Director Daniele Vicari discusses Diaz Don’t Clean Up This Blood.
Broken Shark: It seems unimaginable that this could happen to innocent people. When you first heard about this, how did it make you feel - both as an Italian and as a human - and then what first made you think about making a film about it?
Daniele Vicari: Excuse me for correcting you, but whether the people in Diaz and Bolzaneto were innocent or guilty, they suffered an unbearable injustice. In a democratic country, if you are arrested, you must be respected as a human being even if you’re a murderer - unless you directly put the life of policemen, or anyone else at risk - no-one can massacre you at will. Otherwise we might as well change the name of Democracy, because it serves no purpose. The first time I thought about doing a film about Diaz was when, in November 2008 the court of Genoa announced the initial verdict. The police officers were acquitted, but that verdict recognized the extreme violence enacted by the agents. Yes, it’s intolerable.
Diaz deals with harrowing and difficult scenes, I found the treatment of Alma particularly upsetting, what scenes did you personally find the most distressing to film?
Alma, who is really called Anna, was not the only girl to suffer that kind of “treatment” - there were at least 15. Other people were treated even more abominably, but I thought this couldn’t be represented on screen. In the Bolzaneto barracks, for three days and three nights, hundreds of detainees suffered violence of every kind imaginable. There isn’t one single thing I read in the court transcripts in the Diaz and Bolzaneto trials that I wouldn’t define intolerable. To make this film I had to call on all my psychological strength. But if I’m honest, my usual rock-solid resistance failed on occasion, and when I was shooting certain scenes I couldn’t hold back tears.
This was an extremely violent situation, how did you decide what to show the audience, how far to push the boundaries?
I worked to a very subjective limit. In this film, it was necessary to represent violence because inherent in that violence is the meaning of the suspension of the rights of a “human being” that took place in Diaz school and the Bolzaneto barracks. I tried to tell things in a detached manner, but without censoring.
Can you tell me about what kind of research and preparation you undertook for the project, also how much did you get the actors involved in this?
Our research relied on three different types of documentation: the court documents, the videos made by activists and television channels; the direct testimonies of those involved. For two years we studied and tried to interweave the stories of hundreds of people. In the end, we chose 140. Working with 140 actors and 10.000 extras wasn’t easy, but it was inspiring. In the final cut, there are about 130. The actors were certainly chosen for their skills, but above all for their emotional and ethical attachment to the film. It’s down to their complete readiness that we were able to film the scenes in the way that I though they should have been filmed.
On 14th June the verdicts are due and the film is being shown in Belfast on the 16th June to coincide with the G8 summit – which is the biggest police operation in Northern Ireland's history. What do you hope viewers of Diaz take away with them?
I hope that my film will help everyone to reflect on the value of freedom and human rights. Democracy is either radically so, or it is not democracy. Diaz tell the story of how, in a democratic country, out of the blue something can happen that we think belongs only to authoritarian political systems. Freedom is a fragile thing, you have to handle it gently, and protect it.
How did the making of this film affect you personally and as a film maker?
When a human being is reduced to being utterly powerless, humiliated and deprived of his dignity, this concerns me firstly as a man, then as a citizen of the world, then as a film maker.
How do you feel about the fact that Mark Covell finally got a pay-out but he had to drop the charges?
To me, it’s practically a miracle that Mark has received compensation; it’s the result of the ten years’ work on the part of lawyers, judges and activists who dedicated their daily lives to the trials, to enforce the value of civil rights. But there’s no sum that could heal Mark’s wounds. And there’s no sentence for the police that could heal the wounds that their behaviour has inflicted on the very idea of our democracy. After the events in Genoa, it seems obvious to me that if there isn’t a certain level of collective consciousness, we’ll never be certain that such a tragedy won’t occur again.
How much real footage did you view and how did you decide how much real footage to use in the film?
I watched over 700 hours of material and thousands of photographs. In the film itself there are only two minutes of actual footage, I’ve used the only what was indispensible, for moments in which it really adds something to the film, both in emotional and artistic terms.
How was filming in Genoa, how did people react to the filming?
I spent only a few days shooting in Genoa. The film was made entirely in a studio in Bucharest. In those few days in Genoa, everything happened. A lot of people wanted to watch us shooting. The police seized all the equipment. To shoot one scene, we unintentionally blocked an entire city…in short, complete chaos.
One of the detainees says 'During a war you sleep on the floor' do you think the Black Bloc protestors saw it as a war? Or the police?
Everyone who was in Genoa during those days had the feeling they were involved in a war. Several hundred people were absolutely certain of it, considering they returned home with broken bones, smashed faces, punctured lungs, crushed testicles, etc. There was also a death, a 22-year-old-man killed by a shot to the forehead. Some of the people who were inside Diaz and Bolzaneto still haven’t got over the trauma, after 12 years.
There are lots of different languages and a huge, wonderful cast in Diaz, was it a hard project for you as a director to manage?
For a film with all those languages, I was just what was needed – a person that only speaks one! Yes, it was a very difficult film, but a really fascinating one. While I was filming, I felt a bit like Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon: I felt incredibly lucky, and I was crapping my pants from the worry I wouldn’t be able to get back safe and sound….
The final scene shows the natural beauty of Genoa. What made you decide to use this as the end image?
That image was shot on the border between Italy and Austria, an area of rare beauty. There’s a real contrast between the beauty of my country and the ugliness of its historical political events. When I filmed it I had one thing in mind: to make the audience take a breath before the lights come up in the cinema.