Italys National Cinema Museum On Why They Gave Kevin Spacey His First Public Platform In Five Years

EXCLUSIVE: Italy’s National Cinema Museum in the northern Italian city of Turin is one of the country’s most popular museums welcoming more than 600,000 visitors in 2022.

The institution made international headlines this week when it honored Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey with a lifetime achievement award and a masterclass.

The event marked Spacey’s first big public appearance since his career was put on ice in 2017 following a series of sexual misconduct allegations against him. 

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Monday’s celebration of the actor raised eyebrows in the U.S. and the U.K., where the Oscar-winner will go on trial in June on 12 sexual assault charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty, but was largely viewed as a success in Italy.

Enthusiastic fans flocked to the awards ceremony and masterclass, an accompanying special screening of American Beauty was sold-out, and there was barely a whiff of controversy around the politics of his visit in Italian media. Earlier this week, Spacey was feted at a Torino football match.

It was a risky move nonetheless, with even Spacey thanking the institution for having the “balls” to invite him.

Talking to Deadline the day after the event, museum director Domenico De Gaetano said the institution extended its invitation to Spacey after the actor was cleared last October by a New York jury in a $40M battery lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp. 

“Kevin Spacey came to Turin last year to shoot a movie (Franco Nero’s The Man Who Drew God). He is a very kind person and more importantly, he is a fantastic actor. In Italy, we believe in the principle of the presumption of innocence. When the trial ended in New York and he was cleared, even if there were potentially other trials down the line, he was innocent.”

“When the idea was floated of inviting him, I thought, ‘Why not?’ I was sure he would give a good masterclass. I knew there might be some pushback and controversy, but this didn’t concern me. I was interested in cinema and Spacey as an actor. His personal life, especially given the fact he had just been absolved, was not of interest to us.”

In the end, there was no pushback, with the museum board getting behind the idea and very little negative comment about the operation in the Italian press, or from the public via emails.

“I think there is a different attitude in Europe from the U.S. You can’t just cancel a person or tar everyone with the same brush,” said De Gaetano.

De Gaetano noted that he touched base with transgender activist Vladimir Luxuria, director of Turin’s long-running LGBT+ festival, the Lovers Film Festival, to gauge her thoughts.

“It’s one of the oldest and biggest LGBT+ festivals in Europe. These themes are very important to us and we have a strong connection with the community. We asked Vladimir what she thought and she said, ‘For us, it is not a problem’.”

Spacey, whose pre-2017 credits included House Of Cards and All The Money In The World (from which he was edited out following the allegations), has been making a low-key screen comeback over the past 12 months with projects including thriller Peter Five Eight and Franco Nero’s The Man Who Drew God. He was initially due to star in western Gateway To The West but subsequently dropped off.

The actor is among a number of cinema professionals to have been feted by the museum in recent years including Monica Bellucci, Isabella Rossellini, Xavier Dolan and Dario Argento.

Upcoming guests include Jim Jarmusch, who is due to perform with his group SQURL at the Cinema Massimo on March 31, 2023, and Harry Potter director David Yates. 

The museum is housed in the vast atrium of Turin’s architectural landmark the Mole Antonelliana, where Spacey gave his masterclass on Monday evening.

The building was built in the same era as Paris’s Eiffel Tower and originally commissioned by the city’s Jewish community as a synagogue, but when the architect Alessandro Antonelli’s ambitious ideas exhausted their budget, the city stepped in to fund its completion.

Alongside its permanent collection, it runs temporary exhibitions and is currently celebrating the work of Italian genre maestro Dario Argento.

De Gaetano says the museum’s creation in 2009 was made possible in part by the work of late local cinema historian and collector Maria Adriana Prolo (1908-1991) who amassed a vast collection of cinema memorabilia linked to Turin’s silent film industry.

“Turin was the birthplace of cinema in Italy,” says De Gaetano, explaining this was partly to the city’s industrial plan at the end of the 19th Century which focused on the automobile industry and cinema.

The city’s relative proximity to the French city of Lyon, home of cinema pioneers the Lumiere Brothers also played a role, he adds, with its film technicians and technology crossing the Alps.

“There were a lot of film companies based here such as Itala Films. Nearly all Italy’s early silent films were made here such as Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria, written by Gabriele D’Annunzio,” says De Gaetano.  “At the end of the 1920s, with the arrival of sound, the industry in Turin struggled to make the jump and then Cinecittà was opened in Rome.”

De Gaetano, who has toured top cinema museums around the world from the Academy Museum in Los Angeles to ACMI in Melbourne, says Turin’s National Cinema Museum is unique for its dramatic setting in the Mole Antonelliana.

Along with the actual museum, the body also oversees film and memorabilia archives, Cinema Massimo, Italy’s first VR cinema Tempio CineVR as well as the Torino Film Festival, the Lovers Film Festival and the environmental films festival Cinemambiente and the respected TorinoFilmLab.

“We’re a cinema devoted to cinema, but we don’t only work with cinema. We know cinema can be used to connect with other issues in society, which is what do through our festivals, our education department and our VR experience,” says De Gaetano.

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