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Italien l Filmemacher Federico Fellini
Image: Imago Images/ZUMA Press

Fellini: The sketches behind the films

Philipp Jedicke
November 15, 2021

The Italian director is one of the great masters of film history. An exhibition in Essen shows how he first visualized his ideas in the form of drawings.


Italian director Federico Fellini (1920-1993) became immortal with films including La Dolce VitaLa Strada and Amarcord. Beyond winning multiple Oscars, his movies remain influential today thanks to the tremendous energy, lust for life and imagination they radiate.

Beyond working own his own films, Fellini also wrote screenplays for other directors, as well as books. He was also an extremely talented draftsman.

From the idea to the finished film, drawings were an indispensable tool for Fellini. Be it sketches or detailed scenery, Fellini's drawings expressed his fantasies and helped him translate them into characters, costumes and sets — and finally to realize them.

A drawing by Fellini of a woman with large breasts in festive dress.
A selection of Fellini's drawings are now on show at the Folkwang Museum in Essen Image: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Portraits for tourists and soldiers

His passion for drawing led the young Fellini to open a small portrait studio for tourists on the beach in Rimini in 1937.

In the late 1930s, he published humorous drawings and short stories in newspapers and magazines.

Toward the end of the Second World War, immediately after the capture of Rome by the Americans, Fellini and a group of friends opened a shop where US soldiers could listen to music while having him draw their portraits.

Film still Amarcord, bride and groom and guests at a long table outdoors
Humorous extravagance and dreamlike scenes: 'Amarcord' came out in 1973 Image: picture-alliance/United Archives/Impress

Much later, his filmmaking career profited from his many years of experience with pen and paper. He used sketches and drawings to visualize his ideas.

"Just as the screenplay represents the verbal phase in the making of a film, I often draw sketches and characters during the preparation period because I want to capture and visually clarify a scene, a role, the costume of a particular character or a mood," Fellini said in a 1973 interview.

Drawings and film clips

For the first time in three decades, Fellini's drawings are back on display in a major exhibition at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, showing works from the early 1950s to the early 1980s.

The exhibition, titled "Federico Fellini. From Drawing to Film," focuses on his drawings for the films Amarcord, Casanova, City of Women and And the Ship Sails on.

About 200 drawings are on display, juxtaposed with film clips, excerpts from scripts and set shots. The presentation makes Fellini's creative process clear — from the first idea to the finished work.

The exhibition "Federico Fellini. From Drawing to Film" runs until February 20, 2022 at the Folkwang Museum in Essen.

This article has been translated from German.

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