Basilicata: Terra di Cinema


The unique landscape of Italy's southern region of Lucania, known today as Basilicata, has inspired filmmakers from all over the world to shoot their films in the region. 

Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman and the newly released Mary Magdalene starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix were both shot in the Sassi of Matera. The Dolomite mountains of Castelmezzano were recently featured in the Toyota commercial, Cyclist, that aired during the Olympics. Scenes from the 2016 film The Young Messiah were shot along the sea of Metaponto and scenes from Danny Boyle’s new FX Network series Trust were shot in the grand Pollino National Park, which spans through two regions: Basilicata and its neighboring region of Calabria. Boyle also shot scenes with actress Hillary Swank in the Tyrrhenian seaside town of Maratea. 


The diverse landscape of Basilicata is a natural set for countless inspirations. However, the ancient Sassi of Matera reigns as the most popular cinematic hub of the region. The designated 2019 European Capital of Culture, the city and surrounding areas experienced severe poverty during the 1940s and 50s. That desperation was infamously documented in Carlo Levi’s book Christ Stopped at Eboli and later made into a movie by Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi. Shortly thereafter, the modern cave dwellers, mostly peasants, who occupied those Paleolithic stone structures, were moved into housing projects in the modern part of Matera due to malaria and other life-threatening diseases. Despite filmmakers like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Lattuada shooting their renowned films there, the Sassi became virtually desolate until the mid-1990s when entrepreneurs started buying up the cheap real estate and converting it into contemporary hotels.

Lucania Today

In addition to the national and international filmmakers shooting there, Basilicata has produced its own crop of talented filmmakers and the new generation is speaking out not only about the region's timeless allure but also about the contemporary social issues facing them.

One of those issues is the controversial oil drilling that’s been going on in the region for two decades. Nicknamed "Little Texas", a recent report states that current petroleum production is up to a staggering 80,000 barrels a day. The latest film to address this particular issue is Il Vangelo secondo Mattei (The Gospel According to St. Matthews) by Antonio Andrisani and Pascal Zullino, two actors/directors born and raised in the province of Matera. Andrisano says the film is not a journalistic account of the effects of oil drilling. Instead, he wants to make viewers aware of the problems rather than neglecting them and pretending they don't exist. 

Much of that local talent is called upon when international crews are shooting their films. Headed by Paride Leporace, the region’s esteemed Lucana Film Commission is known to producers and directors all over the world for going above and beyond to accommodate their crews. The region is becoming just as popular as Rome’s famed Cinecittà for filmmaking.

Mel Gibson recently announced that he’ll be returning to the Sassi of Matera next year to shoot Resurrection, his sequel to The Passion of the Christ. It’s certain that we’ll be seeing and hearing much more about this magnificent southern Italian region which is becoming a haven for cinema crews and tourists across the globe.

In 2015, I teamed up with Fra Noi Magazine in Chicago for an ongoing series, "Basilicata: Land of Cinema" to highlight today's generation of prolific filmmakers creating innovative projects that show the technological progress and modernity of their region. Below is a compilation of articles from our series. 

In 2018, I made a documentary in which I interviewed many filmmakers from the series and documented the socioeconomic development of the region seen through the medium of cinema.