Cinema buffs should go to Gela
by Elisabetta Galeffi
I wake up at Noto and to get to Gela, I travel down a sunny and today solitary road.
I cross a countryside with little dry walls, then a suburb like so many others, which seems to have sprung up haphazardly. A road sign tells me I’ve arrived in Gela.
I remember: the petrochemical hub, the giant that transformed the fate of this territory in the Seventies.
Historical Gela can be glimpsed from afar, from the top of a hill a little way off: it’s the capital of one of Sicily’s most important industrial and agricultural areas. Gela, from the name of its river, was founded by the Greeks in the VIIth century BC and was then called Lindioi. A resurrected town - this is exactly the right verb - many times over and under different names.
A scrap of Sicilian territory, perched above the sea, handed down time after time by famous colonizers: from the Greeks of Rodi to the Normans of Frederick II, from the Arabs to the inevitable Bourbons of Spain, a great history. Gela can’t just be what I see from the window of my Ford: a densely populated area where there are many young people and not many places for them to go.
At the centre of the old town stands the Hollywood multiplex: 4 auditoriums, excellent reviews on its Facebook page. People like everything about this cinema, not least the staff’s extremely pleasant manner. Tickets cost from 4 euros on a Tuesday to 9 euros on holidays. There is also a bar and fast food and events are organized as part of the highly appreciated presentations in the presence of directors and actors. The auditoriums are equipped with 3D projectors and comfortable armchair seats. It seems there is just one black spot users of Tripadvisor complain that it isn’t easy to park in the narrow streets nearby. Unfortunately, this is the only movie theatre for many kilometres in the area.
But cinema in Gela is also a dream: Pope Paul VI already wanted a film school here and a great priest, Don Franco Cavallo, humble and at the same time carismatic, and well-loved in this region, who passed away in 2006, tried to get the project off the ground. In the end, the project was launched in 2020, unfortunately coinciding with the start of the pandemic. And so the film school is still waiting to be assigned a location.
The Cinema Museum, instead, is a dream come true. After being evicted twice, first from the central Palazzo Pignatelli and then from a school, the Cinema Museum is the fruit of the great passion of Sicilians who believe in the cinema as a dream and a way of redeeming themselves, and now has its temporary venue in part of the house belonging to the director Giovanni Virgadaula, in via Rapisardi in the old town.
In its rooms it brings together remnants of the cinema of the past: movie cameras from the beginning of the 1900s, legendary film posters not to be found anywhere else, which come to these rooms in Gela as gifts from Sicilians and others, who know the address of this Wunderkammer. Virgadaula is a celebrity: assistant director to Fellini, he worked for a long time with the great Nanni Loy, loves silent films and has also made some black and white films. It was decided to dedicate the Museum to the famous and moving Sicilian actress Pina Menichelli, born in 1890.
But the story of Gela started far earlier, as did that of its vocation: Aeschilus, the Greek dramatist, considered the founder of tragedy and thus of theatrical performance, in short the great-grandfather of the seventh art, studied and has his tomb here.
This is another detail that cannot pass unobserved and regards the close bond between the town and the cinema - the most modern form of theatrical performance.
A good sign for Gela’s future as a cultural hub for young people, a future emerging from the anonymous dormitory neighbourhoods which fail to narrate the great history of the territory.