The banned screening of GIAC: Only in Italy?

 BILL EMMOTT

Article reproduced from La Stampa. Saturday 2nd February 2013

Well, I would not have been surprised if it had been a government led by Silvio Berlusconi that had banned me from holding my Italian premiere at the MAXXI art museum. Having been sued twice by him for defamation, this would have counted as normal. But I am astonished that the planned premiere in Rome on February 13th of my documentary on Italy, “Girlfriend in a Coma” has now been cancelled by Fondazione MAXXI and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

The premiere was to be an event to which only invited guests could attend. Those guests were planned to include the leaders of all the political parties, as well as top businessmen, journalists, ambassadors, interviewees from the film: you can imagine the sort of people.

It was being hosted by Terravision, the airport-bus company that is registered in Britain because of the difficulties of running a business in Italy. Terravision had also hosted a launch for my book, “Forza, Italia” in Rome in November 2010.

So I find myself asking: would this have happened in any other western democracy? The reasoning provided by MAXXI is that as a private foundation running a museum under the control of the Ministry of Culture, they are not allowed to host events that could be considered to be “political”, given the imminence of the general elections.

The oddest point is that no one at MAXXI has actually watched our film, nor even asked to see it. But anyway, would this have happened at the British Museum or MAXXI’s contemporary art equivalents in London, Tate Modern or the Institute for Contemporary Arts (where we actually held our UK premiere in November)? The answer is certainly not.

If an Italian journalist, even working with an English director, had made a film about Britain (perhaps called “Ugly Boyfriend in a Coma”) and had booked a cinema in one of those museums to show the film a few weeks before the British elections, no one would have cared. No ministry would have intervened. No private foundation would have got worried about the film being political. Just the opposite: they would have relished the attention, the relevance, the fact that they, as a cultural institution were participating in one of the fundamental principles of democracy: freedom of expression.

So what can I conclude from this? I conclude firstly that the people at MAXXI and the Cultural Ministry are very cautious and defensive. They have banned a film without ever having watched it, just in case it might be controversial.

Secondly, I conclude that in this defensive mindset, too many Italians, which especially means those in politics and in official public positions, do not want to confront and understand the truth and reality of what has happened in Italy over the past 20 years.

Of course, our film is not the only version of that truth. But it is an honest, independent attempt to open Italians’ eyes to the view of Italy held by this sympathetic, affectionate foreign observer, to help Italians and foreigners alike to understand the situation in Italy and what needs to be done about it. It is intended to provoke a debate. And if the right time to provoke that debate, in the capital of Italy, is not an election campaign, then I don’t know what is the right time.

I sincerely hope that MAXXI and the Cultural Ministry change their minds and reverse their foolish decision. But in any case, Girlfriend in a Coma will be shown in Italy during the election campaign. It will be shown in many Italian cities. Just perhaps not at MAXXI, with an audience of political and business leaders of the sort that museum should have been proud to receive.

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