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Screening of rare Franco Zeffirelli documentary

Posted: Oct 07, 2016

Out-of-date Warning This news post is more than three months old and may contain out-of-date information.

A screening of Franco Zeffirelli’s only documentary film—a heartfelt call to action showing the effects of the 1966 flood that devastated Florence, Italy, and rallied art lovers worldwide—will be the centerpiece of an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the flood.


The event will be hosted by the University of Maryland Libraries, National Gallery of Art, the Italian Cultural Institute, RAI, and Franco Zeffirelli.


WHAT:    Florence: Days of Destruction  

WHEN:   Friday, November 4, 12:30 pm

                 Sunday, November 6, 5:30 pm  

WHERE: National Gallery of Art, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.


Produced by the famed Italian director in the weeks following the flood, the documentary urged support to help rescue Italian works of art threatened by the disaster. Actor Richard Burton, who was working in Rome as the disaster unfolded, narrated and appeared in the film and appealed for aid.  


The University of Maryland Libraries hold the only publicly available copy of the English-language version of the film in the United States. RAI, the national Italian radio and television company, has the black-and-white Italian version available on its website.


The film was part of a collection given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the University of Maryland and transferred to the University Libraries in the mid-1980s. A digital surrogate of the film used for public screenings reduces wear on the celluloid original.


Demand for the film has increased as the November anniversary approaches. Carla Montori, head of the preservation program at the University of Maryland Libraries, Bryan Draper, special collections conservator, have recently screened the film at events organized by Library of Congress, the American Library Association, the American Institute for Conservation, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Next up: the International Foundation of Art Research and the University of Michigan, among others. 


Montori remembers the effect of the flood on her mother and Italian father, who had traveled several times from their home in Massachusetts to Florence. Upon hearing news of the damage to Italy’s treasures, they sat at their kitchen table and cried, Montori recalls.


“It was a major event in the world that reminded us of the fragility of our culture,” she says. “Treasures were vulnerable to damage and destruction by a natural force that couldn’t be averted.”


In the days following the November 1966 flood, volunteers from throughout Europe and the United States descended upon Florence to help recover books, paintings, and other works of art damaged by water and sediment from the Arno River. Efforts of these so-called “mud angels” helped to reduce the loss of Florence’s priceless cultural heritage. Some of these volunteers would go on to become art and book conservators. 


Conservators worldwide would later adopt standards and treatments developed as a result of recovery efforts. The attention the flood generated advanced a movement within academic research libraries to formalize book preservation programs.