A One-Woman Confessional:

Eight Films by Cecilia Mangini 

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EXTENDED TIL MONDAY!

Another Screen presents eight films by the Italian filmmaker Cecilia Mangini (1927–2021) whose quietly confrontational documentaries of daily life in Italy are as poetic as they are militant.

Covertly censored for many years by a specifically Italian system that forced documentary filmmakers to act, in Mangini’s words, “under the radar like drug dealers”, her films have only recently started to be restored and re-exhibited. This selection of films, made between 1960–1972, features textual and musical collaborators including Pier Paolo Pasolini and Egisto Macchi, as well as some of Mangini’s favoured subjects: rituals on the verge of extinction; the fate of the young and disenfranchised; and the proletariat. The form of some of these documentaries might now be labelled ‘hybrid’, given her methods of reconstruction and reenactment, following long periods of research. The result is often a stylised and exaggerated version of the object of study; Mangini hones in on the essence of these objects and turns to strategies of lyricisation and repetition in order that we do not forget.


These films are contextualised with an essay by Allison Grimaldi Donahue and an interview with Mangini by Gianluca Sciannameo, translated by Livia Franchini.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

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And you, burnt  out heart, weep, weep. Cry like a wild ox.

STENDALÌ: SUONANO ANCORA

1960, 11'
 

WITH PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY THAÍS FERRAZ;

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ;

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY LUCAS ROUSSEL

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

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Shot in Martano, Stendalí is the record of a female mourning ritual – enacted within ethnic Greek communities that spoke Griko, a dialect that can still be found in southern Puglia – on the brink of extinction. When Mangini arrived in the town in 1960, she could find only two women who remembered fragments of the chants; they told her, “‘When we are gone, the lamentations will be gone, too.” Despite its observational style – albeit sped up in the edit, sometimes to comical effect – the film is in fact entirely reconstructed and restaged. Believing funeral chants to be one of the highest forms of poetry, Mangini entrusted Pasolini to work with the two women’s memories to create a Griko ‘replica’ and to write a narrated script in Italian, voiced by actress Lilla Brignone. The addition of voice-over meant that Mangini didn’t have to choose between integrating Italian translation or subtitles, which she believed would disrupt the rhythm of the songs and the relationship between sound and image.

 

The opening title card tells us that only men were allowed to accompany a body to the church, while the women remained at home to grieve. As the body of a boy is carried out by the men, leaving the women alone to cry, Pasolini’s words, as voiced by Brignone, display an overt awareness of the gendered nature of both maternal and mourning labour: “Who’s going to wash your shirt? The gravestone will. Who will iron it for you? The gravestone, the earth will.”

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Who shall clean thy shirt, my child?

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MARIA E I GIORNI

MARIA'S DAYS

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leaf through the past when in doubt about the present

1960, 11'
 

WITH PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY MARTHA ELISA;

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ;

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY LUCAS ROUSSEL

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

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A portrait of the elderly Maria di Capriati, the woman who christened Mangini as a baby, and whom Mangini considered a godmother figure. As in all of her other films, any direct assertion of her connection to her subject is absent. Instead, di Capriati is presented as the centre of her own universe. She is the still-active keeper of a rural estate who quarrels with locals from the top of her horse-drawn cart, the witchy woman with piercing eyes who causes mischief-making children to flee. The voice-over implies that this is a headstrong woman who refuses to accept her current situation: that of undergoing, in the face of modernity and ageing, a sort of crisi della presenza (a “crisis of presence”, from De Martino). In the narration’s words, her delusions manifest as a desire to prove, in the embodied first-person, that “I’m still here, I’m still useful”. Yet, observing her alone as she fills her empty hours, Mangini also gives us access to moments that defy her outward persona, as she tenderly devotes herself to God, animals, children and her memories, which she calls up to “leaf through the past when in doubt about the present”. 

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The exhaustion turns into anger turns into lethargy, turns into hunger. What else is exhaustion?

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DIVINO AMORE

1963, 11'
 

WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES BY REES ARNOTT-DAVIES
PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY MARTHA ELISA;

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ;

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY DANIELLA SHREIR

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

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The film begins at night, as parishioners holding lanterns form a series of processions, travelling through the night from Rome, and villages in the Abruzzi and Lazio regions, to make it to the Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore, 10 miles from the capital, by morning. More than an anthropological study of ecstatic devotion – with its genuflecting disciples, and women who scream desperately at the sky – Divino Amore also speaks to Mangini’s interest in disappearing rituals and communities at risk of extinction. When generations of worshippers pour out of the church at the end of the service, formality dissolves into secular leisure, as families perched on horse carts eat plates of spaghetti and men fall asleep on the grass. The velvet-clad austerity of the church’s interior gives way to a series of pastoral tableaux.

 

Divino Amore was believed lost, having never gained distribution following its rejection by the Commission of Quality. It was deemed to have “technical and artistic deficiencies”, which undoubtedly includes Mangini’s choice to cover the noises of worship with a lively avant-garde score, composed by Egisto Macchi, that eventually reaches a simultaneously comic and sinister climax. 

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15 kilometres from Rome stands a shrine: at once a destination for pilgrims and an object of devotion.

Finding the Real in the Magic: What  Cecilia Mangini Gave Us

by ALLISON GRIMALDI DONAHUE

Watching Cecilia Mangini’s documentaries shortly after her passing this January, I found myself wishing I’d had the chance to be in the presence of this woman who confronted prejudices by filming people, places, and ideas that were more than taboo – they weren’t even considered worthy of discussion for too many years. She was asking questions about the time she lived in, questions regarding workers’ rights, women’s rights, and human rights that others still haven’t had the courage or inclination to investigate. The radical nature of her thinking and artmaking, and its dialogue with marginalised members of society, became more pronounced in an ever more commodified, commercially-oriented world – defined, in her words, by “television, the social state and consumerism”. Her work stands out for its interest in using the camera to find the knowledge and wisdom offered by people and places that are often overlooked or undervalued. Listening to a recording of her speak on a panel at International Film Festival Rotterdam last year, I realise I’d never once heard her voice in any of her solo-directed documentaries. It’s as if she didn’t want to overpower her subjects with authorial guidance: being the director was enough. She attended the festival at the age of 92; in her panel appearance it becomes clear that her belief in making disruptive films and her fight against injustice never slowed. Asked about the future of women in filmmaking, she said that women should be themselves, should not fall into commercial traps, should not worry about pleasing male producers, or seeking anything less than the most honest story. She felt urgency in giving a voice to the marginalised, to share multitonal stories about women, workers, children, the poor, victims of war. She had a vision for a better Italy. In a 2018 interview with Martina Trocano, Mangini stated,

My ‘feminism’ doesn’t exist. Feminism isn’t a part of everything. There are people, and along with them, animals, plants, insects, everything that lives, that thinks, that intuits and feels…the most important is égalité, the equality of all humans, men, women, homosexuals, lesbians, transgender people.[1]

 

From her images, still and moving, one sees that Mangini sought to show human life in all of its diversity and dignity; this culture that she defended belongs to all of us.

 

During that same roundtable in Rotterdam she was asked how she got into filmmaking and this answer, too, revealed her energy and wit: “I became a filmmaker because of my terrible mother,” she said with a smile, while going on to explain that her mother wouldn’t let her eat bananas because they were touched by Black hands. Mangini talked about Italy’s colonial past with disgust, and about her work with Pier Paolo Pasolini, about how people treated him badly because of his homosexuality and how his personal life didn’t bother her at all, despite public feeling.[2] Mangini, in her work as well as her relationships, chose the side of the marginalised, whether they’d been placed there because of who they were or what they believed or because of the role they had been forced to occupy. She was interested in the position of women on the margins, particularly elderly and working-class women; through them she shows us the struggles of a country moving from a traditional society to a modern, individualist nation. Essere donne (1965), or Being Women, the film for which Magnini is perhaps best known, illustrates this well. In it, Mangini takes us through the difficult lives of women who worked in Italian factories and tobacco plants from Milan to Apulia during the years that were labelled latterly il boom economico: the “economic miracle”. She shows us families who have had to emigrate north from Southern Italy to find work. The film offers a reflection on the thousands who moved to Milan to work in chemical production, heavy machinery, or construction and to Turin to work for the likes of Fiat and Olivetti.

