Cinema Room

The Sea in the Spotlight

Oceans told by Cinematography

Since its origins, filmmaking has represented the art of illusion par excellence. Just think of the astonishment and emotions that the first projected cinematographic motion pictures created.

With the development of technical improvements, cinematic languages and special effects, moviemaking today continues to evoke wonder and allow the public to experience things that would otherwise be impossible.

Among the great recurring thematic elements in the history of the seventh art, the relationship between man and the sea plays a leading role. From documentaries to blockbusters, from adventure movies to animation, the fascination of this underwater world can be found in hundreds of films.

In the room of IllusiOcean exhibition, created in partnership with the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, you can enjoy a new interactive experience surrounded by all the magic of underwater cinema, through films, objects and unique curiosities.

The cinema and the sea: exploring the waters in 20 movies

Dive into the most iconic movies of the history of cinema, where the sea and underwater worlds are the main characters! Inside the exhibition you will have the opportunity to become a star, thanks to the chroma key technique: a visual effect for layering two images together digitally.

You can fight against pirates or become a castaway lost at sea, cruise in a submarine or live an incredible love story on an ocean liner from bygone days. Discover the 20 most representative movies and documentaries about the sea in the history of cinema.

  1. My Octopus Teacher
    2020, South Africa, directed by Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, documentary, winner at Academy Award, themes: man and marine animal
  2. Atlantics
    2019, Senegal, France, Belgium, directed by Mati Diop, fictional film, winner at Cannes Grand Prix, themes: immigration and sea
  3. The Pearl Button
    2015, Chile, France, Spain, directed by Patricio Guzmán, documentary/film d’auteur, themes: sea as a metaphor
  4. ThuleTuvalu
    2014, Switzerland, directed by Matthias von Gunten, documentary, sesterce d‘argent as Best Swiss Film at Visions du Réel, themes: climate changes
  5. Ponyo
    2008, Japan, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated fantasy film, entrant in Venice International Film Festival, awards for Animation of the Year at Japan Academy Awards, themes: fantasy and sea
  6. The Wild Blue Yonder
    2005, United Kingdom, France, Germany, directed by Werner Herzog, film d’auteur, winner of FIPRESCI Award in Venice International Film Festival, themes: sea as a metaphor
  7. Deep blue
    2003, United Kingdom, Germany, directed by Andy Byatt, Alastair Fothergill, documentary, themes: marine ecosystem
  8. Cast Away
    2000, USA, directed by Robert Zemeckis, fictional film, two nominations at Academy Awards, winner for the Best Actor at Golden Globe Awards, themes: relationship between man and sea
  9. Titanic
    1997, USA, directed by James Cameron, fictional film, winner of 11 Academy Awards, themes: relationship between man and sea
  10. A Scene at the Sea
    1991, Japan, directed by Takeshi Kitano, fictional film, relationship between man and sea
  11. Hook
    1991, USA, directed by Steven Spielberg, fictional film, 5 nominations at Academy Awards, themes: adventure film, movie adaptation of a book
  12. The Abyss
    1989, USA, directed by James Cameron, fictional film, winner at Academy Awards, themes: underwater adventures
  13. The Big Blue
    1988, France, USA, Italy, directed by Luc Besson, fictional film, screened out of competition at Cannes Film Festival, themes: sport story adaptation
  14. Jaws
    1975, USA, directed by Steven Spielberg, fictional film, winner of 3 Oscars at Academy Awards, themes: relationship between man and marine animals
  15. Fratello Mare
    1974, Italy, directed by Folco Quilici, documentary, themes: environmental
  16. Hell in the Pacific
    1968, USA, directed by John Boorman, fictional film, themes: war, relationship between man and sea
  17. The Old Man and the Sea
    1958, USA, directed by John Sturges, fictional film, winner at Academy Awards, movie adaptation of a book
  18. The Silent World
    1956, France, Italy, directed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau e Louis Malle, winner at Cannes Film Festival, winner at Academy Awards, theme: marine ecosystem
  19. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
    1954, USA, directed by Richard Fleischer, fictional film, winner of 2 Oscars at Academy Awards, theme: movie adaptation of a book
  20. Lu tempu di li pisci spata
    1954, Italy, directed by Vittorio De Seta, documentary/short film, themes: fishing/relationship between man and sea

MicroMuseum: from the precursors of film to early cinema

Long before the birth of Cinema as we know it today, humanity experimented with techniques to reproduce motion images and tell stories. Just think about shadow play, optical experiments, magic lanterns: the first public film screening of the Lumière brothers in 1895 seems more like an important goal than the beginning of a new era. The exhibition of IllusiOcean created thanks to the collection of the National Museum of Cinema in Turin is a journey through time, at the discovery of some incredible objects dedicated to the art of illusion.

