The Universal Forum of Cultures, a major cultural happening organized by UNESCO and intended to take place every three years in a different city, was supposed to be the cherry on the cake of Naples’ internationalization policy, and occur in 2013. In 2011, the well-known songwriter Roberto Vecchioni was named Universal Forum of Cultures’s president. He resigned after a few months because «it was all too knotty». Then, Sergio Marotta, president of the Italian Institute of Philosophical Studies, took over; he went through the same fate, and was replaced by Ambassador Francesco Caruso… Who also eventually quit, to be then replaced by a special commissioner. The same story happened to the artistic director, so that 2013 elapsed without Universal Forum of Cultures, and its calls for project proposals were published at a slow and late pace, with half of the originally allocated financial resources. This year, however, a happy exception takes place. Through one of the few calls that it launches, the Forum selects a project of Cinema e Diritti – a Naples based association for cinema and rights that had organized during the previous six years a low-cost human rights film festival in the town – and funds a special edition dedicated to media activists and socially committed filmmakers from the Mediterranean. A masterstroke, so as for the Universal Forum of Cultures not to appear totally unnecessary?
Not even Maurizio Del Bufalo, the president of the association Cinema e Diritti, the festival´s organiser, was expecting to be selected. I was in Cecina, at Arci’s Antiracism Meeting, it was the month of July this year, when I read on the Internet the results of the selection. It was a Saturday morning and I rushed to phone him. «The only project on cinema selected by the Universal Forum of Cultures!» I said. A real gift, but a little poisoned one, because Cinema e Diritti was then requested to set up in three months – with the summer break in between – an innovative event, something between a film festival and a cultural-political forum. Furthermore, the funding agency had allocated Maurizio’s association a pavilion at the Fiera dOltremare, Mussolini’s Overseas Exhibition Park built to honour the achievements of fascism’s colonies, certainly a beautiful place, which is slowly getting back on its feet after years of decline and degradation, but far away from Naples centre. And so, in addition to the limited time available to organize the event, the association had to deal with a complicated urban location. Neapolitans, however, when they are in between pressure and complications, might show their distinctive skills in getting things done, and so it was for this festival, even if all the organizers of the association have been working for free, and the donors’ bureaucracy was particularly demanding.
This is how the festival got to take place between October 20 to 25, 2014, bringing together thirty guests from about twenty countries, most of them being young of age, radical in their intentions and brilliant in their creations. That week was a special one for filmmaking lovers. Rehām al-Ghazālī, a Gazan Palestinian, has shown crude and vivid pictures of last summer´s Israeli bombings, before getting stuck five weeks in Cairo on her way back, due to the closure of the Rafah border crossing imposed by the new Egyptian regime. Chen Alon, Israeli, known to be a Refuzenics opposing to serve his Army in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has instead brought videos of Theatre of the Oppressed workshops he made at Occupation’s checkpoints. There have also been characters like Nadīr Bouhmouch, the Moroccan author of My Makhzen and me, a witness-movie on the 2011 youth who challenged the leaders of their country. Al Makhzen, besides carrying the meaning of “warehouse”, indicates the Moroccan State Treasury, and by extension the corrupt Power tightly standing around the king. Nadīr was also the first Moroccan film director to join Fi Sahara, a film festival that takes place in the Saharawi refugee camps located in the Algerian desert, and which was represented in Naples by its director Maria Carrión. Moreover, Tomás Muñoz, a member of the Madrid 15-M movement, better known as Los Indignados, has presented his video-documentary research on the new forms of labour precariousness among young people of his country, while Greek Tsismetzoglou Georgia, who was part of the team of media activists during the occupation of Athens’ Syntagma Square, and French Charlotte Ricco, Marseille’s young director from the association Tabasco Vidéo, have told of their new productions on women’s activism in the Mediterranean. Among those young hot heads there has also been Rafāt al-Zaqout, who had launched a famous Internet campaign satire against Bashār al-Asad using wooden puppets: Top Goon. The episodes of Top Goon, increasingly getting noir with the progressive growth of violence in the Syrian streets, were very much followed on Youtube in 2011, and the authors were wanted by the regime (Rafāt had kept his identity anonymous, and called himself Jamīl, it was with this nickname that I had known him). Once some of the cities of northern Syria were liberated, Rafāt and his group began to tour them with a travelling theatre kit speaking of hope and freedom, but the arrival of the Islamist brigades forced them to close the cabin and sack his puppets. Together with Rafāt, that week we’ve talked about Syria at the Political Sciences Department of the Naples’ University Federico II, in the presence of Salām Kawākibi, deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative. Well, these were simply some of the festival guests.
The festival has been in fact a combination of three formats: debates in universities and schools, public seminars per Mediterranean sub-region of origin of the filmmakers, and the film competition with its screenings, and winners. The winners of this year’s competition have been: The Land Between (feature film), by David Fedele, on the migrants trying to cross the barrier that divides Ceuta and Melilla from the rest of Africa; Précipice (short film), by Nadia Tuījer, which tells the weird story of two Tunisian shepherds forced to share a sheep for the ʿEid feast; Ritratti abusivi, “Illegal portraits” (Mention Arrigoni-Mer Khamis), by Romano Montesarchio, describing the living conditions of the inhabitants of an illegally occupied neighbourhood in Castel Volturno, one of the most degraded outskirts of Naples, and who live under the present and tangible threat of displacement; and Fascism Inc. (Mention Youth), by the Greek filmmaker Aris Tchatzistefanou, a documentary on the rise of the new European neo-fascist movements, like the Greek Golden Dawn.
