When financing fell through, Visconti was forced to sell some of his mother's jewelry and one of the family's apartments in Rome to finish the film.

The cast was exclusively composed of non-professional actors. They were genuine fishermen and inhabitants of Aci Trezza (Sicily). The credits do not name any of the actors, who are collectively listed as "Pescatori Siciliani" (Sicilian Fishermen).

The movie was partially financed by the Italian Communist Party.

All places mentioned in the film are real, as would be expected. Aci Trezza is a village on the eastern coast of Sicily, just north of the larger city of Catania (capital of Catania province). It is part of the Cyclops coast area. The rocks seen in the harbor were reputedly thrown by the Cyclops, Polyphemus, at Ulysses as he fled. Cannizzaro is an inland village midway between Aci Trezza and Catania. Capo Mulini is north of Aci Trezza. Siracusa is the capital of the Siracusa Province and is south of Aci Trezza. Bari, Taranto and La Spezia are coastal cities on mainland Italy, and Antonio would be familiar with them from his service as a sailor; in particular, La Spezia which is a major naval port.

The movie is adapted from Giovanni Verga's novel I Malavoglia.

This film should be the beginning of a trilogy, then unfinished, that should show the development of the class struggle in different social environments.

The documentary, made without following a script, induced a scandal at the Venetian filmfestival. Against the critics Visconti said that the acting Sicilian fisherman did have "noble faces framed by black neckerchiefs which express the grace of a portrait by Leonardo da Vinci."