Omaggio a / Tribute to Vittorio De Seta
in collaborazione con / in cooperation with
Direzione Rai Teche, CRicd – Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana

The retrospective which the Sole Luna Doc Film Festival dedicates to Vittorio De Seta, whose centenary of birth, occured in Palermo in 1923, will be celebrated next year, is a tribute to a great master of Italian cinema who focused his filmography on the narration of Italy through a language which balances the realism of documentaries and the fiction of cinema.

Among his extended filmography which consists of 22 titles we decided to promote all his documentary short films, realised between 1954 and 1959 in Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia, among these there is his milestone Isole di fuoco, winner of best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. The protagonists of the ten short films, restored by Bologna’s Cineteca and released with the title Il mondo perduto in the series Real Cinema by Feltrinelli, are the gestures and the work of fishermen, shepherds and farmers in an agro-pastoral Italy characterized by an already “lost” relationship with nature.

The selection ends with the film version of Diario di un maestro, a work inspired by the autobiographical book Un anno a Pietralata (1968) by Albino Bernardini which was revolutionary in 1973 for Italian cinema because it had the ability to go in a suburb school in Rome and tell the obstinacy of an elementary school teacher in his mission to construct consciences with innovative teaching methods for its time. 

The tribute to De Seta also includes a round table discussion in collaboration with Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana which had the merit of rediscovering Vittorio De Seta in the 90’s paying him the attention he deserved within the national film scene which left him on the edge. Vittorio De Seta was indeed an unconventional film-maker, who dealt with themes not favoured by the film industry and with a language that Martin Scorsese, during a tribute at the Tribeca Film Festival, defined as that of “an anthropologist who expresses himself with the voice of a poet”. 

The tribute to the master from Palermo will be completed by a short animated film dedicated to him by Simone Massi, one of the most visionary animators of our cinema. 

We hope that this retrospective will be a journey through time and, as with all classics, it will be a pleasure that is renewed for those who already know him and a surprising and exemplary discovery for new generations. 

Vittorio De Seta e la Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana / Vittorio De Seta and the Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana
testo a cura di / text edited by CRicd – Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana

The Filmoteca Regionale Siciliana (Regional Film Library) became interested in Vittorio De Seta’s works filmmaking in the early nineties of the twentieth century. At that time, both the film industry and the general public had long since forgotten the Sicilian director, who – between the fifties and the eighties – had become popular while remaining an unconventional independent filmmaker always on the periphery of the industry that took the heart and soul out of cinema.

The first step was the recovery of his cinematographic corpus: 35 mm films, as well as Beta and U-matic cassettes, rare set photos and meticulous collection of articles and magazines. All these collections were incorporated into Il cinema di Vittorio De Seta, the first book dedicated to the Sicilian filmmaker, edited by Alessandro Rais. In this volume, a dozen essays on De Seta’s works, written by famous personalities, were also included. The first complete retrospective on De Seta is the result of that recovery effort, which in 1995 toured Sicily. Along with his films, other milestones of international cinema were screened, thanks to the memorable “Carte blanche”, in which De Seta paid tribute to the names that inspired his cinema: Ejzenstein, Bunuel, Ichikawa, Bergman, Grierson, Ivens, Dreyer, Renoir, Flaherty, Rossellini, Antonioni.

In the following years, the Filmoteca Regionale has always been associated with Vittorio De Seta, thanks to all the initiatives, among which: the unceasing distribution of his films all over the world, the organizational and financial assistance the Filmoteca provided to his new productions, such as “Dedicato ad Antonino Uccello” and “Lettere dal Sahara”, the making of the documentary by Salvo Cuccia “Détour de Seta” and the editorial work dedicated to him by Franco Blandi.

The relevance of the Maestro’s work has recently urged the Filmoteca to provide a formal description of all the material possessed. Their cataloguing has been therefore set as one of the first objectives of the programme of activities, in order to make all the information on the audio-visual material available to the public.