Besides the three formats I have earlier mentioned, there was also a set time for exchange among the guests themselves: Nagwān al-Ashwal, Egyptian activist, followed and facilitated, together with Maurizio Gibertini from Officina Multimediale (a multimedia workshop centre), the meetings that media activists and filmmakers held every two days to talk about what they could do together. The central idea they discussed was the convention of a Mediterranean Forum of Rights in 2015, involving first of all documentary and fiction filmmakers, but also political activists who do not necessarily work with images. The idea is to give continuity to this space that has opened in Naples. A difficult challenge and a complicated path, because this city is first of all a complicated arena: for this cultural stuff there is little money around, while many are the political actors who seek to drag their own benefit out of it. It will therefore be necessary for the Forum promoters to make a qualitative jump, both contentwise and in organisational terms. Cinema e Diritti is animated by a great spirit of voluntarism and denouncement; it shall however now have to become more professional and more politically sophisticated in order to manage such an ambitious gathering.
The flaws of this year’s edition shall have to be avoided. During last October’s festival, for example, it happened that while in the room there were filmmakers of a particular Southern or Eastern sub-region discussing their work and the challenges of their nations, organizers chose instead to show documentaries on that same region made by European directors, regardless of the attending guests; some of those documentaries had even an “Orientalist” touch. Or: guests were invited to meet with the press, associations and festivals of Campania, and they found at the meeting two or three local persons only. 2014 edition was a pilot experimentation… Now it will have to make much more of a committed team they are, and adopt a more incisive political perspective.
«Our festival has never been an initiative about cinema only, but also an action for and of substantial civic participation. For this, I wish that our project of a Mediterranean Forum of Rights shall generate a stable place of gathering and listening to all the resistance movements of the region fighting for human rights, to break the isolation of those who are in the frontline, and create solidarity where it reigns the indifference» says Maurizio Del Bufalo. Maurizio is a great friend of mine, someone who gives body and soul for engaged cinema, and who mistrusts everyone in Naples. Naples is a problematic and tiring city, where appearance, provincialism and self referentiality never die… The following week, I will again return to Naples for the tenth anniversary of the Anna Lindh Foundation. At theater Mercadante, elegant eighteenth-century theater, celebrations on October 29 will begin with the arrival on the stage of the band of the Penitentiary Police, playing Western-style music by Ennio Morricone (what have Western-style and prisons with the Mediterranean to do?). and end with an interminable bestowing ceremony of the eleven awards of Fondazione Mediterraneo, the Anna Lindh Head of Network in Italy, before the famous songwriter Pino Daniele could sing four hits in front of an accurately selected and highly diplomatic audience! In other words, a comedy!
The work done by Cinema e Diritti, on the other hand, is unique and grassrooted, because it wants to give a voice to those who don’t have it, and it speaks of cursed places such as Terra dei Fuochi, the so-called “Land of Fires” where Camorra has filled the countryside of illegal chemical dumping sites, as well as of urban decay, with its Roma camps or illegally occupied neighbourhoods, or of dictatorships and torture, bringing witnesses and critical voices. Schools do benefit a lot from the work of Cinema e Diritti, and that Thursday, October 23, for example, there will be more than a thousand students in the hall to listen to Rehām al-Ghazālī, Lebanese artist Rīmā Māroun and Federica Ramacci, the founder of the Atlas of Conflicts and Wars. Encouraging teachers and students in the hall will be an elegant lady, Sabrina Innocenti, a member of Cinema e Diritti ‘s team, a «teacher with a past as a union leader and a future as a human rights activist, one of the strengths of the team of the Neapolitan festival» confirms Maurizio.
«Tell us what you want from us, be clear, go to the point, and we will get involved! Otherwise, we will turn our back!» suddenly stirs us up during one of the guests’ working session Boris Balta, Bosnian, founder of the cinema festival of Tuzla, who is tired of the usual conferences and ready to give himself only to those who want to do concrete things that defy reality and tell the truth. Becoming the capital city of the Mediterranean artists working for rights, and nurturing the ambitions of young and courageous talents is with no doubt a challenge for a town like Naples. And it is a challenge for a so far low-cost festival such as the Cinema e Diritti association’s festival. Giovanni Carbone, a great friend of the festival, knows that his city’s people have to contend their space with Camorra and Masonry, which are in fact present everywhere, in windbag administrations, pseudo-foundations, subventioned enterprises and associations of charlatans. The desire to send everything to hell is always knocking at the door, ready to come out on the surface at any moment, but when you host films about the most forgotten among the poor, or about the bravest activists who defy cowardice and violence of Power, then your load becomes lighter and you cannot give up any more.
Will there be a 2015 Mediterranean Forum of Rights in Naples? «We are ready» tells me the Egyptian film director and activist Hāla Galāl, who lost his sister during the revolution of 2011 because, wounded and in serious condition, she was denied treatment at the hospital, to which the regime imposed not to assist demonstrators. Hāla is now a mother to her sister’s sons, and makes movies to demand rights. Naples is a city that deserves a social and cultural revolution. Were it only for Hāla and her story, it would be worth trying to light it up.
Published by Babelmed (http://eng.babelmed.net/cultura-e-societa/36-mediterraneo/13306-oh-filmmaking-save-us.html).