Poor infrastructure, endemic corruption and organised crime, lack of education, and outright racism coming from Northerners – who believed Southerners to be lazy, stupid, or even criminal – made industrial development in the South extremely challenging. Thousands of Southern Italians emigrated after the Second World War, not only to the north of Italy but to Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia. Women who moved away from their own extended families were forced to choose between working and caring for their children with little to no support. Grandparents were often left to raise these children across the rural South. Midway through the 30-minute Essere donne, we have a break from the male narrator. (Interestingly, many of her films, even those that focus on female stories, are narrated by male voices. These are often the voices of her male collaborators, including Pasolini and anti-fascist journalist Felice Chilanti, but perhaps she was hoping the male voice would allow her to pass through censorship more smoothly and quietly force male viewers to listen, to take what was being said more seriously.) We hear a woman’s voice, without seeing her face, as she talks about deciding to get an abortion when faced with the economic and social hardships of raising another child: "When one child arrives after another, the priest comes and says, don’t deny the Lord a soul. Yes, because we already had two children and it wasn’t possible to have another. And like that, I had two abortions. And then he repeated, begging, do not deny the Lord a single soul.” Abortion wouldn’t be legalised in Italy until 1978, 13 years after this film was made – and though legal, it can still be prohibitively challenging to find a doctor to carry out the procedure in many parts of the country even today. Issues and rights regarding work, gender parity, and the place of religion in the civil state aren’t yet resolved, not in Italy, not anywhere. Watching Essere donne I am struck by the prescience of Mangini and the women she speaks with, by the fact these poorly paid and overworked women know the labour and reproductive rights they ought to have, if only they are asked.

Mangini's definition of realness or authenticity extends beyond class. It is about complexity, about holding the picture-postcard vision of Italy imagined from abroad against the daily lives of all sorts of Italian people

Giorgio Agamben wrote that “[…]the contemporary [artist] is not only the one who, perceiving the darkness of the present, grasps a light that can never reach its destiny; he is also the one who, dividing and interpolating time, is capable of transforming it and putting it in relation with other times.”[3] Mangini is recording, in both her films and her photographs, what’s lost and what’s to come. She never asks us to abandon all traces of traditional values and culture. Rather, she reinterprets these things, recalling their link to the ancient. Each member of society, for Mangini, has great value, an important role – and she looks to the past to guide us to the future. Her work will always seem contemporary as long as we live under systems of capitalism and patriarchy, under threats to democracy, and regimes of neurotypicality; she made films that show darkness but in that darkness, she shines light on those who are willing to fight, or who are willing to uphold traditions at risk. Mangini recognises that the past, while seeming to inhibit the present or progress, in fact resists the capitalist agenda of turning people into workers alone; the traces of the past that surface in Mangini’s films show the necessity of spirituality and belief to survival. She is critical of the status quo and its blind adherence to growth. In Rotterdam last year, she was asked by an audience member if she and the other panellists saw themselves as public intellectuals. An intellectual, Mangini said, should not just be a person who reads and repeats the ideas of others; instead, “the real intellectual asks questions […] through effort, finding new answers to questions.” In her films, she upholds this belief that intellectual curiosity can be found in any context, and by going to sites of resistance – even quiet resistance – she allows the ideas of all kinds of intellectually curious people to come to the fore, regardless of their class status.

The subjects in her films open themselves up to her through the camera: she uses her camera as a roving, secular confessional. Those who are able reveal themselves through words, but just as often her subjects express themselves through monosyllables and body language. In Brindisi ’65 (1966), some men sit in a classroom at the Monteshell factory, a crude oil refinery which has just been built in the titular Southern city. In the classroom, we see a group of workers. An off-screen voice asks them if they have any criticism to offer the company on how their working conditions might be improved. The room fills with tension and the camera moves to each face, to their reticent eyes; the men do not speak. The voice pushes: “Something must be imperfect; you must have something to say.” Then suddenly there is a chorus of “no”s and one voice that says, “niente da dire”: nothing to say. Mangini focuses first on the men’s faces and hands. We enter into their unspoken thoughts as they avert their eyes, stare down at their desks, fiddle with pens and paper. The scene shifts to shots of men in a dark room, their faces silhouettes, disclosing what is really wrong with the work, with the risks, with the salary. One man points out that when the company discovered that he was a labour activist they cut him off from the others, placing him at a solitary work station where he would see no one for his entire shift; he says, “Here inside we aren’t citizens, here there is another law.” Then we’re back in the classroom and into the light. The off-screen voice presses the workers. Finally, someone speaks up, “I am speaking for everyone. We came to Monteshell because it allowed us to improve both our economic and technical position. I speak for everyone. […] If they disagree, they can say something for themselves.” Here, Mangini inserts other voices into her edit to show that this man doesn’t speak for all; the factory owners provide jobs, but, as some men bravely express, they don’t pay enough, and they demand too many hours. The few men who say this do so without showing their faces, or only after they’ve quit or been fired. In their opinion, the Monteshell factory raises the quality of life for those on top while keeping the workers in a precarious position. We watch scenes of managers at lavish dinners drinking champagne, laughing. One man speaks up at the end – he has protested, he says, but only 40 of his more than 3,000 fellow workers are members of the Italian General Confederation of Labour. Mangini does not pass intratextual judgment these men, neither for their fear nor for their inability to collectivise. As the workers see it, industrial power is pitted against them, and resistance seems futile – this is their reality and she is there to record it.

In her films, she upholds this belief that intellectual curiosity can be found in any context, and by going to sites of resistance – even quiet resistance – she allows the ideas of all kinds of intellectually curious people to come to the fore, regardless of their class status.

As with many documentary filmmakers, talking with, learning from, and sometimes embedding herself among her subjects was central to her work, but Mangini, crucially, was also in some sense a member of the communities she filmed in the south of Italy. She was born in Mola di Bari in 1927 and in 1933 moved with her family to Florence, not only to reunite with her Tuscan side of the family, but because of the economic crisis the south endured during the 1930s. Later, when she returned to Puglia to make films such as Tommaso (1965) and Brindisi ’65, her politics came from a personal place. Her experiences in both the north and south affected how she saw the economic and cultural divide widening between the two regions. Her films highlight some of the reasons that, still today, the South of Italy faces economic hardship.

