Winner, on June 9, of the Italian Golden Globe as best documentary, winner of the 56th Festival dei Popoli in Florence, premiered on May 7 at Addis Film Festival in Ethiopia, Valerio Ciriaci‘s feature “If only I were That warrior” has captured the attention of the international press.
On August 12, 2012 in the city of Affile it was inaugurated a monument in memory of General Rodolfo Graziani, a leading figure of the fascist regime that led the Italian colonization of Ethiopia, blotting of countless massacres and bloodshed, and therefore considered a war criminal by ONU.
The town of Affile, which is only 80 km from Rome, decided to celebrate the memory of Marshal Graziani that spent his last years in there, building a shrine that has raised international controversy, especially among the Ethiopian community.
Valerio Ciriaci with his first feature film “If only I were That warrior”, recounts the events that have taken place after the construction of this monument: the dismay and protest of the Ethiopian population and the distancing of the Italian Government.
What does the title “If only I were that warrior” mean to you? Who wish he’d been a warrior?
The title comes from Verdi’s Aida first verse. “Se quel guerrier io fossi” is what the Egyptian warrior Radames says, wishing he could conquer Ethiopia and free his beloved Aida. In our case the warrior is a colonial soldier, whose responsibilities are often hiding behind the old saying “Italians are good people”. A self-comforting myth originated after World War II, widely used to conceal the darkest chapters of our history, such as the part we played in the Holocaust and the campaigns in Africa. This warrior may also be the Fascist general Rodolfo Graziani, guilty of many war crimes though in Affile, a small town near Rome, is remembered as a hero and to whom the town dedicated a monument paid with the tax-payers’ money.
Not an easy topic. When and how did you decide to talk about it in a documentary?
Not easy at all. It took over three years to make the documentary and of course the main challenge was finding funds, as with all independent enterprises. I was at a conference organized by the Calandra Institute and Primo Levi Center of New York on February 19 2013 when the idea of making this documentary came to be. There were many historians and members of the Ethiopian community in the US. At the conference they talked about the war in Ethiopia and the Addis Abeba massacre of Feb. 19 1937 and finally the monument dedicated to Graziani raised a few months prior by the mayor of Affile.
Seeing the Ethiopian community’s reaction I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible in the year 2012 to honor a fascist general whose hands were stained with so much blood. The film came as a way to answer that question and personally, it was a moment of growth.
One interesting aspect of your work is the change of perspective through the narrators: several main voices whose eyes and stories personalize the main story you wanted us to hear. Who feels the closest to you?
Trying to portray a dialogue on memory in a film takes many points of view and opposing testimonies. Three main characters stand out: Mulu, the president of the Ethiopian community of Rome, Nicola, the grandson of a former Italian colonist in Ethiopia, and Giuseppe, a FAO agronomist who’s been working in Ethiopia for many years. Very different characters among themselves and from me. I don’t feel close to any of them, but I find their perspective very interesting. I could say Mulu makes the biggest impression, because it gives the film a specific outline. Seeing her there, in Affile, head help up high before the monument was very moving.
Italians and Africans have always been intertwined, historically, politically, geographically; after researching into the past and present of their relationship, what’s your idea about the future?
For the past ten years the economical and political relations between Italy and Ethiopia have been good. Italy invests a lot of money on joint projects for the development of Ethiopia. That doesn’t erase the many years of oppression, though, especially because nobody was ever charged for the horrible war crimes. Italy doesn’t have a conscious memory of what happened over those years, which allows for the manipulation of the real nature of that invasion by people who have their own interests in that.
We showed many points of view. Memories of that time in history are often in opposition, and they all deserved to be shown. Ultimately, though, I think what is left is a message of condemnation for the crimes committed by Graziani in Ethiopia. We show the evidence: the telegrams between Mussolini and Graziani that set off the Addis Abeba and Debra Libanos massacre, for instance.
Mulu, an Ethiopian woman who’s been living in Italy for over ten years, has been following the Affile case and keeping her community informed through her radio broadcast. Do you think, had Italians been in her place, they would have displayed the same sense of patriotism and defense of their history?
Abroad people tend to feel closer to their Country and their history. But I do believe Italians would act the same way if a Nazi General guilty of thousands of killings in our Country was dedicated a monument. Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia has left countless wounds in the collective memory of Ethiopians. Without a real reconciliation, the wounds have been left open. Which probably explains why few people became enraged for the monument in Affile. There is no consciousness of our colonial past, and far too often the crimes are denied.
Kidane Alemayehu, Executive Director of Global Alliance For Justice, has come up with a proposal: since these crimes of war have never been made up for to the Ethiopian people, some of the poorest in the world, Italy should pay back needy Ethiopians through social projects. What do you think of that?
I’m not an expert, but when it comes to rebuilding after a war I must agree with Kidane, Italy could have done more after the occupation of the Country. Today’s situation is complex, with Italy being involved in many projects in Ethiopia through the EU, the World Bank and the UN. Monitoring the money and resources flowing in would be tricky, as they may not end in the actual projects, but in the hands of the people at power. It is not a mere economical factor, though. Rebuilding and repairing should come along with an official admission of our colonial responsibilities. The State and institutions can do much in that sense, starting from adding to the school programs this page of our history for the new generations.
Africa used to be a dream destination for Italians, of exotic beauty (natural and human), as well as a wild place to civilize and free from slavery; now the tables are turned, Africans come to our Country in hopes of a better life. What do you think of this change of migration between Italy and Africa?
The character of Mulu is important in that sense. She got to Italy in 1992, and soon faced the challenges of being a refugee. From getting a visa, to finding a job with her school degree, to housing and countless more difficulties. Our Country’s history void made her an outcast, she even had to witness the idolization of a man whose hands are stained with the blood of her people. Our invasions and colonial policies played a role in the ethnic conflicts and dictatorships that are still afflicting the Horn of Africa and Libya. That, we should never forget.
Are you working on some new projects?
Yes, quite a few actually! Right now I’m working on a new documentary that will take place between Italy and USA, between the past and the present. Meantime we’ll have the next screenings of “If I only were that warrior” on July 4th in Prato, Italy and on July 14th in Isola Polvese (Trasimeno) Italy.
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