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VENICE 2009 Venice Days / SIC, Sweden

Erik Gandini’s “Videocracy” stirring up healthy controversy

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Erik Gandini’s “Videocracy” stirring up healthy controversy

Italian-born Swedish transplant Erik Gandini has made a splash on the Lido with his investigative documentary Videocracy, on the media empire that Italian president Silvio Berlusconi created, which in turn fed the Berlusconi political empire. The Venice Days/International Critics’ Week screening was such a sell-out that a special second screening had to be scheduled.

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Gandini says he made the film, produced by Sweden’s Atmo (with Zentropa), initially for his Swedish friends. “They used to laugh about Italy,” he said at the Q&A. “But I wanted to show them there was nothing to laugh about. In fact, they’ve stopped laughing, and when Videocracy came out in Sweden, it was dubbed ‘the horror film of the year’”.

For foreigners, Italian television with its endless semi-clad or naked women is a hard concept to grasp. To Gandini, the entire culture of “veline” – the aforementioned women who dance but must never speak on variety shows – begins with a seemingly harmless programme from the mid-1980s. A quiz show, it featured housewives who would strip when call-in contestants would answer questions correctly. “We used to joke about the show, it was ridiculous. We didn’t know we were watching the future,” said Gandini.

Shortly thereafter, Berlusconi founded the first private TV stations, whose programming was all variations on the same theme, with the premise of bringing fun and happiness to Italy. What was created, however, according to Gandini, was a “culture of banality that seems innocuous, but is not. It is a dangerous force. This TV culture created Berlusconi and got him where he is now.”

Videocracy shows moments of many of these shows, but focuses on three main characters. The first is Ricky, a young man dying to sing and dance his way to TV immortality. The second is Lele Mora, the foremost television agent in Italy, and a declared fascist. The third is Fabrizio Corona, an unscrupulous paparazzo who has cornered a new business. Besides selling scandalous pictures to magazines, he sells them directly to the photographed subjects, who pay thousands to keep them from being published. (Corona has even spent 80 days in prison for extortion.)

That Gandini gained easy access to Mora and Corona is indicative of this monopolizing industry that the director says has a blatant monopoly on itself. “It wasn’t hard to shoot in the TV studios either,” he explained. “This world is all about exposing itself, that’s how it works. They’re happy to have exposure abroad, any kind of exposure”.

What emerges is a culture that with few limits or morals, in which any action, once immortalized on television, is immediately absorbed and justified (like Berlusconi’s recent sex scandals). This problem, however, is at the root of television’s overall power, which glorifies events through endless media play, often diverting attention from much more serious matters.

Videocracy cost €600,000 to make and is being released today in Italy by Fandango. However, the film’s trailer was banned from television, both Berlusconi’s channels (Mediaset) and state broadcaster RAI. Which in Italy comes as no surprise to anyone.

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