In an interview in the 2016 book Visioni e Passioni: Fotografie 1952-1965, Mangini explains how her work with the camera began. This conversation with fellow filmmaker and collaborator Paolo Pisanelli is one between friends; he helps Mangini, aged 89 at the time of the interview, remember events that she has not thought of in decades. Mangini’s start in photography and film stemmed from her desire to show real people and places. She recounts how she and her husband, Lino Del Fra, were on the Aeolian islands north of Sicily when they decided to wander away from the populous beaches; “volevamo l’Italia vera”, she says – we wanted the real Italy. What she may have meant by “real” is of course knotty and contentious. In one sense she is the middle-class outsider looking in on the grittier lives of the working class — an over-romanticised view. However, her definition of realness or authenticity extends beyond class. It is about complexity, about holding the picture-postcard vision of Italy imagined from abroad against the daily lives of all sorts of Italian people. It is on these islands that she began taking her sun-filled photographs of mineral and man, making images that offered mystery rather than a caricature of Italy and Italians. On being a photographer, she told Pisanelli: “It means taking away all of our preconceived ideas and going in search of…not of truth, truth doesn’t exist. It’s going in search of something much more profound than truth, something absolutely hidden […] and photography, like everything that is an icon, reveals it.”[4]

Mangini managed during her early years as a photographer and then as a documentary filmmaker, beginning in 1958 with Ignoti alla città, to illuminate something about Italy for many of her fellow Italians, something as particular as it is common. One has to wonder what the general public felt upon seeing her films (which were most often screened in cinemas before the feature the audience had come to watch) and seeing themselves revealed in such a way.[5] In La Canta delle Marane (1962), we see young men, boys really, creating a new world for themselves, a world with its own set of rules and codes of conduct. Written with Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1961, the film brings us to the outskirts of Rome in what seems like a parallel universe dictated by violence and thievery, but where there is also a tender brotherhood and mutual protection. She films the boys swimming, wrestling, shouting – she never catches them speaking calmly to one another. Shot in colour, the waters where the boys play appear so green as to be idyllic. It is reality, but it’s not the realism one expects. It is a constructed realism, something Mangini and Pasolini share. Eschewing any interest in actors or polished language, both artists took the language of the everyday, of the streets, of the poor, and with those they built stories.

La briglia sul collo (1974) is a later example of Mangini’s work with “regular people” from the middle of her career. In this 15-minute film we meet Fabio Spada, a young boy living in San Basilio, on the outskirts of Rome. He lives with his parents and two younger siblings in a one-bedroom flat in an isolated neighbourhood where there is only one bus connecting them to the city centre. Mangini opens the film narrating some factual information about Fabio’s life, explaining that there is just one state school and one private Catholic school run by the Church, and no public school, for the 30,000 residents of the area. There are no parks; the children play in courtyards. The film moves quickly to the life of Fabio, who has been put in a special needs class because he is disruptive, and whose teacher says he needs to “come back to the flock.” The school’s director recognises that the boy’s exuberance might come from a place of emotional distress, yet no one has the tools to help this child or his family. He is called a rebel, a bad boy, and he comes to identify with and further assume these labels. As in La canta delle marane, Mangini shows us how young boys are left on their own to fend for themselves and given little emotional support. He is not seen by the adults in his life for his better qualities; instead, they are exasperated by him. While the boys in La canta have each other, Fabio lacks their kind of brotherhood and must face the situation on his own; this is perhaps a reflection of changes in Italian culture between the 1960s and 1970s. The shift from an agricultural, rural, religious society to an industrial, urban, secular one left many people without a solid social constellation, without the elements that hold a society together. While industrialisation may modernise a culture it also cuts future generations off from other, more instinctive systems of knowledge.

In both worlds there is the repetition: the daily tasks in the factory or on the farm, reliance on an old song or prayer to get through a difficult moment. There is the process of work, of movements the body repeats day after day. In ritual there are motions, signs, physical actions that affect the mind.

 

Magic and religion are represented in how Mangini’s films engage with repetition, process and gesture. Her documentaries can be divided into two categories – the proletariat and the magical – that, perhaps surprisingly, have more commonalities than differences. In both worlds there is the repetition: the daily tasks in the factory or on the farm, reliance on an old song or prayer to get through a difficult moment. There is the process of work, of movements the body repeats day after day. In ritual there are motions, signs, physical actions that affect the mind. In the repetitive work of the women in factories in Essere donne, in the eponymous protagonist’s hopeful look towards the “petrochimico” (petrochemical) in Tommaso (1965), Mangini shows how Italians during the post-war period continued to rely on forces outside of themselves in their daily lives. There are single actors – people move, make decisions – but the voices we hear, like Tommaso’s as he voices the wish that someone might give him a chance to work and make more money, are not so different from a prayer, an invocation to a power one cannot see or touch.

Mangini allows us to listen to voices as they show emotion and to see, up close, faces in both joy and pain. In many of her documentaries about the South and the quickly disappearing traditions found there, she collaborated with Pasolini, working together to build a tangible and unmistakable poetic. I cannot stop thinking about the fact that Pasolini wrote the lamentations we hear in Stendalì – Suonano Ancora (1960), another film on which they collaborated. He based the song, in Griko, a dialect of Greek spoken in Salento, off remnants the women featured in the film could remember, and which had been passed along through generations going back to the 1800s. And yet, while they may feel authentic to the outsider, these are reconstructions; in this film Mangini used a professional actress, Lilla Brignone, to lead the song. But still the women’s cries conjure up past traumas – the crying is part of traditional women’s ritual, the gendered work of mourning. Despite the documentary being staged, the cries from the mourners excavate something deep, powerful, intergenerational. Pasolini the poet and Mangini the image-maker tap into ancient traditions found not in the specifics of the language but in the manner in which the body produces such sounds. I think of Dante in Canto XIII of La Vita Nuova, longing to be with Beatrice as she mourns the death of her father; he is told to go away, to stay outside of the house, “in keeping with the customs of the city mentioned earlier, women with women and men with men come together on such sad occasions, many women gathered where this Beatrice was weeping pitifully…”.[6] Harnessing this ancient form, Mangini and Pasolini show us something that has always been a part of us.

We are fortunate to have Mangini’s reconstructions of archaic rites and rituals in other films, as well. In La passione del grano (1960), which she made with her husband, she talks with the few members of a community who remembered their once-vibrant practices for ensuring a healthy crop in order to make her reconstructions as accurate as possible. This method coincides with the work of Ernesto De Martino, an influence on Mangini, who inspired her to turn what he wrote about into films that could be shared with a larger and perhaps less academic audience than his books. The interest many artists and scholars took in these traditions at the time underlined the urgency of recording and understanding long-held rituals that were fading out in a quickly modernising landscape. Mangini and Del Fra met and worked with De Martino on Stendalì, discussing how to most accurately represent the songs and gestures associated with funeral rites. Chiara Galli details how De Martino worked with a number of young filmmakers like Mangini and Del Fra during the 1950s and 1960s in her article ‘Il documentario etnografico ‘demartiniano’’ (‘The ‘DeMartinian’ Ethnographic Documentary’).[7] He would sit and discuss his findings, recordings, and research with them, understanding how important their work was to his larger project, as well.

De Martino travelled to various regions in the South of Italy, participating in the dying traditions he later recorded in his many books. His book Sud e magia (South and Magic, 1959) records these rites in Puglia (where Mangini often filmed), including the tarantismo, a form of mania characterised by dancing that was popularly, and incorrectly, believed to be caused by a spider bite. His work sets a precedent for respect between subject and observer when it came to the relationship of these newly Europeanised Italians to magical thinking and the blending of traditional pagan rituals with Roman Catholicism. In Sud e magia, De Martino examines why these archaic traditions lived on in the South, pointing to the uncertain future these populations faced through the precarious situation of their work, the possibility of natural disasters, and uncontrollable social factors.[8] Like De Martino, Mangini saw value in these traditions, but she also turned her eye toward the future. Throughout Mangini’s entire oeuvre, in films such as Tommaso, Brindisi ‘65, and Essere donne, one can see the the next stage in the struggle of the modern human that De Martino began to document, that of the non-religious individualist, so indoctrinated in the belief that he can control his own fate against injustice, war, discrimination. As if in counterpoint, Mangini herself holds up the idea of magical thinking in these films, to keep it close, to let us keep a touch of the faith found in those who appear on screen, as they carry with them some of the spirit of their histories into a life that is quite similar to our own. In 1968, Mangini directed Sardegna, a short film which was part of the Italia allo specchio, a 1968 series created by Cinecittà and the Ministry for Culture to highlight the traditions and industry of each region of Italy. Here she meant to show the modernising effects of economic development, but in doing so she doesn’t move solely in a forward-reaching direction; instead she shows us how folk traditions have value and that the past shouldn’t simply be erased by the present.

