A leftist filmmaker, Gillo Pontecorvo worked as a foreign correspondent in Paris, as an assistant to Yves Allegret, and a documentarian before gaining attention with the Academy Award nominated, grim concentration camp melodrama "Kapo" (1960).
His most evocative and perhaps best-known film remains "The Battle of Algiers" (1966), a gripping account of the 1954 Algerian rebellion against French rule. A landmark political drama, "The Battle of Algiers" was shot in a grainy, neo-documentary style and featured non-professional actors, and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as receiving a Best Foreign-Language Oscar nomination. When it was widely released in the USA in 1969, Pontecorvo netted dual Academy Award nods for his direction and as co-author of its original screenplay. Over time, though, and through its championing by director Jonathan Demme, Pontecorvo's first fictional work, "The Wide Blue Road/La Grande Strada Azzurra" (1957) has undergone re-evaluation and is now considered a forerunner of the New Wave, especially in its social and political themes. That film received its belated US premiere in 2001.
Pontecorvo's only subsequent feature of note was "Burn!/Queimada!" (1969), another critique of colonialism set in 19th-century Antilles. Perhaps because of its upscale production values and star cast--which included Marlon Brando--the film lacked the edge of Pontecorvo's earlier work. He made a one-shot return to features a decade later with "Ogro/Operation Ogre" (1979) and continued to create shorts into the 1990s.