The Cinematic Battle for the Adriatic: Films, Frontiers, and the Trieste Crisis

Istock - ImagoRB (Rudi Bagozzi)


CBA TRIESTE analyses cinematic practices related to the Trieste Crisis (1945-1954), the diplomatic struggle over the Italo-Yugoslav borderlands at the outset of the Cold War. Both countries produced several films about these events, often utilizing the same footage – Yugoslav partisans in Trieste, Italians leaving the region, political protests – but framing them in conflicting ways: as occupation/liberation, migration/exodus, anticommunist/antifascist protests. As the conflict coincided with the establishment of film festivals, the festival circuit became an arena in which the struggle for cultural hegemony took place. Taking festivals as lieux de mémoire, CBA TRIESTE explores how the cinematic representation of the struggle for this territory has been employed to construct politically suitable cultural memories related to the conflict’s national and ideological concerns.

CBA TRIESTE - The Cinematic Battle for the Adriatic: Films, Frontiers, and the Trieste Crisis
Images from the newsreel "Pola, addio" (La Settimana Incom n. 46, ITA, 1947). Courtesy of Cineteca del Friuli.

The struggle for the Northern Adriatic remains one of the most controversial issues in contemporary Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. This is due to the violence of the period, including accusations of war crimes committed by both sides, and Italian emigration from the areas that became part of socialist Yugoslavia. Hence, in 2004 the Italian government established Giorno del Ricordo to commemorate what it terms the “Italian tragedy” in the territories that it lost to Yugoslavia. This has fuelled the rediscovery of this once-marginalised topic and inspired the restoration of old and production of new films on this subject. As such, any political analysis of this disputed past, is indisputably a political analysis of the present.

The research compares the historical and contemporary production on this subject, focusing on three levels of cinematic action:

1. Production

How is the conflict represented in these films?

2. Circulation

Which festivals did these films screen at? How were they positioned within them?

3. Reception

Did their critical reception, measured by press reviews and awards, bolster their status as cultural and political artefacts?

Image of liberation of Udine from the material "Seconda Guerra Mondiale. La liberazione di Udine - 1° Maggio 1945" (Guido Galanti, ITA, 1945). Courtesy of Cineteca del Friuli.

The project takes into consideration the wider Northern Adriatic area but focuses on the region of Venezia Giulia/Julian March. This ethnically hybrid region spans from the town of Gorizia in the Northwest, over the peninsula of Istria, up to the port of Rijeka (Fiume) in the Southeast. In the framework of post-WWII border redefinitions, in 1945 it was divided into two zones, under Western and Yugoslav military control, respectively. Long international negotiations followed in order to define the border between Italy and Yugoslavia, that is, between the capitalist and the communist Europe at the very beginning of the Cold War. With the Paris Peace Treaty (1947) the issue was partially resolved, while a mini-state named The Free Territory of Trieste was created in the still disputed regions. Finally, the London Memorandum (1954) enabled Italy to regain most of the Northern zone of the Free Territory of Trieste, while most of the Southern zone was unified with Yugoslavia. Today, the region is divided between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia.

For timeline of the border changes in the Northern Adriatic, see this video.


CBA TRIESTE’s aim is to become the hub for knowledge related to the cinematic history of the struggle for the Yugoslav-Italian borderlands (1945-1954), producing:

  • new publications on this subject: academic articles & a book;
  • a series of events: conferences, screenings & talks;
  • an online digital archive including: a selection of films and archival documents & a database with information on the existing film material.

The research will:

  • systematize the information on this film corpus (database);
  • provide its analysis (publications);
  • bring the cultural heritage in question online and provide easy access to data, analysis, films and historical documents related to this theme (online digital archive, currently in development).
Postage stamp with an image from the first Slovenian feature "Na svoji zemlji" ("On our own land", France Štiglic, Triglav film, YUG, 1948).

In engaging with this work through an interdisciplinary, geo-political lens, CBA TRIESTE will provide a historical and theoretical contribution to the study of cinema, film festivals, and cultural memory, and a practical toolkit for researchers, filmmakers, and cultural programmers, which can act as a model for other, comparable studies.

Images from the Yugoslav newsreels about the events in Trieste (Filmske novosti, YUG, 1947-1953).

Events and media