Mangini’s legacy is carried on through younger filmmakers who admired her, including Pisanelli. Their collaborative film, Two Forgotten Boxes: Trip to Vietnam, made in 2020, emphasises the range of feeling – from empathy and seriousness to joy – that one sees emerging over the course of Mangini’s work. In it, Mangini, now an old woman, reflects on the memories she notices fading, saying “I only remember things by looking at the pictures.” Pisanelli records Mangini as she goes through the photographs of her and Del Fra’s trip to Vietnam in 1965, reflecting on their relationship to the people and the admiration Mangini had for their strength and resistance. As the film flashes between scenes of Magnini at home in Italy and photographs from Vietnam, one feels that her compassion for her fellow humans comes into full view. When Mangini shows to the camera photographs of women fighting in Vietnam, I am particularly struck by her interest in them, as people fighting for their autonomy and land against US military might. She says of the Vietnamese: “They never wanted to be victims.” She herself never saw the marginalised as victims, and perhaps that is where so much of the strength of her work comes from. Her mission was to record lives lived, but she does something more: she gives viewers comprehensive portraits – though they may only last for seconds – of a person’s unique life or struggle. She listens fully to each story, and she grants each person she films great dignity. The people she presents in her films all want to live a good life, to take care of themselves and those around them. This seems simple, but it isn’t at all, because this need for dignity and care is largely ignored by capitalist patriarchal society, and is considered only secondary to profits and glamour, leaving so many people either invisible or caricatured across all forms of media.

To record everyday life in post-war Italy was to illustrate the hard road to economic and social recovery, as well as vast corruption. Mangini took on this challenge because she believed photography could inspire empathy and change. Kaja Silverman, writing on photography, notes that it is “an ontological calling card; it helps us to see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies.”[9] As I watch Mangini’s films of men going to work in factories and women letting out primordial cries, I sense she is putting me back in touch with something that was always mine, something found in my own intergenerational immigrations and journeys, something in my own constellation of analogies. Mangini harnesses life in the photograph and the moving image to reveal others’ vitality to us. These films compel us to take action, to expose injustice and, like Mangini, to transform beauty, by whatever means we have, into power.

 

[1] Trocano, Martina. Interview with Mangini (translation my own)

https://www.artribune.com/arti-visive/fotografia/2021/01/cecilia-mangini-intervista-inedita-rip-documentario/

[2] Although homosexuality in Italy was decriminalized in 1890, social stigma remained powerful throughout the 20th century. Gays were actively persecuted under the regime of Benito Mussolini and the war years in general. […].

[3] Agamben, Giorgio. “What is the Contemporary?” trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedella. in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. Stanford UP. 2009. (53).

[4] http://www.idea.mat.beniculturali.it/attivita/eventi/item/733-cecilia-mangini-visioni-e-passioni-fotografie-1952-1965

[5] livia interview note

[6] https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/text/library/la-vita-nuova-frisardi/

[7] Galli, Chiara. “Il documentario etnografico ‘demartiniano.’” La Ricera Folklorica. Antropologia visiva. Il cinema (Apr., 1981), pp. 23-31

[8] De Martino, Ernesto. Sud e magia. Feltrinelli. 9th edition, 2010.

[9] Silverman, Kaja. The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part 1. Stanford UP. 2015. (10-11).

Allison Grimaldi Donahue (Middletown, Conn. USA 1984) is a poet, writer and translator. She’s author of Body to Mineral (Publication Studio Vancouver 2016) and On Endings (Delere Press 2019). She has appeared in Another Gaze, Los Angeles Review of Books, Brooklyn Rail, BOMB and other magazines. She has given performances at Gavin Brown in Rome and Hyper Maremma in 2019. She has been writer in residence at the New York Center for Book Arts and at the Bread Loaf Conference, as well as an artist in residence at Mass MoCA and MAMbo, Bologna. Her translation of Autoritratto by Carla Lonzi will be published in 2021 by Divided Publishing.

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ESSERE DONNE

1965, 30'
 

PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY MARTHA ELISA

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY LUCAS ROUSSEL

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

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Boycotted and covertly censored by the producers and directors who formed part of the Commissione ministeriale, which decided on which short should accompany features in cinema programmes at the time, Essere Donne was a commission from the Communist-aligned production company Unitelefilm, who had approached a selection of left-wing filmmakers to investigate fully a collective social problem.

The result is a series of interviews conducted by Mangini with women workers from the olive groves of Puglia to the factories of Milan. Often filmed as they work at home or at the factory, these women speak candidly about issues including abortion, housework, unionisation and boycotts.

“As is always the case with works that constitute a powerful experience and discoveries of an existential nature, I remain very close to Essere donne. In this case, the experience was that of the factory, and within the factory the production line, the compartmentalisation, the short timescales, the confirmation of Gramsci’s teachings on Fordism. The discovery was that of the women ‘worked’ by the factory, of peasant work, of families, of their relationship to their hopeless situation, in the initial moment of their (and my) confused questioning of the need for change.

[...]
I discovered that women are restless, often openly dissatisfied with the existential burden that weighs upon them, and secretly driven to understand what is not working and how to free themselves of the endless penalties imposed on them since their childhood. A full awareness of the system that penalises them – its causes, its reasons – is still lacking. The women are unconsciously still only becoming complete women.
This embryonic situation applies to me; it applies to all of us; it even applies to those who refuse to grow. It is undoubtedly down to hindsight and to a contemporary reading of Essere donne that I now believe that I was instinctively driven to identify myself with all of them – entering into the film as an olive-picker in Apulia or as a weaver at the loom in the north."

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"What reward do women receive for their loss of freedom to work and family? Hypocrites respond: the joy of family"

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When we don't have one child after another, the priest comes and he says: "Don't deny a soul to the Lord."

It’s not clear whether they no longer have hope or if they just pretend not to out of fear

BRINDISI '65

1966, 15'
 

ENGLISH SUBTITLES BY CHARLOTTE PONZIO

PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY MARTHA ELISA

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY LUCAS ROUSSEL

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

Here, you’re not a citizen. Here there’s another law.

“A real cathedral in the desert” is how Mangini described the newly built Monteshell petrochemical plant, the biggest in the country and the bureaucratic force that brings together the managers and workers – both current and former – put before the camera in Brindisi ’65. This cultural and economic disconnect is conveyed through images of young children fulfilling domestic duties in overpopulated living conditions, as a voice-over reads headlines from the national press announcing the factory’s arrival. Meanwhile, the managerial classes, who have moved South to exploit the region’s desperate work situation, celebrate away from public view, shot in such unflattering, grotesque close-ups that they take on a fisheyed distortion. There, they feast open-mouthed and exchange misogynistic and racist jokes about the local population. Later, a group of workers is asked to comment on their work situation. Only those who appear on the condition of anonymity will tell us what all of them seem to understand: that there are rewards for loyalty, that unionisation leads to forced isolation, and that the factory will always find another desperate worker to replace the dissenter.