Lu tempu di lu pisci spata

Italia 1954, 10′

Documentary about swordfish fishery on the Strait of Messina and off the Aeolian Islands, between Reggio Calabria and Messina. It consists of three parts: the wait before fishing, the moment of fishing and the return. De Seta told the story of what he saw and lived alongside these ordinary men, letting the images document it. Sounds and folk songs give emphasis to this journalistic investigation, conducted with supreme restraint. The opening credits read: “Songs, voices and sounds were recorded entirely on site and live”.

Isole di fuoco

Italia 1954, 10′

Documentary made during one of the most violent eruptions of Stromboli, in the Aeolian archipelago, at that time untouched by mass tourism. The thunder, the stormy sea, the fishermen in their boats, the elderly and the children at home, the sun, one woman’s religious song, the clothes hanging out, the raging wind and lava flows end with the peal of dawn and the folk song which accompanies the return to the peace of the calm sea, the departure of the fishermen, the children and the elderly going back to work. 


Italia 1955, 10′

Filmed in the province of Caltanissetta, this documentary tells the epic of mine workers in the Sicilian sulfur mines, under inhumane working conditions. As a counterpoint to the scenes shot underground, the golden sun-drenched surroundings.

Pasqua in Sicilia

Italia 1954, 10′

Processions and celebrations in the provinces of Messina, Caltanissetta ed Enna on the occasion of Easter. In San Fratello, the Jews, dressed in their peculiar traditional costume, go through the streets of the town while blowing their trumpets. The dark red masks they wear symbolize the evil forces that conspired and ordered the death of Christ. In Delia, during the representation of the Passion, to the roll of drums, the priests and the soldiers go to capture Jesus, in order to condemn him and take him to Calvary. In Aidone, on Easter day, the Santuna, namely the Apostles, who are gigantic figures according to popular imagination, go to announce the joyful news to the Virgin Mary.

Contadini del mare

Italia 1955, 10′

Trapani, Tonnara of Granitola, 1955. The time for tuna fishing has come: at the first lights of dawn, the fishermen sail on their boats and head out to sea. For thousands of years, the tuna have been following the same route. The fishermen just need to wait patiently for them. Once they have reached the open sea, under the guidance of the Raìs, the men place their boats to form a rectangle, making sure to close all the nets, in order to prevent the preys from escaping. The tuna, trapped in the nets and pierced by harpoons, are hoisted onto the boats, while agonizing, as the sea turns red. At sunset, a tugboat pulls the boats loaded with fish towards the shore. The shouting, the tuna fishermen’s song, the sound of the sea are what makes up the soundtrack.

Parabola d’oro

Italia 1955, 10′

Wheat harvest in Sicily, as read by the opening credits, is the parable of the harvesting process wherein farmers reap and thresh with the mule, in the wind and with sweat. In the sunny fields, the men mow the wheat, load the sheaves onto mules and take them to the threshing floors. A farmer incites the mules by singing an invocation to the sun, the wind and God. Then, the break: while cicadas chirp, the peasants seek rest in the shade of the few trees.
The director captures the action in its natural unfolding, without imposing the presence of the camera. He tells about how he rejected any form of fiction: “If I had to film fishermen sleeping, I actually waited for them to fall asleep; if I needed to shoot harvesting scenes, I would just invite the reapers to go on with their work as they usually did” (Vittorio De Seta, “La mafia e i contadini”, from Cinema nuovo n. 95, December 1st, 1956). 

Pastori a Orgosolo

Italia 1958, 12′

The area of Supramonte, to which also belongs the town of Orgosolo in the Nuoro province, in Sardinia, was once a refuge for bandits and fugitives. Shepherds, as recounted in the documentary, try to survive along with their herds: the opening scenes show a shepherd descending the impervious ridge of a mountain. The only sound is that of his steps on the rocks. Then, the sounds he makes as he whistles and screams fade into the silence of the rocks. The opening caption reads: “this was shot to track and capture from the inside all the efforts of those who struggle with hunger and cold to lead their herds. The following images capture a landscape made of snow and wind, of miserable huts, where the rhythm of workers’ labours is set. Silence is only interrupted by the sounds of daily gestures, by the shepherds yelling to call their flocks, by the clatter of tools, by the sounds of sheep bells, and by the wind howling”.

