ROME–If Federico Fellini were alive today, he would almost certainly be celebrating his 100th birthday with the release of another epic film. The prolific director, who introduced the world to the dolce vita, died in 1993, but his legacy lives on in modern cinema, from the way Paolo Sorrentino uses the quirkiness of Italy as a full-on character in his films to Martin Scorsese, who has long been an outspoken fan of the master.
Fellini won five Oscars and a lifetime achievement award, but he also pulled back the curtain to a side of Italy that only those who live here full-time will ever see.
If you really want to celebrate this genius of film, start in his birth town of Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic Coast. It is a cross between Atlantic City and Las Vegas on a smaller scale, with the biggest draw being its kitschy night clubs and summer festivals. Take the time to explore the old town where Fellini was born in 1920 and lived until he moved to Rome at the age of 19. Start at the Cinema Fulgor, where Fellini watched his first-ever movie, Maciste all’Inferno, with his father and knew immediately that he wanted to be involved in the film industry. Thousands of people flock here on his birthday each year to watch the 1926 film that inspired him as well as two films that draw reference to this inspiration, Roma and Amacord.
Fellini moved to Rome where he shot almost all of his films through the Cinecittà studios, dubbed Hollywood on the Tiber, which offers guided tours that take film aficionados to the back lots where many of the master’s original stage sets are kept. The studio also keeps a digital archive of his work which is available through appointment for film students who visit the studios on the outskirts of Rome to pore through his outtakes and edits.
Most people might think that Fellini’s fascination with the eternal city is limited to the Trevi Fountain where Anita Ekberg danced in La Dolce Vita or the glitzy Via Veneto which also was featured in the film.
But Fellini’s ghost is best observed on the cobbled streets of the eternal city, starting on Via Margutta where a small plaque at No. 110 notes where he lived. Down the street at No. 51 is another famous spot, the apartment where Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, wooed Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann character. Picasso also spent some time in Rome living and working on this picturesque street.
Just a few blocks away on Piazza del Popolo is perhaps the most important locale associated with Fellini’s inspiration, the Bar Canova which has now become an overpriced tourist destination serving expensive cappuccino and croissants. But during Fellini’s Roman sojourn, it was a modest coffee bar with tables set onto the cobblestones from where the director sat to absorb Roman life that he then channeled into his films.
Fellini’s love of the futuristic EUR district of Rome, which Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini built for the 1941 World’s Fair that was never to be, is a good reason to overlook its dodgy past. Both Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio and La Dolce Vita were largely filmed in this bizarre district of the city, which is now home to wealthy upper-middle-class Romans. The Palazzo della Civiltà or square colosseum, is now Fendi’s headquarters. The six story massive structure has six floors of arches that span nine across that were designed to house carvings to spell the dictator’s name.
Fellini also loved the seaside oasis of Fregene, about 50 minutes from Rome, which is now a favorite of politicians and glitterati. Fellini had a summer home here on the Via Volosca, 13, which no longer stands but that doesn’t stop the obsessed from visiting the address, so they can walk to the beach to see the exact setting where the final scene from La Dolce Vita was shot. Fellini also used this seaside spot in Juliet of the Spirits and City of Women.
All this week, Italian television channels, theaters and film schools are celebrating Fellini’s birthday through showings of his many films throughout the country. If you can’t make it to Italy to see them in situ or to walk in the great director’s footsteps, many of his films are available on streaming services with subtitles. La Strada, which explores a young woman sold to a traveling circus, is available in full on YouTube and Juliet of the Spirits, which is a magical realist story of a neglected housewife’s liberation, is on Amazon Prime. The films 8 ½ and Amacord are on offer from the British Film Institute’s streaming service as part of their centenary celebration of the legendary director and Netflix offers a smattering of titles, depending on what country you use the service in, and there is always the 2018 film In Search of Fellini that pays homage to many of his works.