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The decisions of the elite,

the old subordination

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TOMMASO

1965, 11'
 

PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY THAÍS FERRAZ

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY DANIELLA SHREIR

Still no criminal record and apolitical 

Tommaso begins with with a near-duplication of the expositional footage found in Brindisi ‘65,  the same collection of dilapidated housing, suspended washing lines, and women and children spilling out onto the street. But this time the images provide the context to a more focused portrait. We meet Tommaso Lorussi as he comes crashing through freshly hung laundry on a Vespa – a bike which, in a later scene, we discover belongs to a man who confronts Tommaso about his habit of stealing. Described in voice-over as apolitical and still having no criminal record, Tommaso narrates an imagined future of girls and money – all contingent, as he sees it, on getting his dream job, at the Monteshell petrochemical plant. This buoyant narrative is intercut with portraits of boys a few years his senior, forced to hustle on the streets while they wait to be hired by the factory, as well as the mother of a son whose death at the plant was caused by inadequate safety measures. Perhaps the most didactic of the films in this programme, Tommaso’s delusions serve as an object lesson on the false promises of Western capitalism. As the voice-over tells us at the end of the film, Tommaso’s future is not, in fact, in his hands, but in those of a global ‘monopoly’ that depends on his subordination”

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An Interview with Cecilia Mangini

CONDUCTED BY GIANLUCA SCIANNAMEO AND ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NELLE INDIE DI QUAGGIÙ. ERNESTO DE MARTINO E IL CINEMA ETNOGRAFICO, PALOMAR, BARI, 2006)

TRANSLATED FOR THIS PROGRAMME BY LIVIA FRANCHINI

What were you working on before you met anthropologist De Martino, and what was your relationship like? How much influence did he have on your work, in terms of your thematic choices and approach to the different situations you were documenting? What kind of background research and line of enquiry led you to develop an interest in the south of Italy?

 

Some necessary premises: in this interview I shall often refer to ‘we’, to talk about myself and Lino Del Fra.[1] We have shared our life and films, our selves and documentaries, sometimes attaching both our names to them, sometimes not. I’ll be speaking about Lino, mind, not on his behalf.  

Stendalì (1960) was the third documentary I directed, after Ignoti alla città (1958) and Firenze di Pratolini (1959). Made towards the end of the Fifties – a decade marked by the agony, death and unceremonious burial of neorealism – these films should be interpreted, on the whole, as an early expression of the rejection of Christian Democratic fundamentalism (‘a great no’, as Ernst Toller puts it) which took root in Italy after April 18th, 1948. New heroes were needed to ward off the threat of a Cossack invasion in San Pietro, and these heroes were ready to sacrifice anything – except power – to protect the country. One such man was the young Giulio Andreotti, who held the post of State Undersecretary for many years, and as such was in charge of cinemas, theatres, dance halls and entertainment, since no specific ministerial role covered those areas, as is still the case today. Back then, he was far from the charming, accommodating jokester we have come to know: in the Fifties, Andreotti was a bold, arrogant leader. Disbelieve the public narrative of rehabilitation of Christian Democrats that peddles them as moderate champions of democracy: those were the years in which a Christian Democracy fundamentalist like Oscar Luigi Scalfaro publicly slapped a woman for wearing clothes that he had deemed too revealing; the same years in which the fundamentalist bishop of Prato excommunicated a young couple for choosing to get married in a civil ceremony instead of a Catholic one, prompting banks to stop trading with the groom, whose small textile business collapsed as a result – just as the groom did himself, killed off by a heart attack shortly after the events. They were the years in which Scelba, fundamentalist Minister of the Interior, coined a new word to describe intellectuals tout court: culturame, meaning a cheap, wholesale, contemptible commodity.

In this context, cinema represented one of the most contested battlegrounds: Mario Monicelli’s Con Totò e per ve Carolina suffered 85 cuts due to censorship. De Sica was publicly slandered by Andreotti for his inability to keep his family business behind closed doors, where it belonged. Pier Paolo Pasolini was brought to trial by fundamentalist Ferdinando Tambroni for his ‘obscene novel’ Ragazzi di vita. The same thing happened to Renzo Renzi for L’Armata s’agapò, a harmless screenplay about the love affairs Italian soldiers got into when they were posted to Greece during World War II; both Renzi and film critic Guido Aristarco, who had published him in Cinema Nuovo, did time in the military jail of Peschiera as a consequence. Even my own documentary, Ignoti alla città, which had nothing threatening whatsoever about it, was banned, due to censorship. It’s worth remembering, also, that the documentary form was held in higher regard back then, than the miserable cinematic subproduct it is taken for today: cinema itself had been invented by documenting a train making its triumphant entrance into a station and counted directors like Dziga Vertov, [Joris] Ivens, [Walter] Ruttman, [F.W.] Murnau, [Robert] Flaherty, [Luis] Buñuel, [Jean] Vigo, [John] Grierson and [Paul] Rotha among its founding fathers. The documentary’s genetic code relied – and still does, thankfully – on three cardinal freedoms: freedom of expression, of enquiry and of experimentation. We had these three freedoms, and how should we have channelled them, if not through the difficult pursuit of realism, as a reaction against those sentimental populist tropes which, through catharsis, depicted the issues in our society as inescapable, fatal conditions of living?

A little aside: my family, on my father’s side, comes from the South of Italy. Among the images I have carried with me since childhood are the dilapidated, forgotten landscapes of Puglia: shoeless children, trachoma, the broken backs of farmworkers, mourning women dressed in the black of grief, dialect spoken as a statement of identity and kinship. Did these personal memories play a part? Or did I only understand them, give them meaning, after reading Antonio Gramsci – a Southern thinker? What role did discovering the hegemony of the North over the South of Italy play? (The North as octopus, feeding on the South; the South reduced to a semicolonial marketplace, its bourgeois fortunes drained by the North.) 

I hope it is clear what I mean when I say that it was Gramsci who forbade us to produce folkloristic documentaries on the poverty of the South, the spectacularisation of rags, the extolling of farmers to the status of holy figures in a Neapolitan nativity play. Working with Ernesto De Martino was essential to report on the South of Italy. Our first meeting happened when Morte e pianto rituale nel mondo antico, the book that inspired Stendalì, was published; later, it was the turn of Sud e magia and La terra del rimorso. Nevertheless, De Martino’s teachings have had far broader effects on our work, beyond outlining the ethnological coordinates of a South that fascinated many among us documentary filmmakers: he provided us with an epistemological framework that exhorted us to peel back the layers of culture, he promoted an understanding of phenomena as complex occurrences and made us aware of the importance of interdisciplinary analysis. Though De Martino’s conception of magical phenomenon as an evocation of psychological protection in response to the malignant threats of daily life fascinated us, perhaps his most influential idea for us was his claim (with reference to [French anthropologist Claude] Lévi-Strauss) that an interest in ethnology arose ‘from the radical choice to challenge a system in which we are born and raised.’ This systemic challenge is at the heart of Stendalì (which I directed), and La passione del grano and L'inceppata by Lino Del Fra. But it was also the propelling force behind our choice to make films, to step behind the camera. In any case, our work on Stendalì, La passione del grano and L’Inceppata influenced what came after. The epistemological framework I’ve just mentioned was never quite absent from our work: to give an example, Fata Morgana and Come favolosi fuochi di artificio, shot by Lino in 1962 and in 1967, and my La canta delle marane (1962), Tommaso (1965) and Felice Natale (1964) all drew from that earlier experience. Though we did not produce any more ethnological documentaries, we remained essentially aligned to De Martino’s philosophy. Finally, to address Professor Gallini’s comments on the episodic nature of ethnological documentaries, I’d like to highlight that such an episodic nature concerned Italian documentaries on the whole, as a result of producers’ interest in short films that were likely to earn prestigious prizes.[2] Producers steered clear from pursuing any sort of linearity – either they did not see the point intellectually, or financially, lest it resulted in unpredictable, dreaded reactions from the juries of such prestigious prizes. One person who pursued that kind of linearity in ethnographical filmmaking across the whole of his career was Luigi Di Gianni – a merit for which he’s due recognition.

"Did these personal memories play a part? Or did I only understand them, give them meaning, after reading Antonio Gramsci – a Southern thinker? What role did discovering the hegemony of the North over the South of Italy play? (The North as octopus, feeding on the South; the South reduced to a semicolonial marketplace, its bourgeois fortunes drained by the North.)"

