Gianni Amelio began making movies as a childhood game. Today, he is an Academy Award nominee and the only director to win three Felix Awards for Best European Film. His unique directorial style is both passionate and austere, achieving vast emotion from the simplest of images and making him one of Europe's most gifted modern filmmakers.
Amelio was born in the small Italian village of San Pietro Magisano, a province of Catanzaro, at the end of WWII. Before Amelio's second birthday, his 20-year-old father left his family and did not return for the next 17 years. The future director was raised by his grandmother, who brought him on weekly outings to the cinema. When Amelio told his grandmother that he wanted to be a filmmaker, she urged him to go on to higher education. Amelio spent two and a half years studying philosophy at a university in Sicily prior to dropping out. He thereafter moved to Rome and began assisting director Vittorio de Seta before leaving to work on spaghetti Westerns in Spain.
Amelio directed his first feature film, La Fine del Gioco (The End of the Game), in 1970. He helmed several more works throughout the decade, including 1975's Bertolucci Secondo il Cinema (The Cinema According to Bertolucci), a documentary about the making of Bertolucci's 1900. In 1982, he co-wrote and directed the political thriller Colpire al Cuore (Blow to the Heart), starring Jean-Louis Trintignant as a man accused of terrorism. The picture was Amelio's first feature to be widely screened in the United States and its success brought the director a host of other projects.
In 1989, Amelio co-wrote and directed Porte Aperte (Open Doors). The courtroom drama, starring Gian Maria Volonte, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Amelio quickly followed this international success with Il Ladro di Bambini (The Stolen Children) (1992), a celebrated tale about two abused children and a carabiniere (an Italian policeman) on a road trip through Italy. Il Ladro di Bambini was unanimously adored by critics and received the Grand Jury Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. The film also initiated Amelio's long-term working relationship with actor Enrico Lo Verso, who would go on to star in two more of the director's films.
Amelio's next feature, Lamerica, secured the Osello for Best Film at the 1994 Venice Film Festival. Its simple story of two Italian con men trying to scam the Albanian government proved to be a candid, striking depiction of post-Cold War Albania and its people. The film, which he also co-scripted, won accolades and Amelio won monikers, as critics began calling him "the new de Sica" and "the next Rossellini." Amelio triumphed again at the 1998 Venice Film Festival, winning the Golden Lion for his following feature, Così Ridevano (The Way We Laughed).
In 2000, the Italian environmentalist organization Legambiente commissioned Amelio to direct the documentary La Terra è Fatta Così. The film, which debuted on Italian television, chronicles the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the Italian regions of Irpinia and Basilicata in November of 1980.