The first location was the town of Marina di Arbus on the rugged western coast of the island. Access to one area involved a tortuous trek over high sand dunes, with all the camera equipment being hand-carried in and out of the site - a situation the crew learned to accept all over Sardinia.
Arbus was the site of two of the most difficult stunts in the film. The first required the Black Stallion® to swim to shore, dragging young Alec behind him. A feat which posed some unique problems. A special barge had to be constructed on which to load the horse and transport him out to sea to his starting position for the swim to shore. The barge, designed by art director Aurelio Crugnola, was trucked into the location in pieces and assembled under the watchful eye of water specialist Giorgio Gallani. The whole population of Arbus gathered on the beach to help with the assembly and watch the exciting launch, certainly a "happening" for the tiny and remote village. The first attempt at loading the horse onto the barge failed and horse trainer Corky Randall suffered a head injury in the attempt. Thoughts turned to abandoning the project, but eventually the horse became accustomed to the water, and the barge proved invaluable.
The second stunt filmed at Arbus made everyone uncomfortable: a group of deadly cobras were flown in from Milan with their handler Carlo Guidi for the scene in which the Black Stallion® must stomp and kill a snake which is about to strike Alec. The fatal venom was milked from each snake before it was used and a special serum was on hand in case of emergency, but the knowledge that a cobra can travel twice as fast as two legs made everyone extremely nervous.
The discomfort which accompanied these early stunts was not eased by the Spartan living conditions which faced the crew. With no hotel in town, they were quartered in a school dormitory which had no facilities. Exposure to sun, sand, sea and dysentery did not enhance the situation. It was with no small relief that the crew headed for the next location, Capo Caccia, a spectacular spot also on the western coast, where cliffs rise 800 feet from the sea. The spot was chosen for its rocky heights, requiring that all equipment again be hand-carried up vertical precipices. Yet the rigors of the location were more than compensated in the crew's mind by the availability of a hot bath -the first in ten days.
The third base of operation was La Caletta on the east coast of Sardinia. Filming was done at two nearby sites, Capo Comino and San Teodoro. Comino, one of the locations used by Lina Wertmueller in SWEPT AWAY, had originally been scouted months before as an ideal spot to stage the boy's first ride on the Black Stallion®. But when the crew arrived for actual filming, the beach was covered with several feet of decaying seaweed, and another beach had to be substituted. San Teodoro beach, about 30 miles away, was judged to be perfect with its mile-long stretch of fine white sugar sand and wide sand bar reaching far offshore, adding greatly to the safety and ease of the horse action shots.
In mid-September, the unit moved to its fourth location, Costa Paradisio. Truly remote, the beach was surrounded by imposing rock formations. Since it was accessible only by boat or a narrow stone path, it was necessary to lead the horses in over the mountains circuitously, a trip which took three hours each way. For the horse crew, the four week stay at Costa Paradisio was an exhausting ordeal, but three outstanding sequences of horse action were completed there: the wild "Black" attacks Alec at a fresh water rain pool when he comes to drink; starving, the stallion accepts and eats seaweed that Alec has found for him, and their friendship is established and the stallion swims out to the rescue ship when fishermen come and take Alec from the island. For the last sequence, special horses were imported from the swamplands of Camargue, France, where an amazing breed has developed which is specially adapted for swimming at sea. The use of these horses greatly lowered the risks entailed in some of the water action shots, and made possible the realistic and stunning shots of "The Black" swimming in the open sea.
The final site was Cala Ganone, on the eastern coast and accessible only by boat. It too was one of the locations used by Line Wertmueller in SWEPT AWAY, and is especially famous for its grottoes. A constant frustration in shooting exteriors on Sardinia was the ever-present sign of civilization. Because the island in the story was totally uninhabited, a special detail of men was assigned each day to comb the beaches for litter and smooth out footprints which were found even on the highest, most inaccessible looking sand dunes. [filming was completed over a nine-week period, and despite the obstacles presented by the difficult terrain, director Carroll Ballard feels the varied and unusual beauty of Sardinia captured on film creates a spectacular backdrop for the movie.
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