to Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece E.T., the iconic figure designed by Rambaldi, a special effects artist born at Vigarano Mainarda, in the province of Ferrara. Another seven were inaugurated last year: from The Mill on the Po (for the 85th anniversary of the publication of the novel by Riccardo Bacchelli) to Oltre la bufera (for the centennial of Don Minzoni’s birth), from Obsession by Luchino Visconti to Long Night in 1943 by Vancini, from Piece of the Sky, a film by Aglauco Casadio starring Marcello Mastroianni, to The House with Laughing Windows, a cult film by Avati, to the tribute to King Kong (1976) with special effects by Rambaldi.

The murals «are contributing to attracting a growing number of fans, filmmakers and tourists, who stop at Gherardi over the weekend or even during the week to understand, through the mural art, the bond between this territory and the world of cinema», says Muroni, remarking however how street art is only the starting point for a project that intends, in a wider sense, to «repopulate and regenerate this district through the creativity of the new generations and in the name of sustainabiity», in close connection with Ferrara La Città del Cinema, a creative production chain «that has always been characterised by the ability to link training in the theatre/cinema to taking the first steps in an artistic career».

The idea, in fact, is to repopulate and revitalise the town, which is located half an hour away from Ferrara, based on the construction of student housing for part of the students of the Florestano Vancini Film School in Ferrara and others, with spaces to study and practice. «In the meantime, says the actor and producer, we have started with two apartments, for about ten students and are working, in collaboration with the local administration in the town of Jolanda di Savoia, on acquiring another two, for eight people».

A theatre workshop for children has also been organized in the town, located in the local offices of Controluce, a film production and distribution company based in Rome, led by Muroni himself and by Valeria Luzi. In the future, other existing spaces and activities will be restored, «with the opening of a restaurant, to be inaugurated with an exhibition of Italian film poster art», the reconstruction of the football field and – in collaboration with the city administration and the land reclamation consortium – the opening of an info point, which can also host art exhibitions on themes tied to the territory.

«The revitalisation of a small town such as Gherardi must necessarily involve the entire community», concluded Muroni, remarking how in the meantime – to expand the community – Gherardi il Villaggio del Cinema has just launched its social media profiles, while the dedicated website will be ready by March, and in September there will be a presentation of the brochure with the itinerary of the murals. Also in the works, he finally reveals, «there will be eight more works – making a total of twenty – of which one will be inspired by the Rambaldi’s extraordinary Pinocchio» made in 1969 for a Rai television series of Carlo Collodi’s famous puppet , for which it was never used however.

On the cover: The Garden of the Finzi Continis


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