Europe, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

Q&A: Women Are Not Wallpaper

Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli interview filmmaker ERIK GANDINI

ROME, Sep 15 2009 (IPS) - Something new is appearing on the Italian screen. About time, some may say.

A poster of the film. Credit:

A poster of the film. Credit:

A documentary titled Videocracy by Erik Gandini shows the face of Italian television, about 90 percent of which is controlled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi through his private media empire Mediaset and the state television RAI.

Dissenting voices in RAI have been silenced since Berlusconi was first elected in 1994. And on Mediaset, gossip and cheap entertainment rule, and women have become decoration.

Artists are now speaking up, Gandini says in a telephone interview from Stockholm. Such as Lorella Zanardo who made the documentary Il Corpo Delle Donne. “Since we put our video on our website we have had more than 250,000 people (downloading the film).”

Produced in Sweden with the support of Scandinavian media organisations, Videocracy has been shown at the last Venice and Toronto film festivals. A trailer offered to Mediaset and RAI was not broadcast because it was considered a “political message” against the government. The film couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for Berlusconi, in the thick of sex scandals.

Gandini talks about the humiliating use of women’s bodies on screen and the brainwashing Italians have been subject to for three decades by Berlusconi’s TV empire.

IPS: You say in the film that we have to step into Italy’s television in order to understand it. But you are an Italian who has stepped out of Italy… ERIK GANDINI: It is very difficult to make documentaries in Italy because television doesn’t finance them, and if they are shown at all on television, it is very late at night. Meanwhile, Scandinavia has a long tradition of documentary making. Documentaries here have more dignity, and they are funded by television.

In Sweden, documentaries are premiered in cinemas, and offered several times a week on television at prime time. On state television, they are considered a key part of society’s wellbeing. It could be the same in Italy; it is a question of choice. But this choice has never been made, and documentaries have been marginalised.

IPS: Could you have made this film in Italy? EG: I am Italian, born and raised. I am not an exile in Sweden; I travel very often to Italy. But my point of view, as an Italian that lives outside, becomes a particular lens that allows me to interpret reality in a different way from many Italians who are accustomed to it. I think that a fundamental element of art is to see everyday things with different eyes.

IPS: How do Italians see the reality you have portrayed in your film? EG: They are used to a reality that has become normal, to the fact that women are reduced to objects on television. But I am convinced that if this film has found an audience in Italy it is because many, like me, share my views. Because my films shows a sad, almost scary, behind-the-scenes in contrast with what television offers: an innocuous, happy lifestyle to imitate. To reveal this behind-the-scenes is very dangerous for television, which has boycotted the trailer of my film. But I think many share my concerns.

IPS: Given the lack of diversity in Italian media, do you think art and films are a way to wake people up? EG: Absolutely. I think that criticism and debate have been marginalised to the reserved oasis of newspapers and words. That is why recovering the language of television and cinema to express criticism is very important. Because in a ‘videocracy’ like Italy, images have the maximum power and, in order to say something important, you have to repossess the visual language.

IPS: But it is also true that Berlusconi’s voters are not going to flood theatres to see your film. Isn’t this a case of preaching to the converted? EG: I don’t agree. I have been present at some theatres showing my film, and I have seen many young people. Most of the audience of this film is young people who don’t normally go to the cinema. Many have told me things like: ‘I teach at school, and would like to take my students to see your film’.

At Io, Donna (a magazine published by Il Corriere Della Sera newspaper), they have given the film the maximum rating and have recommended it is shown at schools. Most of the people who appear in the film are famous. So I also think some will go to watch it because of that, and they will discover a different world. It is true that the risk is to become a sermon for the converted, but this story is told in a language that reaches many people.

IPS: The film shows very hard images of women. What do you think of the role of women in Italy? Why do you think Italian women do not rebel? EG: In entering the world of Italian television, I reveal women as wallpaper, not as thinking human beings with their own will. I have two daughters, and if they grew up thinking their body is an instrument to reach success in Italy, I’d suffer an endless sadness.

The time has come for Italian women to get furious and change the situation. The numbers speak for themselves. Italy is very low in the international gender equality indexes, and it is clear that this is the result of the cultural revolution brought by commercial television.

Every family, group, social community develops a value system. In Italy, the value system dictates that women’s bodies are used as a marketing tool. The portrayal of women on television is directly linked with Berlusconi himself. He, as the man who controls television, has projected and imposed his own idea of women. His is such a machoist, anachronistic mentality that it has become impossible not so see the linkage between him and 30 years of television.

People who work at Mediaset have told me he is very much involved in the programming. It goes to the point that because he doesn’t like green, you never see green in the background of Mediaset shows.

Some say that it is not his fault if Italians like tits and bottoms. But I think it is not accidental. Who creates the television culture, who decides about which programmes to show, has a huge responsibility towards our children. Who chooses to portray our country like this should take responsibility. Confronted with the fact that Italy is so backward, changes have to be made in the culture of television. We absolutely shouldn’t give up and say that this is part of ‘Italianity’, part of our genes.

IPS: You have been called the Michael Moore of Italy, do you agree? EG: I respect what Moore has done. The documentary has become influential thanks to him. But stylistically we are very different. Moore comes from an Anglo-Saxon tradition, and his films are the result of a journalistic evolution. His films are narrated, very verbal, while my way of doing things is European. Images dominate in my films. It is an observer’s viewpoint. I try to tell a story so that the spectator can figure out half the film in his or her head. Moore illustrates his words with images; I try to show a situation in an emotive way, not just by rhetoric and logic.

IPS: As you show in your film, it all started with a housewife who took off her clothes on camera, how will it all finish? EG: I hope I can inspire young people to do what I have done, that is, to refuse being just passive spectators and transform the media… to refuse to quit. To refuse to say ‘I can only watch, I cannot do anything.’ The time has come to take the liberty of saying what we want the world to be.

*Miren Gutierrez is IPS Editor-in-Chief.

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