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Casting for television showgirls, from Erik Gandini’s film Videocracy, 2009 Credit: Atmo, www.atmo.se
Documentary maker Erik Gandini tells Giulio D’Eramo why appearance matters more than truth in Italy
22 erik gandini – television premier
Erik Gandini is the acclaimed documentary maker of Surplus: Terrorised into Being Consumers and Sacrificio: Who Betrayed Che Guevara. He was born in northern Italy and now lives in Sweden. His new documentary Videocracy is a critical portrait of the Italian broadcast media and its impact on the country’s culture. The film’s release last year coincided with embarrassing revelations about Berlusconi’s romantic escapades and went on to win the Toronto film festival award for best documentary and the special jury award at the Sheffield film festival. It has also been a surprise hit at the Italian box office.
Videocracy is an overview of the past 30 years of Italian television, starting with the 1976 local television show Spogliamoci insieme (Let’s undress together), which was an instant hit and inspired some of Berlusconi’s Mediaset blockbusters of the following decades. Through exclusive interviews with prominent media figures in the country, as well as wannabe media stars, the documentary paints a dark picture of the superficial, discriminating and cynical nature of the television world and its impact on politics. It explores what is known as the Italian anomaly – the political monopoly of the broadcast media in a western democracy. Thirty years of being bombarded with images of a world where girls dance semi-naked all day long and everybody is happy, smiling and beautiful have taken their toll on the political landscape in Italy. With the unpleasant knowledge that what has happened in Italy could happen elsewhere, Videocracy serves as a cautionary tale, as well as a chilling account of Italian contemporary history.
Giulio D’Eramo: Is the documentary an attack on Berlusconi or on the monolithic media structure?
Erik Gandini: When I make a movie I never do it against something or somebody. As a director, I usually try to turn an abstract idea into a story, not in a journalistic way but as a visual description of a real situation, to allow viewers to experience it first hand. In the case of Videocracy there are a few interconnecting ideas that I wanted to represent, namely the overwhelming power of television in Italy and the culture that it transmits. So Videocracy tells the story of what lies behind the shiny culture of Italian television, where words are constantly defeated by images and impressions. I show what Silvio [Berlusconi] would never show: the cynical and greedy backstage of his TV world, in which everybody is happy and girls dance naked all day long.
That the movie that came out of this was in many aspects terrifying – some American critics called it the best horror movie of the year – is only due to the reality I represent. To answer the question – the documentary is an