Amelio was born in San Pietro di Magisano, province of Catanzaro, Calabria. His father moved to Argentina soon after his birth, and he spent his youth and adolescence with his mother and his grandmother. The absence of a paternal figures will be a constant in Amelio's future works. During his university studies of philosophy in Messina, Amelio got interested in cinema, writing as film critic for a local magazine. In 1965 he moved to Rome, where he worked as operator and assistant director for figures such as Liliana Cavani and Vittorio De Seta. He also worked for television, directing documentaries and advertisements. Amelio's first important work is the TV film La città del sole, directed in 1973 for RAI TV and inspired to Tommaso Campanella's work.