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How Student Squatters Saved A Classic Roman Cinema

An old cinema in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood was abandoned until a group of students refurbished it to give new life to masterpieces of the past. But they never anticipated what would happen next.

Renovating Rome's Cinema America
Renovating Rome's Cinema America
Marcelle Padovani

ROME — It's a typical 1950s cinema, with red bricks, neon lights and 700 vintage seats, an institution in Rome's bohemian Trastevere neighborhood. The Cinema America was closed for 14 long years, until the afternoon of Nov. 13, 2012, when Valerio Carocci, a 21-year-old student in communication sciences, took possession of the building together with some 50 other students.

People in Trastevere expected that it would eventually be turned into a parking lot or luxury flats. Instead, the students wanted to resurrect a place where Roman culture and entertainment were celebrated.

So, equipped with pickaxes, iron bars and drills, the students broke the bolt on the Cinema America and moved in so they could clean the building and repaint the walls. Residents praised them for their work and even helped finance the refurbishment. Four months later, the cinema reopened its doors.

Soon, the America was running at full capacity. Young and old alike rejoiced at the opportunity to watch old classics such as Rossellini's Rome, Open City, Pasolini's Accattone or Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for just 2 euros ($2.30).

Besides Carocci, Luisa, Lorenzo, Valerio II, Alessandro and many others were involved with the cinema's rebirth. Until the project came along, some of the students spent their afternoons wandering about in Rome's historical center thinking about refurbishing abandoned buildings. After six months of scouting and spotting, they finally set their hearts on the America, one of the capital's biggest cinemas.

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