I don’t want my films to become conscience-cleaning tools. Exposure is not enough, people need to speak for themselves. In the US, the Democrats are marginalizing their own followers: the older white males are the obstacle to change in both parties.
At Visions du Reel, the Italian film-maker goes on to talk about the political situation in the US. He feels exhausted by the relentless barrage of nihilism on social media, but he sees some signs of hope in the new members of Congress and the anti-gun law movement. Having a family in the US he is concerned about passing on a legacy to young people through his films.
And key to doing that is to reach wider audiences beyond the festivals and especially around the US, which is the most difficult place to reach ordinary cinemas.
Speaking for others, he says, is patronizing, and he is planning an unmoderated discussion with the Black Panthers.
Besides being tired he also feels a need to re-consider his work in general. Films are watched by spectators – but is that good enough when the need is for political activism? The emotional bonds he keeps with the people in his films seem to demand action, but once a film is released it has its own second life. Roberto Minervini spoke to The Prisma.
What do you think of Trump’s America now, are you planning to make more films?
This constant bombardment of negativity and nihilism is sucking the life out of people, I feel I don’t have more energy to go on. It’s extremely difficult when you are being pounded with lies every day, and they are doing it so effectively through social media. Snippets of information from Trump, without a single positive feature. I will continue, but now I need to recharge my batteries. And living in the south, my car was vandalised for having a Not my President sticker on it. It reminds me of Italy in the ‘70s – the Years of Lead (Anni di Piombo). Non-white and anti-Trump people need to keep quiet to avoid it.
Even though there are new forces emerging, Alexandria Ocasio – Cortez for example, it often seems that the Democrats are resisting them.
Absolutely, they are marginalising her and Ilhan Omar, their own elected members, Obama said it recently. It seems as if the cancer is metastasising inside the party. And it’s one reason why Trump won, because he had a very clear centre-right position and never shifted, whereas Hillary was shifting around. It’s happened in many countries: The Left has struggled because they kept looking for the middle ground at the expense of their own supporters.
There was prejudice against Clinton as a woman, but no-one who represented the system could have beaten Trump. And they were not willing to support Bernie Sanders.
Do you see any positive signs of change in the US?
There’s a generational shift, you saw it with the reaction after the Florida high school shootings, the anti – gun law movement among young people, the election of AOC and of young Muslim and other women to Congress. The older white males in the Party are the obstacle to change in both parties. And one of my roles as a film-maker is to be of service, to pass the baton to the younger generation, to create a legacy for them, which means being political.
Despite what you said about feeling exhausted – how do you see your film-making developing in the present political context?
I will continue as an observer from inside – because I am an insider. Sometimes I wonder if I should use a more fictionalized approach – a window has opened at the moment, and my work is being seen at festivals and cinemas, but not in the US. And that is a problem, because that is where the dialectic needs to happen. So, what language do I need to use to make that happen, to be heard? It’s easy to shut me down, and I don’t know how to move on yet.
Most festival films don’t make it to a wider audience.
This is not my target, it’s like preaching to the choir! But I want to reach the people who would never think about these issues without being pushed. It’s hard but my films are reaching ordinary cinemas in many countries.
We are trying to put together a round table with the Black Panthers, but without moderators, because it’s time to speak not to patronize. Exposure is not enough, it’s how to give voice to the people, but not speaking on their behalf.
Do you feel yourself Italian or American or both?
Both, of course I’m Italian but English is my 2nd language. I care about America, my kids were born there.
Italian is close to Latino, how do you feel about the migration from Mexico and Central America?
I lived and studied in Spain for many years, so actually English is my 3rd language. But the Wall issue is tragic, just a non-issue, a trick for his re-election, declaring a National Emergency out of nowhere. He needs to build a piece of wall just to meet a campaign promise, that’s how rotten politics has become in America.
Obama brought back a sense of decency and bi-partisanship, but the decency has already gone. But at least the whole world can see, and history is cyclical so things will change.
Separating families and putting kids in cages – it’s like America doesn’t care about its image anymore.
Trump certainly doesn’t. But I wonder when I present my films, what Europeans think when they see this and look at their own immigration crisis. But if they say it isn’t as bad, that’s minimisation and the start of a Tsunami.
If you count the 30,000 bodies at the bottom of the Mediterranean, Europe has a worse situation.
Exactly, but comparisons are patronizing, it’s speaking on behalf of people. I don’t see why a Syrian person would say “We’re doing better than a Mexican person in America, it’s absurd, and that’s why the dialogue among white people can only go so far, so we are doing different screenings, in black neighbourhoods, otherwise it’s a too limited range of action.
What worries me about my films is that I don’t want them to become conscience-cleaning tools, because raising awareness means taking action and being of service. Sometimes I worry that the film medium is inherently limited because the audience is a spectator. Film instils emotions, and personal reactions that don’t translate into action. I don’t know if it’s planting the seeds of change. My films come from things that I’ve witnessed, I still have a relationship with the people in these films so they should be triggers for active participation – cinema has to be political but also militant, militancy is very important.