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Helping disaster-hit communities through film

Published: 23 November 2020 at 00:01

Still from Italia Terremotata

Documentary about Italian town is released 40 years after earthquake struck

A new documentary about an Italian town destroyed by a major earthquake is being officially released 40 years to the day that disaster struck.

The film, called Italia Terremotata, focuses on the experiences of the people of Senerchia. It has been produced by cultural heritage experts from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the University of Essex, who believe the methods used in the film could help other communities devastated by natural disasters.

The researchers have used 3D technology to recreate the old Senerchia, which was destroyed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that struck southern Italy at 7.34pm local time on 23 November 1980. They have combined this footage with interviews with those affected, songs, poems, and archive material, including photos and newspaper reports.

Although a new town of Senerchia was eventually rebuilt nearby, in the film the residents explain how they failed to recapture the cohesion and spirt of the old Senerchia. Many of those affected ended up leaving the area altogether.

The academics believe the novel techniques used in this film can be deployed elsewhere to help those affected by natural catastrophic events – both to reconnect with what they have lost and recreate their sense of community.

Using a 3D laser scanner and 360-degree panoramas, Dr Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco and Dr Fabrizio Galeazzi were able to create a digital replica of the old town in Senerchia with accurate interpretations of the surfaces and colours.

Dr Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, from the University of Essex’s School of Philosophy and Art History, said:

“This was one of the most devastating earthquakes in Italian history.

“Many people lived in prefabricated houses for more than 20 years before they were able to return to the new rebuilt town, but when they did return they found they had lost their ‘sense of place’.

“What we learn from Senerchia is that displacements from ‘environments of trust’ often risk uprooting people, creating a loss of control and alienation, making communities very vulnerable and threatening their resilience.

“It is clear that communities must be at the heart of rebuilding during the time of displacement.

“They must be invited to reflect on their identity as a community, on their roots, their heritage and the state of the community and the built and natural environment at the exact time of rupture.”


Dr Fabrizio Galeazzi, Research Fellow at ARU’s StoryLab Research Institute, said:>

“Virtual reality is now being used fairly widely, but we wanted to explore how this technology can help communities affected by natural catastrophic events. 

“We are interested to gauge how this new technology and non-linear storytelling can help communities like Senerchia reconnect to the lost physical places – their tangible heritage – as well as help them recollect the non-physical, intangible aspects of their heritage such as cultural identity, memories, and traditions.”


The film will be officially launched on 23 November, and a one-day online workshop will take place on 27 November, featuring discussions about community engagement and resilience, as well as an introduction to the film and the research underpinning it.

In addition to the 3D virtual reality film, a traditional, linear documentary is also being released on 23 November, featuring music by singer Vinicio Capossela. The Italian language version has been narrated by poet Franco Arminio.

Dr Galeazzi added:

“The workshop to mark the 40th anniversary of the earthquake will provide an opportunity to measure people’s interaction with the films and help us better understand how these different formats can help us to increase awareness and understanding of the long-lasting impact of natural catastrophic events on affected communities.”


Italia Terremotata was funded by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Eastern Arc. View the film in English or view the film in Italian.