Fernando Ghia, a prominent Italian film and television producer known for his tenacity in bringing the award-winning 18th-century-set drama...
Fernando Ghia, a prominent Italian film and television producer known for his tenacity in bringing the award-winning 18th-century-set drama “The Mission” to the screen, has died. He was 69.
Mr. Ghia, who had cancer, died June 1 in Rome, according to the London Independent. The paper reported that Ennio Morricone’s memorable score for “The Mission” filled a packed church in Rome at Mr. Ghia’s funeral and served as a fitting tribute.
The dashing Mr. Ghia, a Rome native who launched his movie career in the late 1950s, worked briefly as an actor and had a stint as an agent before launching a working partnership with his mentor, Italian producer Franco Cristaldi.
As head of production for Cristaldi, Mr. Ghia made numerous films, including Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord,” Marco Bellocho’s “China Is Near” and “The Mattei Affair,” a docudrama about the death of an Italian industrialist. Among his solo credits as a producer is “Lady Caroline Lamb,” a 1972 romantic-drama written and directed by Robert Bolt.
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Mr. Ghia, who was taught to speak English by actor Albert Finney, spent more than a decade in Hollywood before returning to Italy in the late ’80s.
After founding Pixit Productions in Rome, his credits included producing the 1997 television mini-series “Nostromo,” an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s epic story of political upheaval, greed and romance in turn-of-the-20th-century South America.
But Mr. Ghia may be best known for “The Mission,” the 1986 winner of the Palme d’Or for best picture at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film co-starred Jeremy Irons as a Jesuit priest who builds a mission in the Brazilian jungle to bring God to the indigenous Indians, and Robert De Niro as a slave trader who is converted and joins Irons at his mission.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, “The Mission” won an Oscar for Chris Menges’ stunning cinematography.
Mr. Ghia spent more than a decade attempting to bring the epic story to the screen.
A single paragraph in a 1972 Time magazine cover story about the Jesuit order prompted Mr. Ghia to begin researching the fate of 31 utopian, self-governing cooperative communities established by the Jesuits more than 250 years ago among the Guarani Indians in the jungles around Iguazu Falls, which define the borders of present-day Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
By 1975, Mr. Ghia had lined up Bolt, whose screenplay credits included “Lawrence of Arabia,” “A Man for All Seasons” and “Dr. Zhivago,” to write a script and had made a deal with Paramount for the development money.
To persuade Bolt to write the screenplay, Mr. Ghia took him to South America to tour the ruins of the great Jesuit missions, saving for last the breathtaking Iguazu Falls, which are more than 40 feet taller than Niagara Falls.
Paramount loved Bolt’s script but apparently doubted its commercial viability and passed. While producing other films, Mr. Ghia continued to search unsuccessfully for financing.
In 1984, he finally landed a deal with Goldcrest Films & Television of London and with producer David Puttnam, who brought in Roland Joffe as director.
The cast and crew dealt with 110-degree days and humidity, torrential downpours, floods, deadly snakes, mosquitoes and amoebic dysentery during 16 weeks of shooting on location in Colombia and at the falls.
When “The Mission” reached theaters in 1986, the Los Angeles Times’ Charles Champlin, who had first reported Mr. Ghia’s plans for the movie in 1975, wrote: “Ghia is remarkable in his patient persistence, and in his vision of the producer and the medium.”
“The thing that’s important to me,” Mr. Ghia told Champlin, “is that there should be a social commitment. We provide entertainment, but we should also provide food for thought. “
A complete list of Mr. Ghia’s survivors, who include a young son, Sebastiano, was not available.