From Precinema experimentation to the early films that illuminated the first movie theatres, the cinema room becomes a wonder museum in miniature… about the sea, of course!


Anamorphosis is a distorted image that reveals its true shape only if seen from a specific vantage point or through mirrors. Already known to Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, it was also used to conceal hidden messages in drawings or paintings. This technique is still very popular, for example, particular screens or in street art, amazing and disorienting viewers.

Copy of a 19th Century marine-themed anamorphosis, visible through a cylindrical mirror.


The zoetrope, also called “wheel of life”, consists of a cylinder with illustrations on its inner surface. Thanks to an optical illusion, it produces the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of pictures in rapid succession. Known since ancient times, this device became popular as a toy during the second half of the 19th century, with the experiments by the English mathematician William George Horner. It can be considered the ancestor of modern cartoons.

Come to IllusiOcean and try the marine zoetrope inside the room of Cinema!

opy of zoetrope with 19th century illustrations.

Magic Lantern

Already known in the 17th century, the magic lantern is an early device that projects pictures on a wall. The magic lantern was often used by entertainers at fairs and private shows to tell fantastical stories, amaze their audience or for educational purposes. Figures projected are usually painted or printed on glass slides and can be both still or animated. The National Museum of Cinema has one of the biggest and most important collections of magic lanterns in the world.

Original Ernst Plank Magic Lantern, end of the 19th century.

Underwater camera

It was just at the middle of the 20th century when the first professional underwater cameras began being used for real underwater shooting. Before that, marine worlds were recreated through special effects. Merging science, moviemaking and technical experimentation, cinema finally found its space at the bottom of the sea. Since that moment, the marine world has sparked the interest of directors that have directed hit movies and documentaries, allowing their audience to know an otherwise unknown world. The pioneer of Italian underwater cinematography was Victor De Sanctis, who, thanks to his inventions, worked as a documentary filmmaker for international directors such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Folco Quilici.

Bauer super8 camera and Cirio case (Turin), 1960s.

The sea in early cinema

The first decades of the history of cinema are characterized by experimentation, concerning both the technical point of view and the definition of new languages and expressions.

Movies are an opportunity to discover faraway places and cultures, through documentaries and stories about military or anthropological missions, or amaze spectators with the first “trick films”, often made in color with high-quality craft techniques.
Cinema also becomes a new medium for scientific research. Finally, from the beginning of the 1920s, a private use of audiovisual language began to spread with family films.

Inside the exhibition of the University of Milano-Bicocca, you can find a selection of titles conserved at the Film Library of the National Museum of Cinema:

  1. Le spectre rouge
    Segundo De Chomón, Pathé Frères, Paris, 1907 – restored in 2011 by the National Museum of Cinema and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna
  2. Le bellezze d’Italia. Trittico di visioni pittoresche
    Pasquali & C., Torino/Tiziano Film, Turin, [1910s] – restored in 1997 by the National Museum of Cinema
  3. L’Odissea
    Francesco Bertolini and Adolfo Padovan, Milano Films, Milan, 1911 – restored by Eye Filmmuseum – Desmet Collection
  4. Raggio di sole
    S. A. Ambrosio, Turin, 1912 – restored in 2007 by the National Museum of Cinema, Filmoteca de Catalunya, Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, La Cineteca del Friuli, Gemona
  5. Sommergibili nel Mediterraneo
    Luca Comerio, Comerio Films, Milan, 1912, restored in 2012 by the National Museum of Cinema
  6. Captain F.E. Kleinschmidt’s Arctic Hunt
    Frank Kleinschmidt, Arctic Film Co., 1914 – restored in 2017 by the National Museum of Cinema
  7. La vita negli abissi del mare. Gruppo di pesci
    Edoardo Bosio and Ferdinando Bietenholz, S. A. Ambrosio, Torino / Vesuvio Films, Naples, 1916 – restored in 1998 by the National Museum of Cinema
  8. Allevamento ittico / Elevage de la truite
    Pathé Frères, Paris, 1922, digitized in 2017 by the National Museum of Cinema, Cinémathèque de Toulouse and Cinémathéque de Nouvelle-Aquitaine
  9. Gita al mare
    family film, [1940s], digitized in 2012 by the National Museum of Cinema