Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema

Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema Book CoverItalian Fascism’s Empire Cinema is the first in-depth study of the feature and documentary films made during Mussolini’s dictatorship about Italy’s African and Balkan occupations. The fruit of research in military and film archives, it focuses on the dramatic years between the invasion of Ethiopia (1935-1936) and the loss of the colonies (1941-43) during World War Two. Promoted and created at the highest levels of the regime, empire films were Italy’s entry into an international marketplace of colonial and exotic offerings, and engaged many of Italy’s emerging filmmaking talents (Roberto Rossellini) as well as its most experienced and cosmopolitan directors (Augusto Genina, Mario Camerini).  Shot partly or wholly in Libya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, these movies reinforced Fascist racial and labor policies: their sets were sites of violence and of interracial intimacies. Like the imperial histories they recount, they were largely forgotten for most of the postwar period. Fascism’s Empire Cinema restores these films to Italian and international film history, and offers a case study of the intertwining of war and cinema and of the unfolding of imperial policy in the context of dictatorship.


Reviews of Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema:

“An elegant and theoretically sophisticated study….effortless but painstaking parallel analysis of both the filmic texts and their production… In bringing this cinematic history back to life, Ruth Ben-Ghiat treads a path of uncompromising empiricism and subtle textual analysis, which connects the multiple spaces of history and film and significantly advances our understanding of Fascist Italy.”

Giacomo Litchner, Victoria University, H-Nationalism, June 2017

“Ben-Ghiat provides another invaluable resource for anyone interested in the forgotten histories of Italian film and in the relation between aesthetics and politics during the Ventennio…Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema has a particular, very effective, cinematographic feel…Ben-Ghiat establishes her field of enquiry with a panoramic shot over paratextual discourses concerning film culture and politics, closes up on a particular film to show how it resonates with a specific historical juncture, and then pans back, documenting press and political reactions to the film discussed…not only a crucial resource for the reassessment of cinema under Mussolini’s regime but also an incredibly pleasant read.”

Lorenzo Fabbri, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, vol.5, 3 (2017)

“The first comprehensive scholarly study of films made in or about the African and Balkan colonies of Mussolini’s fascist empire, this book is genuinelygroundbreaking and exceptionally insightful…A balanced, judicious historian, she displays her wealth of archival knowledge and interpretive skills in a clear,straightforward narrative that proves utterly enthralling…..Essential”

 R. West, emerita, University of Chicago, in Choice, September 2015, Vol. 53 No. 1

“This new book splendidly confirms Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s standing as the preeminent cultural historian of Italian Fascism in the English-speaking world today. She illuminatesnot onlythe drive for empire, along with the place of violence and history in the associated Fascist imaginary, but also key facets of cinematic modernity, the merging of documentary and fiction in the “empire film” aesthetic, and the antecedents of neo-realism. No one brings greater theoretical acumen, interpretive care, and contextual erudition to writing about film historically.”

Geoff Eley, University of Michigan

“If film is a portal to empire as Ruth Ben-Ghiat claims and so beautifully demonstrates, then her book is that and much more: from a carefully chosen set of vantage points on documentary and feature film genres, screen masculinity, and cinema’s mobile technologies, she burrows through the thicket that joins fascist film culture and empire cinemato show their entangled production of theweapons of empire, fascism, and war. Shifting between a close-up and wide-angle lens, Ben-Ghiat unsettles what we think we know about Italian cinema and its racial inscriptions, and not least about the fantasies of mobility and force of restriction that shaped fascist violence and visions of empire.”

Ann Laura Stoler, author of Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule