Works in Progress: Through a Woman’s Lens
When Laura Di Bianco was an undergraduate student at the University of Rome, she studied the great masters of Italian cinema: Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini, and Visconti. In graduate school in New York, as she expanded her interest in women’s and gender studies, she began exploring how women in Italy could assert themselves in the male-dominated film industry and artistic scene, how women in film represented themselves, and how they addressed other women.
Di Bianco quickly learned that a vibrant, new generation of women was making movies in Italy, although they mostly remain invisible on the international scene. “Women still represent less than 10 percent of Italian filmmakers,” says Di Bianco. “The figure is about the same in the United States. The gender gap remains wide, and female directors still work largely from the industry’s margins.”
Today, as assistant professor of Italian and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, Di Bianco teaches classes on Italian cinema and modern and contemporary Italian literature. Though she does teach the classics, she’s also committed to exposing her students to filmmakers who occupy a marginal position in the film industry, like the ones she includes in her upcoming book Wandering Women: A Feminist Geography of Italian Cinema.
During her research, Di Bianco noticed a recurring image in the films that would inform the book’s title: women walking in the city and observing the landscape. She acknowledges the image isn’t unique to Italian films. “In my women’s cinema class at Hopkins, I teach French films, Chinese films, Palestinian films, and others, with similar motifs,” she notes. But for Di Bianco, the act of wandering is that of searching for a place, and the act of looking at the landscape is about filmmaking itself.
She also noticed that cities in these films, made by diverse directors such as Alice Rohrwacher, Eleonora Danco, Francesca Comencini, Roberta Torre, and others, were strangely deserted, implying a sense of solitude and the absence of community. “These films suggest, among other things, that women who step outside roles defined by a patriarchal society must negotiate their social space,” Di Bianco says. “Some of the films also show more explicit environmental concerns, and they represent the city as a toxic, uninhabitable place.”
While Wandering Women focuses on contemporary films directed by women about women, Di Bianco’s other upcoming book, Crumbling Beauty—a project for which she was recently awarded the Lauro De Bosis Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard—addresses ecology and cinema.
Two books and teaching are more than enough to keep Di Bianco busy, but she adds that she’d love to devote time to curatorial work. “As a film scholar who aims to give visibility to often overlooked cinema, and to the diversity of contemporary Italian culture in general, I’d love to create an Italian film festival in Baltimore,” she says.