On June 8, writer-director Daniele Vicari presented his latest feature film, Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood, as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012. But Diaz isn’t just an Italian film. It could just as easily been part of our upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival because of its focus on violations against humanity. After years of research and writing and months of shooting, Vicari still has unanswered questions for Italy and the world.
During the G8 summit in 2001, police raided the Diaz school in Genoa, Italy, searching and beating the protesters who were staying there for more than two hour. Vicari's film is nearly the same length, the difference being that the events at Diaz school didn’t end when the theater lights came on or the sun came up the next day. The lingering effects have been felt for more than 10 years. Here’s what Vicari has to say about filming, acting, and the fear he still feels after making the film.
The acting was impressive all-around, did you have any of these actresses or actors in mind when you began writing the screenplay?
I didn’t have anyone in mind when I wrote the script. I worked in a different way than my previous films, which was challenging for the actors and me. But we were all influenced by meeting the victims of Diaz. I tried to stay apart a little to better analyze the characters after meeting the actual people. In casting I didn’t just look for great actors, but tried to find actors who were emotionally inspired by the story, so we looked a lot at the cultural backgrounds of actors and looked for actors who believed in the story. They are great actors, but they also really felt the story and many of them remember when it happened.
The fact that this happened at a school reminds me of S21, the school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where people were held prisoner, tortured and killed by the Pol Pot Regime. What do you think is the significance of schools and brutality? What can we learn from this?
In the case of Diaz the school was given by the institution to the movement in order to give the people that were gathering there a place to stay for the G8 summit. After the people were arrested they were brought to a prison where they were then tortured. Without a doubt schools, just like prisons, are places of human concentration. And when there are social problems, schools easily become prisons as well. Symbolically, that’s why students occupy schools. In Chile, schools also have been a place where repression happens. Usually students are the ones who start asking questions about the state or policy.
The film is quite difficult to watch at times, did you have personal parameters that you applied to balance the violence and know how much an audience could handle?
I tried. Talking to the victims was an operation that took two years. What I read and what I was told was harder than what I showed in the movie. There are some things that were not possible to show unless I wanted to do a slasher film. What I wanted to tell was the method and how people were reduced to a state of semi-consciousness. I tried to explain everything that I was able to. Behind my method was the ideology of the people who were repressed as well as those who repressed. In Italy, torture does not exist by law. This means that there are no limits on those who do practice the act of torture because it does not exist as a crime. Torture happens in a country whose literature and culture was one of the first that wrote against torture.
Did you see some of the actual footage from the events at Diaz?
Keep in mind that the things that happened inside Diaz were not filmed. We had first-hand testimony of hundreds of people inside Diaz described in a detail. We reconstructed all the things that happened from talking to victims and from the thousands of pages I read about the process of what happened. In order to construct the movie I watched 700 hours of video footage that was shot outside the school when it was happening. It’s also on YouTube. There is an archive in Genoa, which holds more than 3,000 hours of video footage and hundreds of photos. That is the legal archive.
The timing of this release in the US is interesting because of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Obviously, Occupy Wall Street does not even compare to what occurred at Diaz, but it’s the idea of protesting and rights of protesters that connects the two. How do you see the role of Diaz on a grander international scale?
My personal opinion is that in the western world we’re actually going backwards in time on civil rights issues. In the western world, after September 11 and other recent events in Europe, some things are possible that weren’t possible before on a policy level. For example, Italian newspapers are all talking about the center for temporary imprisonment for foreigners. And inside these centers human rights are being suspended. These should be places where people stay before going back to their own countries, but they should only be places to stay. In actuality they are being treated like prisoners. Because of this treatment people are starting to rebel. Those are people who haven’t committed any crimes except that their documentation is wrong. For me, there’s a link between these centers and Diaz. Right now, we need to accept the fact that there are locations where human rights are put on hold.
On a more personal note, what affect did making this film have on you?
As soon as I started reading about the acts and meeting the victims, I started feeling nauseous. I’ve been asking a lot of questions about how democracies react to crisis and fear. All the fear I felt and all the hurt I felt I wanted to express in the movie because it’s the only thing I can give to the public—to make myself naked to the public and show what I felt while reading those things. That has also changed my way of making movies.
In what way?
I’ve made a lot of documentaries before this. But this was the first time I realized I made a movie based on facts that were actually real. While working on a documentary I never asked myself about the limits between reality and fiction because the language of documentary is reality, but in a fiction movie that tells real facts you need to ask yourself about the matter of reality and fiction. For example, the movie is told from different points of view, which is really close to what my emotion is. Reality is a lot of peculiar and complex perspectives. At one point I realized that I was actually making a movie that was very very complex. This complexity was managed by telling the story with different points of view and not just from one individual point of view and that’s why the movie tells the story of different characters. This also led to the face that it is a five-act movie instead of a normal three-act. That made me face technicalities I’d never faced before.
You use some great camera techniques like the spinning when Alma is stripped naked and a few dialogue scenes that are shot-reverse-shots but without a cut, what was the purpose of this? Or maybe more generally, why did you employ some of the camera techniques that you did?
I never did a cut in the Alma torture scene and I didn’t cut while shooting any dialogue scenes, although maybe I did later in editing, because I wanted to make the actors feel a long period of consciousness. The actors had a very difficult task because no one actor had a lengthy time in the film so they didn’t have the psychological work to build up. I tried to make them realize those emotions while I was shooting and they were acting. So I wanted to give them the time to mature those emotions while shooting.
Why did you choose to end the film on a shot of nature and beauty?
That very last shot, like many others in the movie, contains within itself an opening and a contradiction. The open feeling is represented by the fact that the kids are going away into nature and into freedom, but at the same time all the tension and fear and terror we have felt from the film thus far takes them inside the tunnel. That’s also because I know that for those kids the 10 years after Diaz were even harsher than what they felt inside Diaz. At the same time there is the desire to go inside nature and freedom, go back to a human sense of being in nature and yet those kids are conscious of the fact that they are going nowhere—inside the mountain and you won’t see them again. It fades to black.
The movie opened up a very big wound in Italy because these days, actually Friday (June 15), there is going to be more sentencing. The very last jurisdiction. The majority of the people that were tortured inside Diaz were foreigners and not Italian and one of the things I ask myself all the time is: Why did those other countries never say anything to Italy about what happened?
At the Seattle International Film Festival, where Diaz played last week, the father of an American girl who was in Diaz came to watch the movie. His name was Chris Hager. He told the audience the experience of his daughter and everyone in the room was shocked. Many people watch the movie and are moved by it, but they still think it doesn’t have anything to do with them, but inside Diaz there were a lot of American kids. Hager brought photos and US newspapers from the time. Inside Diaz were English, French, Turkish, German, Spanish, Latin American, and Polish people so it’s not just an Italian story. That’s why ever since I started making the movie I have asked myself: Where were all these countries when this happened?