Interview with Germano Maccioni, the young Bolognese director of the movie Lo Stato d’eccezione. He has followed and recorded the 2007 court proceedings brought by La Spezia’s military tribunal against several accused Nazi officers and soldiers who, in 1944, murdered hundreds of Italians residing in Marzabotto and other small towns in the hills of Monte Sole in Bologna.
The trials ended with nearly all defendants sentenced to life in prison, to the great satisfaction of the towns’ residents who after sixty years finally saw justice served.
What drives a young director like you to make a documentary film about this issue?
Every time I encounter an artistic work, there is always at its core a major component of curiosity, the strong desire to learn, to listen, and to understand. But this was an extremely special and unique experience. This film had to be made. I grew up not far from Monte Sole and I knew little or nothing of what happened, at least in terms of the numbers and the brutality of the crimes: it was one of the largest Nazi massacres against civilians in Western Europe. I began to wonder why, for example, no one had ever spoken about this in school. After more than sixty years after the fact, the community was still beaten to the ground and the survivors and relatives of the victims were still apart torn, besides the fact that a trial against those responsible for the horrendous massacre never took place. I also thought that coming to terms with the dark parts of history, even with the most uncomfortable and difficult parts, is the basis for building a solid foundation which will enable us all to improve our lives. It is up to young people in every generation to begin this process, especially if those who came before them did not want to think about it.
Why did you choose the documentary format?
I always considered coming face-to-face with a story to tell. And I thought that the language to use would be film. I did not want to make a documentary; I approached the work in cinematographic terms. And I think that sometimes there is a fine line between the two. This is a real trial against true, living criminals for crimes against humanity that should not lapse [due to the statute of limitations]. It was about sitting down and listening.
How was the evidence collected? Was it was based more on official or individual accounts?
With respect to the case, the testimonies were actually collected in court. I also left the courtroom with a video camera to accompany some of the survivors to the area. Pain and individual memory can only emerge. But we try to reflect on what affects us all, even today.
What was your personal reaction to the testimony? Is there a particular episode that you would like to share? How do you feel, given your position, about the memory of the event? Did you get to talk to young people?
I was stunned. Even in the physical sense. Sometimes I had to leave the courtroom to catch my breath. There is an infinite number of stories. For example, at one point once the jury had to interrupt the court proceedings because of the extreme emotional charge and pain of one of the survivors. At Monte Sole the memory of the event is more than alive and it is kept alive by the reality that is still at work in the area and which helped to make this film, such as the association for the victims’ families and the committee honoring the fallen, along with Monte Sole’s historical park and the school of peace. I get to talk to young people mostly when we present the film in schools. In fact, it seems, this film has a very strong impact on young audiences and many are surprised that it was directed by a 29-year-old.
Do you believe that time may have somewhat dulled the survivors’ anger and pain or diminished the responsibilities of the accused?
If this trial had taken place in the 1950s, it would have had far more resonance with so-called public opinion. That was something that did not happen today, if only on the day of sentencing. As I said before, we are talking about crimes against humanity that should not be allowed to lapse. We must remember that. The fact that because of a judicial and political anomaly those responsible for the massacre have never paid for their crimes is another matter. Pain and anger are such private issues that I do not care to discuss them. I know that some of the witnesses have forgiven, while others cannot even remotely think of doing so. This, however, is a human and personal aspect which in my opinion should be separated from the criminal issue.
There are many pages of history written about the Second World War, such as what happened at Monte Sole, which still are not fully known. Why?
We would need to ask the world’s political and military leaders. During the war they decided to seal 695 temporary files on Nazi massacres in Italy. The files were then buried in the woeful storage cabinet of shame until this recent exhumation.
The film will be presented at Casa Italiana in New York on January 28 during the commemoration of memory week. What do you expect from the New York audience?
I must say that it was such a joy to receive an invitation from Casa Italiana, and in all honesty I hope that the story presented in this film will speak a common language and will provide food for thought even to an audience that is geographically far away from Monte Sole.
What was the reaction to the film in Italy?
The film was well received at the festival in Venice; it won the Special Jury Prize at Libero Bizzarri. We were on the general documentary program last December in Palermo, not to mention the screenings throughout the peninsula. In the end, given the difficulty of the subject, we can’t complain. There is an upcoming DVD release and we are hoping for television coverage which would allow us to reach so many people, many more who still don’t know anything about this story. We'll see.
What is the relationship between film and memory?
I would say that there is a very rich relationship. Film, unlike other languages, is not limited in terms of reflection and narrative. History and the collective memory of tragic events have been topics that, since the time of Greek tragedy, have been dramatized and used for catharsis and understanding. Film is a very powerful tool and when, in addition to entertainment, it is able to deliver a message and become the basis for new civic analysis and human understanding, it goes further. It does something very important. Something necessary.