One of Florence’s most illustrious sons is coming home. Renowned filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli is known to the international community as the man behind Jesus of Nazareth, Tea with Mussolini and the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a host of opera films and theatrical productions that have solidified his status as an Italian film legend. As he approaches the end of his career, he will offer an astonishing gift to the city of Florence. In a move reminiscent of the legacy of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the heroine of Florence’s cultural heritage, Zeffirelli is donating his entire archive and library to the city—a career’s worth of work and an incredible patrimony that bears witness to the history of Italian cinema and theatre in the 20th century.
Set to open on September 1, 2017, the Franco Zeffirelli International Centre for the Performing Arts catalogs this extraordinary patrimony – deemed “of particular historical interest” by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities – which includes drawings, studies for theatrical and cinematic set designs, director’s notes, scripts, set photos, press releases, personal correspondence, and examples of his work in the world of international theatre and cinema, from the post-war period to today.
The Centre will be a gathering place for scholars and enthusiasts of cinema and theatre, who will have access to the archive and library. But the Centre’s activities will go well beyond its role as a research institution. Its all-encompassing mission includes, in addition to research objectives, a museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions on the themes “Theatre,” “Opera” and “Cinema”; an educational component, with workshops, masterclasses, postgraduate courses and professional training courses in Theatre Arts and Stagecraft; a concert program and occasional film showings, not limited to those by Franco Zeffirelli but including others related to Shakespearean theatre.
Headquartered in the San Firenze Complex, the city’s former courthouse, the Centre has been made possible thanks to the patronage of the non-profit Fondazione Franco Zeffirelli, the support of the City of Florence and investments by Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Kusnirovich and the family of the American-Canadian financier Robert Friedland.
Zeffirelli himself is heavily involved in the project and explained in his own words what the Centre means to him and how his choosing Florence for its location was an easy choice:
“All the papers, notes and sketches concerning my work are part of my archive, which I have chosen to give to Florence, by creating a Foundation so that my city, repository of priceless and unparalleled artistic and cultural values, may enjoy its own patrimony of the performing arts.
A testimony aimed mainly at the new generations, not as a gesture of self-celebration but as the summa of a working methodology, from initial idea to developmental stages and through to staging, offering them with a few basic – outmoded – rules worth respecting to achieve authenticity in a performance.
This is my way of seeking to repay the debt of gratitude I owe to Florence, my principle duty, gained in life through my work, of regarding this city as a driving force of civilisation, culture, tradition and knowledge that God gave to the world.
This recognition is not only dictated by the documentation of everything that I have done and that I am proud to hand over to my fellow citizens; it is a gesture that I hope will contribute towards upholding the pledge to look after our treasures and our souls following, through centuries of progress, discoveries and conquests, the strong and simple line indicated by Florentines of a time of which we should consider ourselves heirs for the future.”