Omegna, Roberto

(1876-1948)
   Cinematographer and documentarist. Generally regarded as the father of Italian scientific and documentary filmmaking, Omegna began making films in 1904 using a camera supplied by Arturo Ambrosio. His first "actualities" recorded the running of a historic automobile race (La prima corsa automobilistica Susa-Moncenisio) and military maneuvers of the Italian Alpine regiment. After helping Ambrosio to establish Ambrosio Film as a production company in 1906, Omegna became head of its technical department and sometime director. He supervised the making of over 100 films for the company, ranging all the way from simple comic sketches and psychological dramas to highly successful sword-and-sandal epics like Nerone (Nero, 1909) and Lo schiavo di Cartagine (The Slave of Carthage, 1910). In 1914 he directed a number of films for the Centauro Film company, in particular the much-acclaimed Chiavi d'oro e chiavi di ferro (Keys of Gold and Keys of Iron). His strongest passion, however, remained documentary filmmaking and in particular the nature documentary, which he helped to pioneer. Extensive travel throughout Africa and India resulted in dozens of fascinating documentaries, among them La caccia al leopardo (The Leopard Hunt, 1908), Usi e costumi abissini (Abyssinian Customs, 1908), and Elefanti al lavoro (Elephants at Work, 1911). In 1911 his remarkable La vita delle farfalle (The Life of Butterflies) was awarded first prize in the documentary film section of the Turin International Exhibition.
   In 1926, after the demise of Ambrosio Film, Omegna became the head of the scientific department of the newly formed Istituto LUCE, where he spent the next two decades producing scores of award-win-ning educational films until his retirement in 1942.

Historical dictionary of Italian cinema. . 2010.

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