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Berlusconi's Videocracy

Film director Erik Gandini takes on the Italian obsession with fame, sex, politics and television in his new documentary, Videocracy

Real power can only be achieved with the power of the media on your side. How else do you control what the people think and say? Feed them your opinions and policies, and after a while they will become the norm and the truth by which the people live their lives. Everything you hear and see on the telly must be true, they can’t lie…. or can they? Add to that an unhealthy obsession with fame and sex and we have the media landscape of Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy laid out. The 74-year-old Prime Minister has ruled the Mediterranean country on-and-off since 2005, and there are currently no signs of him stepping down.

The reason Berlusconi is such an Italian success story in politics is partly due to his long and prosperous career within business. He was – and still is - a media tycoon before he went in to politics, and why not use your TV channels when campaigning for the country’s highest political office? It is this odd combination of fame, money, sex and politics that Italian-born documentary director Erik Gandini explores in his latest film, Videocracy. He highlights the the Italian obsession with obtaining fame and points all the perks that many people in the country seem to associate with being on television. Gandini moved to Sweden aged nine and have ever since observed the Italian situation through the lens of Scandinavian humble logic. Dazed Digital spoke to the film director ahead of the film’s UK premiere…
Dazed Digital: When did your interest in politics start?
Erik Gandini: I wouldn’t say I’m overtly political. When I’m interested in a subject – political or not – I emerge myself in it and try to create my own version of it. I’m not looking to change the world, more to give something back to myself.
DD: You were born in Italy but grew up in Sweden – how do the two countries compare politically?
Erik Gandini: Sweden is a lot more about the collective fight against problems. ‘Together we can fix it’ - be it the environment, inequality or deaths caused by traffic! In Italy, it’s all about yourself, then your family, then your friends and everyone comes after that. Sweden is safe but boring, Italy is more fun but it’s a rotten society.
DD: Where does the Italian obsession with television come from?
Erik Gandini: Television is agenda setting in Italy. It’s almost like some things and some people only exist if people can see them one the telly. In Sweden they watch telly AND read books, but most Italians only watch telly. Italy is more visual and social then the introspective Sweden.
DD: And sex?
Erik Gandini: In the 70’s it was the church, today people worship sex, telly and fame. Berlusconi understood that, and was clever enough to build on that.
DD: Could Berlusconi be Prime Minister without his TV stations?
Erik Gandini: No way. He is selling a life style and values on his stations. He’s also a successful businessman. He started his TV stations in 1980 and didn’t go into politics until 1994.
DD: The film attack today’s celebrity obsessed culture as much as Berlusconi’s politics – do you think they mix too much today?
Erik Gandini: There’s a business culture mixed show biz in politics today, especially in Italy. There’s a lack of ideology, even.
DD: Are Italians more fame hungry than others?
Erik Gandini: Probably yes. Fame means everything there. Telly performs miracles with people and their lives. It gives them money and open up doors for prosperous careers. The men behind the television have created power, and – as the film shows – sometimes fame makes them immune. To play with appearances and truth is important in a Videocracy!
DD: What was Italy’s reaction to the film?
Erik Gandini: The trailer was banned but people thought it was a ‘Michael More’ kinda film but I didn’t have a journalistic scoop. The film is about emotional truth, not juridical truth. It’s a mirror of the society, just showing it the way it is.
DD: What’s next for you?
Erik Gandini: I want to direct feature films, not only documentaries. At the moment I’m working on a script, so watch this space.
Videocracy is released in the UK on the 4th of June