 

What kind of relationship did you establish with the protagonists of your films, during production and following their completion? How did they relate to researchers and bystanders? Did you ever show your films in their villages? And if so, what kind of reaction did they elicit? Did you ever envision, following from Flaherty’s example, a greater degree of collaboration with the people who feature in your films? Why didn’t you focus more on their individual personalities, their experiences and day-to-day lives? Was this a choice or a result of production limitations?

With some hesitation – because I don’t think this is about naming names – I’ll go forth and say that these ‘protagonists’ do exist and have their own paths in films. At best, they are the focal points of a story; at worst, they are modelled on pre-existing tropes essential to achieving mainstream success: the cowboy, the outlaw, the cop, the fat-ass, and so on. The latest iteration of the star-system, following the Scorsese-Spielberg model, has further narrowed the field of creative play: stars have become icons, models upon which film protagonists are articulated, with few variations, in most Hollywood-based productions.

On the other hand, a documentary focuses on an event; it is entrusted to characters who are witnesses to themselves, in the context in which the documentary filmmaker has chosen to tell the story, as an idea, a discovery, a form of protest, out of love, interest or necessity. The filmmaker needs that person – that woman, this boy – because of what they symbolise. What relationship do we have with them? It’s hard to tell: there is love at first sight, tension, intimacy. There is also, of course, an instrumental aspect – but this isn’t just on the part of the director: on both sides there is always the knowledge that the relationship between filmmaker and subject will end the moment the shoot does. There’s a mutual awareness of the unusual nature of the transaction, that it has an expiration date attached to it.

Getting to the heart of the matter isn’t easy. Let’s push the question in order to understand it better: does the documentary filmmaker exploit her characters for her own purposes? Objectively, no. The filmmaker is merely pursuing her own project, which she has begun assembling from her very first visits to the location, structuring it around facts and characters and later developing it as a subject. During this whole process, her environment ‘acts upon’ the documentary filmmaker just as much as she ‘acts upon’ the people who step in front of her camera. 

Insofar as I know there was never a showing of Stendalì in Martano, or of La passione in San Giorgio Lucano. This wasn’t due to a lack of willingness on our part, but to the dead, deadening timing by which bureaucracy operates. We’d present a documentary to the Ministry so it could be submitted to prizes, and it would be held there, in a sort of hibernation. It wasn’t unusual for a couple of years or more to elapse, from the time we presented them with a documentary to when it would obtain approval from the censorship board and a rating from the judging panel. In the meantime, we would begin work on other things; we’d be shooting a different film, or working on the postproduction of another. And even if we’d wanted to hold those screenings, there were no cinemas in Martano or San Giorgio. I have a question for you myself, in fact: do you remember how little time ago VHS players were invented?

Flaherty, bless him, had 15 months on Nanook – 15 months! Sixty-five weeks! Fifteen months under extreme conditions, fighting hostile weather, sharing everything with the Inuits on that slippery pane of ice, in arctic temperatures, eating unfamiliar food. I’m not surprised he made friends. It was only afterwards that he discovered he’d marked a historical turning point, making the first film in the history of cinema shot entirely on location. And not just that: he’d invented a genre which had made him a famous director all across the globe. I am sure he felt, at the very least, a sense of gratitude towards those people.

To conclude: to give more weight to the individual personalities of my characters, their experiences and day-to-day lives would have meant shooting an altogether different documentary. One which might have raised the opposite question: why did you give so much weight to the individual personalities of the characters, to their experiences, their day-to-day lives?

 

"There is also, of course, an instrumental aspect – but this isn’t just on the part of the director: on both sides there is always the knowledge that the relationship between filmmaker and subject will end the moment the shoot does. There’s a mutual awareness of the unusual nature of the transaction, that it has an expiration date attached to it."

Are all the events in your documentaries staged? How much of what’s recorded on camera was still happening at the time? What elements did you choose to foreground in your cinematographic renditions of the ritualistic?

 

The events in Stendalì, La passione del grano and L'inceppata are all staged – or rather, re-staged, after much research and careful study, in which we foregrounded the elements of stylisation that are central to all rituals.

Were those rituals still ongoing? Of all the Greek-speaking villages in Salento, mourning lamentations persisted only in Martano, as a tradition whose last repositories were the women we captured on film, playing themselves. The women were aware of this, so much so that they told me: ‘When we are gone, the lamentations will be gone, too.’ Whether they still practiced it? I’m not sure, but I imagine they would have as a last salute to Nunziata and Filomena, the oldest among them. The same goes for La passione and L’inceppata – although really an ethnologist should have the last word on these matters. The idea I got was that the elders in these communities would had been ‘defending themselves from the malignant threats of daily life’ by such things as performing lamentations, the sickle ritual, or the ritual of the engagement log.[3] Their children would have witnessed these rituals often enough to memorise them before they disappeared, joining in only occasionally. Their grandchildren only had a vague, ghostly memory of them. Their great-grandchildren will have forgotten them entirely. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time of death of magic rituals. Its killers, however, are known: television, the social state and consumerism.


"It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time of death of magic rituals. Its killers, however, are known: television, the social state and consumerism."

What kind of issues did you have with censorship?

 

There were two different types of censorship that could be used to silence documentary filmmakers: censorship proper, and, in accordance with changing law requirements, the exclusion from mandatory screenings and prizes. Exclusion was a sort of exemplary financial punishment, aimed to deter producers from making documentaries that probed politically uncouth subjects. As for myself, I had to deal with both, with Ignoti alla città (initially banned from all screenings), Divino amore (winner of the gold medal at Festival dei Popoli, but banned from consideration for prizes) and with Essere donne, which generated a bunch of press at the time, since it had won the Special Jury Prize at the 1st All-German Leipzig Festival of Cultural and Documentary Films, awarded by a panel that featured Joris Ivens, John Grierson and Jerzy Toeplitz, but was entirely worthless according to the Italian commission judges.

It is very tempting to twist the knife in this particular wound, but I’d rather not test our readers’ patience. To sum up matters quickly: documentary filmmaking has been a protected genre in Italy – that is to say it is entirely helpless before the protectionist state ukase that subsidise it. What’s worse, it has no fan base; cinemagoers are hostile to it. This goes back to the years immediately after the war, when the ministerial commission was in charge of mandatory screenings, from which documentaries took a percentage on earnings through being paired with a full-length feature. It goes without saying that documentaries made by ‘friends’ of the Christian Democratic Party would be paired with successful films, while those made by ‘enemies’ would be screened alongside lower-earning productions. What a joy to prosper alongside Gilda – and a depressing bore to languish in a pair with A Man Escaped, despite the fact it is one of Bresson’s most celebrated works! Following the principle of least effort, documentaries made by ‘friends’ would typically feature Roman fountains, Roman pine trees, Roman sunsets dipping behind the seven Roman hills, upon Roman bridges and Roman squares, and on the banks of the river Tiber of Rome and so on and so forth. Of course cinemagoers would squarely reject that kind of canned boredom. The damage done by that screening system would be irreparable.

Once the pairing system was abolished, the law continued to subsidise documentary filmmaking through prizes, which were awarded through scrutiny by a stern commission of judges. Pine trees and fountains, arches and columns didn’t quite disappear completely. But the new process at least allowed for a new generation of documentary filmmakers to begin their careers.

"Documentary filmmaking has been a protected genre in Italy – that is to say it is entirely helpless before the protectionist state ukase that subsidize it."

What kind of distribution would your films typically achieve back then? And later on, what kind of audiences did they attract? Was it the kind of audience you had in mind for your work?