Un giorno in Barbagia

Italia 1958, 10′

This documentary was filmed in Orgosolo, Oliena and Mamoiada in the province of Nuoro. These are villages inhabited by shepherds who spend their days far away from their families, with their flocks. The director captures scenes of daily life: the women, all dressed in black, busy in the streets of the village, doing household chores, or preparing carasau bread, while their children play in the streets. Women are also the ones who hoe the ground and collect wood in the countryside. They talk to each other, but the sound of their voices cannot be heard. Throughout the documentary, indeed, silence dominates the scene, and the only sounds are those of the environment. At sunset, the men return to the village, they have dinner and play cards, and children are put to bed. De Seta foreshadows the beginning of the “new ethno-anthropological cinema”, by documenting reality without fictitious characters, but rather respecting the precise narrative requirements: “A gentle work, marked by its broken rhythm, all played on the simplicity of a shot that wants to capture the ordinary and wants to avoid the extraordinary” (Giovanni Leto, 1958).


Italia 1958, 11′

It’s the last of the three documentaries on fishing made by the director in the 50’s, on which he himself gives a testimony: “I spent twelve days on a motor fishing boat, tossed about by the storm south of Lampedusa”. De Seta documents the activities and the difficulties lived by the fishermen on the boat: with pulleys and winches they pull up the fish, as long with all sorts of waste materials, they divide what they have fished by type and put it in boxes, while seagulls pounce on the wastes thrown in the sea. At sunset, the fishermen stop working and have a quick meal, others play cards, then they go to sleep, while the deckhand washes the dishes with seawater. Then the storm arrives, the boats seek refuge on the island of Lampedusa.

I dimenticati

Italia 1959, 17′

The last one of De Seta’s early documentaries, filmed in Alessandria del Carretto, in the province of Cosenza. In the 1950’s, in Calabria, some villages were isolated from the rest of the world because they lacked roads. This was the reason that led the director to document a “forgotten” reality, which flourishes in spring with an ancient festival. Among shouting and music, a big spruce is dragged down the slope of a mountain, then raised in the square and “conquered” by the men of the village. It’s the Spring Festival or the Festival of the Spruce, which recalls a sort of the “tree of plenty” enriched with prizes.

Diario di un maestro

regia / director Vittorio De Seta
Italia 1972 — 1975, 135’/ Italy 1972 — 1975, 135′

Inspired by Albino Bernardini’s Un anno a Pietralata (1989), the film narrates the experience of a young Neapolitan teacher who takes up a teaching position in a school situated in the outskirts of Rome, in the Tiburtino iii district. The teacher is assigned a fifth grade class (“quinta elementare”), with troubled kids. He starts a pedagogical experiment characterized by the duality of “dialogue-research”. In real life, the experiment raised a debate involving great scholars. Diario di un maestro had the merit of putting on trial an education system which was incapable of renovating itself. By documenting this situation, De Seta actually makes a social complaint: exploitation of children, child labour, illiteracy, unemployment, as well as the problem of housing involving unpriviledged families.

Vittorio De Seta maestro del cinema

soggetto / subject Pinangelo Marino
regia e animazione / direction and animation Simone Massi
produzione / production Serena Gramizzi – Bo Film
Italia 2016, 3′
senza dialoghi / no dialogues

De Seta portrayed the people he knew by having exposed himself to, at first, and teached us that looking the other is looking together with him/her. By transforming our dreams and memories. Simone Massi’s film, an animated tail, is inspired by one of the most important Italian directors, who passed away in 2011. It has the aim to recall the deepest meaning of “exposing” ourselves to the world: looking at it and being able to transform along with it.