Fernando Ghia

Co-producer of 'The Mission'
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The Independent Online

Fernando Ghia, film producer: born Rome 22 July 1935; (one son); died Rome 1 June 2005.

Fernando Ghia was one of the leading lights of the Italian film and television industry. At his funeral in the packed church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, as friends, colleagues and family gathered to pay their last respects, there was a roll of drums, and then, into the silence, came a distinctive, plaintive oboe line - and down the nave poured Ennio Morricone's incredible score for The Mission, a fitting and moving tribute to the film's producer.

He was best known for that Oscar- and Golden Globe- nominated Palme d'Or-winner, which he produced in 1986 with David Puttnam. Made on location in the Colombian jungle, The Mission tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit, Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons), who has a dream to take Christianity to South American "savages" and convert them by building a mission in the jungle. This tale, which Ghia dreamt up years before Robert Bolt and Roland Joffé's efforts brought it to the screen, epitomises the man who produced it: bold, powerful and passionate.

Fernando Ghia's career in the film industry began in the late 1950s. After a brief period as an actor and a stint at the William Morris Agency (where he befriended one of their leading young stars, Albert Finney, who went on to teach him English), Ghia forged a working partnership with the legendary Italian producer Franco Cristaldi, his mentor.

His experience with Cristaldi eventually led to Ghia's association with the playwright and screenwriter Robert Bolt. They developed several projects together, notably Bolt's directing début, Lady Caroline Lamb (1972), and finally The Mission. Throughout his career Ghia also collaborated regularly with the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, whose remarkable music for The Mission is one of the most memorable film scores of our generation.

Despite a lifelong love affair with English stories and talent, and a seemingly permanent home-from-home suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London, Ghia spent over a decade in Hollywood before returning in glory to Rome in the late 1980s, city of his birth and home of his beloved Roma football team. There he founded Pixit Productions, making film and television drama, including two major UK co-productions for television, The Endless Game in 1990 and, in 1997, the mini- series Nostromo. In the last year, he had reinvigorated the company, lining up an impressive development slate, including new feature films from the English screenwriters Andrew Davies and Nick Dear.

Ghia's filmography is short but his ambitions were enormous - unlike many film producers, who flit like butterflies from one project to another, he would make a commitment to material and stick to it. His loyalty, tenacity and vision meant he would find one or two projects and work tirelessly, with a meticulous focus, until they were made. "I love the work," he once said.

The greatest story of his life was the unexpected and happy arrival when Ghia was 61 years old of his son, Sebastiano. He told me once that you had to love a film to fruition, no matter what it took - a lesson which, as a young producer new to the industry, I drank in and have tried to put into practice. Fernando Ghia stayed alive for far longer than any doctor thought possible, for the simple reason that he wanted to love his son to fruition.

"You can do anything," he would always say. "If you have a dream you must follow it, or you will have regrets - and who wants those?" Without fanfare or fuss, his primary dream in recent years was to stay ahead of "the bloody bastard cancer" for as long as possible. I am sure that his one regret was that he would not live to see his son grow up.

Ghia made films with a sense of adventure and meaning, and lived a life filled with both.

Eileen Quinn