 

You have to bear with me for getting into specifics about Italian film law, but it is impossible to understand the history of Italian documentary filmmaking without making at least some reference to it. All film laws, from the end of the war onwards (except the latest, which in 1998 committed documentaries to the grave) stated that any theatre showing should mandatorily include a full feature and a short film. The requiem for documentaries began to sound in the Sixties, when cinema owners started to perceive them as valuable time stolen from advertisement – a bona fide theft in terms of income. And so they did away with documentaries, to free up that 10- to 12-minute slot, to be filled with a dozen ads. Cinemagoers, who – not without reason – had turned against the pseudo-documentaries of the time, suffered these changes quietly. We witness the same kind of inertia, today, with television, and its massive daily dose of ads. A question thus presents itself: did cinemagoers really ‘suffer’ advertisement, or were they by that point beginning to subscribe to the false promises of occult persuasion?

In any case, we were forced to accept the facts: documentaries were no longer screened in theatres. Ever. There was a crackdown in the Sixties. The State reacted: good heavens! We must really screen these documentaries; the law tells us so. There were police checks and some of those cinema owners were forced to pay a fine. Hooray! Our celebrations didn’t last for long, however: who could have predicted that theatre owners would get clever, finding a way around it all by cutting documentaries down to an inch of their lives – just the opening credits, a couple of scenes, the end?

It wasn’t easy to accept that state of affairs. We tried our best to see the bright side: we could shoot our movies for an ideal audience – the kind of audience we dreamed of having. As a matter of fact, we rarely encountered this mythical audience – only occasionally, at festivals or conferences, and we had to make the best of those few occasions. During an interview in Germany, I said that Italian documentary filmmakers had to operate under the radar, like drug dealers. They looked at me as if I were mad, since documentaries can count on large, affectionate audiences in Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

What kind of production process was behind the documentaries?

 

The low cost of documentary production allowed more freedom. Production expenses don’t apply. There are no above-the-line costs, such as actors’ fees. You don’t need sound stages, costumes, make-up or stage props to make a documentary, and you can run it on a skeleton crew. Documentary producers won’t harangue you with their recipes for success and tend to be satisfied with a product as long as it’s good quality – not out of the goodness of their hearts, of course, but because they make their money from prizes, rather than attendance numbers. They can exercise a priori censorship by simply rejecting a subject when they feel it’s too ‘out there’ – and I mean socially, experimentally, rather than verging on the sexually obscene. Aside from camera stands, you can fit most of the equipment you need in the back of a small car, including standard lighting equipment. One time Lino managed to get hold of a dolly, and once I was lucky enough to have access to a helicopter – courtesy of ANAS, of course, rather than the producer.[4] You use a tiny amount of film (with a ratio of one to three or one to four – Nanouk used ten). Shooting only takes two to four days.

Mind you, the way that I’ve described this doesn’t scratch the surface of the effort that’s involved in making a documentary. "Se otto ore vi sembran poche...": we worked, 12, 13, sometimes 15 hours a day, we turned ourselves into slaves for the sake of best results. There was a certain fervour to the climax of a shoot, an unnameable something… an overwhelming feeling oscillating between exhilaration and neurosis, each time a cloud threatened to block the sun, or whenever an overloaded power supply momentarily cut off. Our biggest strength was versatility: the director was also in charge of production, a grip would help with production coordination and the coordinator dealt with the public when it was necessary to block a road or empty a square, a camera assistant might step in as an extra, and so on… each of us, in other words, worked the equivalent of two people’s jobs at the very least.

How to decide what the right thing to do was? We solved that problem by asking a different question: did Pasolini add anything valuable to the documentary? My own answer to the question is: yes.

 

Let’s talk about audio and its relationship to images. And what was the role of spoken word? I am asking with particular reference to your choice not to translate the dialect in Stendalì.

 

There’s no real rule of thumb: establishing a relationship between sound and image is a finishing line to strive for, sometimes easy, sometimes difficult to reach through collaboration between a director and musician. Each documentary is its own thing: La briglia sul collo uses music only in the opening titles and at the end. In other of my films there is music all the way through.

If you pay attention to the opening titles of our films you’ll find that some names frequently repeat themselves. Egisto Macchi appears the most: he was a musician who could truly interpret images through music. I am using the past tense to speak about him, since he left us, out of the blue, in the summer of 1992. I was in Puglia when he died in Montpelier and the distance between us increased my feeling of emptiness and loss. We made the soundtrack of Stendalì together; it wasn’t filmed live. Once we’d finished editing the documentary, Egisto and I travelled to Martano with our sound engineer and hired a small theatre in a local parish (this was in Maglie, if I remember correctly). Once we had gathered the women who had performed the lamentations, we showed them the film, which they received with huge emotion. Macchi then directed the women to dub themselves, and I do think they did a better job than professional actors would have.

Domenico Guaccero wrote the music for my other two ethnographical documentaries, La passione del grano and L'inceppata. He wrote gorgeous music, full of ancestral echoes reminiscent of Stravinsky, which emphasised the archaic nature of the ritual.

There are no rules or laws for spoken commentaries either, except the need to pare it down to the essentials. Dialect is a different matter entirely: it is an expression of those who speak it, a mark of identity. But what about dialects that are entirely different languages, completely impenetrable like the one spoken in Stendalì? Our choice was to entrust it to Pier Paolo Pasolini, since lamentations are a kind of poetry, with far-reaching roots that run deep into the mulch of popular belief. We could have gone for a literal translation, or subtitles, but the time needed to read them would have impaired the rhythm and the timing of images. Then again, we could’ve done nothing at all, leaving the Greek chants of Salento enshrouded in their own mystery. How to decide what the right thing to do was? We solved that problem by asking a different question: did Pasolini add anything valuable to the documentary? My own answer to the question is: yes.

 

"Editing plays a different function: it’s about understanding the secret language of images and how they relate to each other; the ability to ruthlessly assess their life expectancy, to join them together according to the cinematic rhythm they suggest, or demand. Sometimes, images can hold such a variety of purposes that you have to make that choice for them."

What kind of choices did you make in terms of editing? What about the use of sequence shots [plan-séquence] to confer a sense of time to the events represented? I’m thinking especially about the relationship between ritualistic time and cinematic time.

 

Let’s put it this way: you don’t just need a camera and film to make a movie. You need a camera, film and editing. But what is editing? To glue together a sequence of shots all you need is the right tools. Editing plays a different function: it’s about understanding the secret language of images and how they relate to each other; the ability to ruthlessly assess their life expectancy, to join them together according to the cinematic rhythm they suggest, or demand. Sometimes, images can hold such a variety of purposes that you have to make that choice for them.

 Sequence shots are something we almost never used in our documentaries; we were so absorbed by the possibilities of editing that we never really considered it. In hindsight, I think this is the crux of it: a sequence shot is a multi-frame that bypasses the need for editing, image selection and rhythm – its sequence is determined by the way the film is shot, rather than seen through the eyes of a Moviola machine. An edited sequence and a sequence shot both run on cinematic time, but a sequence shot subsumes that time, appropriates it – that’s why those who use it plan it so carefully in advance. In other words, a sequence shot is a bravura piece, a performance which uses up a lot of film, and guarantees a lot of admiration in return.

 

What compelled you to keep returning to the South? What else did you and Lino work on after Stendalì?

 

Lino and I didn’t just travel to the South to shoot ethnographical documentaries.

We went back to the South to shoot Essere donne (Cecilia Mangini, 1965), meeting the women who worked in the fields, and tobacco workers, and those who migrated north to seek work in factories, hoping for better lives.

In Fata Morgana (Lino Del Fra, 1962) we documented the arrival of Southern migrants to Milan during the years of the so-called ‘economic miracle’. We filmed them as they got off the train carrying their cardboard boxes and suitcases tied with string, and followed them as they struggled to settle in the city, poorly paid and segregated in the so-called ‘coree’.[5]

With Brindisi, ‘65 (Cecilia Mangini, 1966) we documented the impact of the newly built Monteshell petrochemical plant – a real cathedral in the desert – in the city of Brindisi, and how it had generated a new local working class, with factory workers selected not on the basis of merit but upon recommendation of eminent political personalities.

