“Fellini taught me how to dream.”
Dante Ferretti is a three-time Oscar winning Italian art director and production designer. His work with directors from Fellini and Pasolini to Gilliam and Scorsese has earned him an array of industry awards and nominations. Ferretti has won four BAFTAs. His first award for Best Production Design was for Fellini’s “City of Women” in 1980, and his major credits include: Gangs of New York, Hugo, Sweeney Todd, The Aviator, Interview with the Vampire, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Cold Mountain, Kundun and The Age of Innocence.
Dante Ferretti is in Sardinia, finally back home after a series of trips that took him to the United States, Canada, and to other countries. But his mind is like a fountain for new ideas and new sets. In the autumn, for example, there’s the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition to take place at the Palace of Venaria.
What is your role in this project?
This time my role is to create the installation in the stables. This is where the exhibition will take place. I’m not the curator, but I’ve created a “shell” for showing Leonardo’s pieces and designs. I chose a high-impact image. The visitor needs to be moved and needs to feel engaged. I created a large horse’s head to represent Leonardo. I don’t want to say any more because I want there to be an element of surprise.
You’ve already managed the installation of the statue gallery at the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Have museums and galleries become a new part of your work?
I would say so. Right now, for example, I am working on the square outside the new opera house in Florence (Nuovo Parco della Musica e della Cultura) designed by architect Paolo Desideri. It should open at the end of this year.
What are you working on at the Palazzo Te in Mantua?
I am coming up with a new installation and different lighting for the Chamber of the Giants, which has frescoes by Giulio Romano. But with this project as well, I would prefer not to give away my secrets and to let the visitor be surprised and amazed.
You are currently doing something in Rimini. What are you working on there?
I am working on preparations for the Fellini Museum, but it’s premature to talk about it.
Considering your close friendship with him, it must be quite something to create a museum for Fellini ?
Absolutely. I worked on his last five films, from “Orchestra Rehearsal” to “The Voice of the Moon.” We were very close friends. We always went out to eat together in Fregene or at the restaurant Il Fico in Grottaferrata. It was a way to get away from Cinecittà, continuing our conversations, telling our tall tales, and joking.
What did that relationship mean to you?
It was a big part of my life that was fundamental for all of the years that came afterward. In that sense, Fellini was my mentor.
What did he teach you?
Everything. What I learnt from him is that you shouldn’t have fear and that it’s wrong to put limitations on yourself – other people will take care of that. You need to try to dream as much as possible, without creating boundaries for yourself.
Would you say that Martin Scorsese was a second mentor?
I would say the first was Pier Paolo Pasolini. Then Fellini. Scorsese has put a lot of confidence in me. I’ve filmed eight movies with him, and we are working on another one.
Which is that?
It’s going to be called “Hugo” and is based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. Set in 1930s Paris, the film is being shot in 3D. I recreated a part of the city and the Montparnasse neighbourhood.
Like you did with New York?
Yes. That was for Martin Scorsese too. We recreated the city for “Gangs of New York”, which was shot at Cinecittà.
They don’t come up with these kinds of projects in Italy. Is that why you mainly work abroad?
I can work in Italy too, but they always call me from the United States, where I’ve worked for more than twenty years and where production design is much more important. Here the new generation of directors tends to mainly shoot films with real sets. But I love Italy, and I still maintain an office at Cinecittà. When I don’t find projects that interest me, I work abroad.
Lately in Italy, however, haven’t you only worked in museums, the opera, or the theatre?
That is true in a way. The last opera project I did was the stage design for “Aida” in Florence, for the inauguration of the Maggio Musicale festival.
Before your holidays, your last big trip was for Scorsese’s new film. You really can’t tell us anything about the project?
No, for superstitious as well as professional reasons. I promised my silence, and, what do you know, the film is going to be called “Silence”.
You go from one film to another, with so many projects and so many movie sets. How are you able to relax here in Sardinia?
It’s very easy. I look at the sea, take a swim. And nothing else. Absolutely nothing else. I don’t even watch films. Just complete relaxation until the end of the month.
21st August, 2011.