On May 2nd, NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò hosted the screening of Emergency Exit: Young Italians Abroad, a “docu-trip” collecting interviews with Italians who have left their homeland in search of job opportunities that were not available where they were raised and educated. Directed by Brunella Filì and co-produced by Beth Di Santo, Emergency Exit debuted in 2014 in Italy. This was the last stop on a U.S. tour, and a particularly successful one: not only was every single seat in the theater taken, but people were standing and the event was streamed to the library upstairs to accommodate all participants. The audience was drawn to this event because they saw something in the documentary that could be a reflection of their own stories and they were interested in a lesser known economic aspect of contemporary Italian society.
Emergency Exit centers on thirteen protagonists who “exited” Italy looking for more promising work environments. Some traveled to bordering Austria – Anna Binetti from Bari followed her dream of getting a job as a veterinarian – while others decided to pack up and head to Norway – sometimes even for simple jobs such as a shop assistant as is the case of Martina Zipoli from Rome or fish market seller as is the case for Walter Calvaresi. Yet, behind the camera, there is an Italian who remained in Italy. Director Filì holds a BA in Communication Sciences and a M.A. in Cinema Studies from the University of Bologna, and has been a freelance director since 2005. She has directed other award-winning short documentaries and book trailers, and founded Officinema Doc, her own film production company in Puglia.
The documentary originally started with six protagonists, mostly people Filí knew directly, and in the course of three years was expanded to embrace many more voices from what she calls the “Lost Generation.” Throughout this beautifully shot documentary we see glimpses of the gorgeous Italy that is usually displayed in movies and other media and that attracts tourists there, from Roman ruins to Mediterranean vistas. Filì pinpoints a lesser known reality about the country: Italy is a major destination for visitors but for many residents it has become a point of departure. The narrator that frames the documentary, Bill Emmott, is an Oxford graduate and the author of Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future. Emmott explains that many young European people travel for professional reasons but “Italians are different than any other people who have left their country because they stay very connected to Italy” – a comment that prompted a sign of agreement in the audience.
Filì’s documentary embraces a variety of people, experiences and locations. Among them, Chiara Capraro, a gender policy advisor from Turin now residing in London; Mauro Gargano, a musician from Bari living in Paris; Camilla Bonetti, an independent writing and editing professional and cartoonist Marco Lanza, both based in Norway; and Nicola Cataldo, a university professor in Tenerife. They all share complex emotions about Italy, ranging from disappointment to bitterness or even outright resentment, even though they are all driven by a positive spirit of adventure as they seek or maintain a professional career.
Among the audience were some interviewees: actress Alessia Gatti, real estate agent Matteo Rignanese from Manfredonia, and assistant director of Digital Media for MoMA Chiara Bernasconi from Bologna..This group of New Yorkers voiced different perspectives as new immigrants in the U.S. Alessia who came to New York to act in theaters admitted, “I thought that finding a job here would be easier, but it is not” while Matteo and Chiara were able to build a more solid career faster. Regardless, even now that they have created a family here with American life partners, their minds often go to Italy as a place that they miss or would like to go back to at some point.
The combination of personal stories and the commentary on the socio-political situation offered by Emergency makes us aware that these well-educated Italians left their homeland because there was an unpromising reality in their country and that their, “degree was a waste of paper,” as stated by Patrizia Pierazzo, an archaeologist from Venice who now works full-time for the Museum of London. For the director, this “docu-trip” is a call for the Italian government to seriously consider this phenomenon. In the beginning of the documentary Mario Monti, then prime minister of Italy, was asked what he would tell his son if he decided to travel abroad due to the lack of jobs in Italy. His response: absolute silence. These people are “resources” that are being taken for granted and that could instead be utilized to the benefit of a state in need of improvement. As Filì stated, “There are a lot of people with talent and skill in Italy and it seems as if nobody cares,” while also sadly admitting, “We are the most unpaid and unemployed generation ever.” This also due to the over-protection of the older generation in the labor force, although the documentary does not directly address this problem.
This film shows that Italy is not just the country of marvelous food, the artistic heritage, or the fashion industry. There is also the reality of Italy with its complications and flaws, but they should be seen as fixable. This documentary portrays a small handful of Italians but they speak for a large group, and deserve attention. As Beth Di Santo pointed out, it is not only about the Italian young people, it is also a call to Italian-Americans: “Do not forget to help, to activate, to start the conversation, so that we can make a change because they need a voice and the film is a part of that but it does not stop there. It has to go beyond.” Italians abroad need to push for a wider discourse on the subject of the contemporary diaspora. This can happen by using film, literature, social networking and more. These young Italians want to be recognized by their country, for their hard-work, their courage and perseverance, and more of their stories should be heard.
The documentary not only speaks to Italian immigrants but it speaks to all immigrants, or even young people who would consider a move abroad. In Emergency Exit the feelings of loneliness, fulfillment and eagerness are presented in an engaging and appealing manner. Filì’s style combines humor with serious reflection, injects
a youthful spirit into her carefully selected images, and for her locations alternates between iconic places (Bryant Park, where director Andrea Lodovichetti from Fano lies on the grass) or domestic environments like the apartment of Milena Maselli, a teacher at a Parisian high school and at the university. Yet, it is Nicola Cataldo’s classroom environment that prompts one of the most telling considerations on the topic of this documentary. He reads out to his students the first article of the Italian Constitution: “Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labor” and … yet there are no jobs.
Filì’s interest in the subject of work seems to continue: she is currently developing a new project about a Southern Italian woman who has the desire to work in the fishing industry yet she faces gender-related adversities in a male-dominated field.
Emergency Exit: Young Italians Abroad is available on Google Play or on ITunes.
By: Dominique Aponte, minor in Italian, Montclair State University (NJ).