For Tommaso (Cecilia Mangini, 1969, two episodes aired on RAI) we followed a local boy on his moped runs, as he follows his dream of becoming an employee at the Monteshell plant in Brindisi.

For Comizi d’amore 80 (Lino Del Fra, 1984, 3 episodes aired on RAI) we visited workers at the Italsider plant in Taranto, who were reckoning with the evolution in gender politics that the factory work model had triggered, and spoke to the women of Lecce about abortion law.

For Domani vincerò (Cecilia Mangini, 1969, two episodes aired on RAI) we met young Sardinian men and boys born to Southern families in Central and Northern Italian towns, who sought escape from poverty and marginalisation through boxing. These amateur boxers saw fighting as a potential avenue by which to climb the social and economic ladder, and told us all about their ‘dreams of glory and revenge’.

We could’ve done even more for the South. Unfortunately, inflation kept growing year-on-year – to 15%, then 18% - devaluing the worth of money. The amount of prize money available, however, stayed the same – the Ministry never revised it upwards. So it was farewell to shooting documentaries – in the South, in the North, anywhere except Rome, one could hardly venture further than the ring road. Film costs doubled, so we switched to 16mm, blowing it up to 35mm when we went to print. In the end, our screening times were cut. All there was left to say was farewell.

We have had so many different Ministries of Culture over the years; so many different ministers have taken up their rooms in Via della Ferratella or del Collegio Romano, since the Seventies. How many lifted a finger to save the Italian documentary? The answer is zero.

So let me end this interview by remembering the golden age of the documentary. From A to Z, here are some directors who started off as documentary filmmakers: Michelangelo Antonioni, Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, Alessandro Blasetti, Luigi Comencini, Lino Del Fra, Carlo Di Carlo, Luciano Emmer, Giuseppe Ferrara, Andrea Frezza, Ugo Gregoretti, Alberto Lattuada, Marco Leto, Carlo Lizzani, Francesco Maselli, Gianfranco Mingozzi, Elio Petri, Dino Risi, Nelo Risi, Roberto Rossellini, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Florestano Vancini, Carlo Verdone, Valerio Zurlini.

 

[1] Lino Del Fra was an Italian filmmaker and screenwriter, who was married to Mangini until his death in 1997.

[2] Clara Gallini (1931–2017) was a scholar whose research included the classical world, religious folklore, tarantism, the Italian South, and Ernesto de Martino. She was a founding member of the Ernesto de Martino International Association .

[3] The sickle ritual was a harvesting ritual which appeared as part of  La passione del grano). “Harvesting was perceived as a deliberate murder,” writes De Martino, “[…] so the ritual was intended to conceal this act of killing: harvesters would pretend they were hunting a goat instead, with one of the labourers pretending to be the animal.” In the ritual of the engagement log, under the cover of night a suitor would leave a log outside the home of the girl he liked. If the family accepted him, in the morning they would take the log inside; if they didn’t, they’d roll it down the road.

[4] Mangini may have been referring to one of two ANAS and it’s hard to tell which one from the context: one is an infrastructure committee that mostly oversees motorways, the other is a charity network.

[5]  Corees were dilapidated suburbs where Southern workers lived in poor conditions, in unfit accommodations (ie, on farms left behind by local workers who had moved to the city, or in houses they built themselves overnight).

Livia Franchini is a writer and translator. She is the author of a poetry pamphlet, Our Available Magic (Makina Books, 2019) and a novel, Shelf Life (Doubleday, 2019). She is currently completing a PhD in Creative Writing, with a focus on women’s experimental writing at Goldsmiths. She lives in London.

TO ACCESS THE ITALIAN ORIGINAL:​

LA CANTA DELLE MARANE

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Making everyone despair was our passion

WRITTEN BY PIER PAOLO PASOLINI

1962, 11'
 

WITH PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY MARTHA ELISA

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY DANIELLA SHREIR

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

A sensuous and vibrant vision of a group of boys who leave home barefoot and without breakfast to congregate by a marane – a small stream – in the Roman suburbs, forming a microcosmic society in which they scavenge for food, fight, swim and play. La canta delle marane constitutes the third collaboration between Mangini and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Filmed less than a five-minute walk from his first house in Rome, his scripted narration has resonances with his novel Ragazzi di vita (1955), an ode to “pre-political rebelliousness”, to a new generation disenfranchised by the post-war Italian party system. Yet the camera which lingers for a long time over these pre-pubescent boys’ limbs has something of Pasolini’s gaze too. As the physically disinhibited but not yet disenchanted boys of La Canta move between recreation and combat, Pasolini tells of what they will become: lone, petty criminals, often imprisoned, sometimes dead. 

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The river was our mississippi

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LA BRIGLIA SUL COLLO

The great social reformers were

all rebels

THE BRIDLE ON THE NECK

1974, 14'
 

PORTUGUESE SUBTITLES BY THAÍS FERRAZ

SPANISH SUBTITLES BY JACOB ALEC GOMEZ

FRENCH SUBTITLES BY LUCAS ROUSSEL

DUTCH SUBTITLES BY SOUKY DE WOLF

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Seven-year-old Fabio Spada is narrated into our awareness with pedestrian, bureaucratic details: the name of his parents, the exact location of his family’s cramped living situation in a tower block in the Roman suburbs, and this suburb’s transport connections.
 

The film consists of interviews with the proverbial “village” involved in raising this child, who has been deemed a misfit by his school. Fabio’s father, propped up at a bar and raising a glass to the camera crew, recounts his sons’ misdeeds with amused detachment, including his attempted murder of the family’s pet fish a week earlier. His mother struggles to talk about her son as she changes her youngest child, the others causing havoc around her – and asks the film crew whether they’re going to edit out the chaos. A neighbour, meanwhile, notes Fabio’s lack of respect for his mother and fear of his father.

 

The facts of this child’s life soon turn into an interrogation of the state and the paradoxical nature of the rebel in society, a category which, it is noted, has historically included saints, revolutionaries and social reformers. Fabio himself is often present, listening quietly as those around him cast their judgment on him. Yet Mangini gives the space of half of the film over to Fabio, who tells his own story and manages to charm through the art of mimicry and his outlandish fantasies of punishing the adults who have wronged him.

If you liked this film, please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

However, rebels are always bad

for themselves

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CECILIA MANGINI & AGNÈS VARDA IN CONVERSATION

Cecilia Mangini and Agnès Varda meet for the first time in 2011. Video via Big Sur, immagini e visioni

In French, subtitled in Italian and English (by Daniella Shreir)

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Endnotes

If you liked what you read and watched, please consider donating so we can keep this service free and available worldwide. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

Programmed by Daniella Shreir, Another Gaze

Many thanks to Gianluca Sciannameo, for giving us permission to translate his wonderful interview with Mangini. To Allison Donahue and Livia Franchini for their writing and translation, and for working with our edits so graciously.

To J Makary for her editorial insight, and to Hana Gudelis for her help fixing subtitling problems.

To Marta Elisa, Lucas Roussel, Rees Arnott-Davies, Jacob Alec Gomez, Charlotte Ponzio, Thais Ferraz, for their work on the subtitles, and their enthusiasm for the joys and trials that come with translation. To Fanny Magnabal for checking my French translations.

To Carmen Accaputo and Andrea Meneghelli at the Cineteca Bologna, and Alessandro Vitto at Videa Spa for all their help in providing (and sometimes scanning!) these films. To Arnaud Hée for his enthusiasm about Mangini and his sharing of resources.

Website design: Daniella Shreir

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