I had the great pleasure of hearing Cecilia Mangini speak of her life and filmmaking experiences last Saturday night. The occasion for this encounter with this legendary figure in Italian documentary filmmaking was the presentation of a book, Con Ostinata Passione (With Obstinate Passion), written by Gianluca Sciannameo, the founder of the Camera a Sud Cultural Association (where I'm taking my social photography course).
Mangini was the first woman to document on camera the reality of everyday life in Italy, particularly those situations that could be considered "troublesome," that the mainstream media were doing their best to cover up and/or ignore in the postwar boom period of the 1950s and 60s. She captured many portraits of people and ways of life that were struggling to survive or which were somehow passed by in the prosperous new consumer society. Her documentaries, made in collaboration with such Italian film greats as Pier Paolo Pasolini, have had both good fortune and bad: at times censored, they have seen both great success and have struggled to find distribution, and yet they have won international awards.
Mangini has Puglian origins: she was born in her father's hometown of Mola di Bari. Although her family moved to Florence when she was six, she spent her summers in Mola and she told us of how she was struck by the contrast between the lives of the working people around her in the two different regions. She felt the pain of the inequalities and injustices faced by the agricultural workers in the south, but came to love the warmth and solidarity of those people even in the face of extreme hardship and poverty. She believes that these early experiences were fundamental in forming her world view and in leading her to take a social exposè approach to her filmmaking.
Mangini, born in 1927, spoke of how she believes that she belonged to a lucky generation. A generation of young people with high hopes for a better future after the fall of Fascism and full of energy and intellectual ferment aimed at creating a better world. She admitted that things didn't turn out quite the way they had hoped, but that she is thankful to have lived in such exciting times.
|Image from "Essere donne" - 1965|
Her approach to documentary filmmaking is to go beyond simply capturing the reality of a situation as it presents itself, but to create a visual work that tells a compelling story. She believes that a documentary filmmaker always takes a position and expresses it through his choice of images and sounds. She also thinks that her films ask and expect viewers to have a reaction to what they see on the screen.
|Image from the Film "La Canta delle Marane" - 1962|
Mangini is a living piece of film history. She was a key player in the transition of the Italian documentary film from the simple depiction of scientific phenomena or landscapes, newsreel reports of natural disasters, to a tool in the impassioned cultural and social struggle of the time.
We watched three of her short documentaries on Saturday, each of which was breathtakingly powerful and emotionally moving. My absolute favorite was "Stendalì" which tells of the Puglian tradition of ritual mourning, expressed through group chanting and crying, and ritualised movements and actions.
I feel truly honored to have met Cecilia Mangini. Not because she is famous or because she has made films, but because she is truly a special woman. Besides directing films she has worked as a journalist, essayist, photographer and film critic. She is 84 years old, yet sprightly, vibrant and extremely intelligent. At the same time, she is humble, charming and obviously open to and curious about new people and new experiences.