What problems exist in your country? Do you feel so fed up with your home country that you consider leaving it? What elements make you stay? These are universal questions, ones that many people, including me, ask themselves. In Italy, perhaps the dichotomy between a country’s pros and cons is stronger than anywhere else. Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi are a couple from Rome who are making some interesting statements about politics, gay rights, and culture in Europe and specifically Italy. I’m very excited to continue my look at Italy with this interview with documentary filmmaker Gustav Hofer.
I’m excited not just because Gustav and Luca are fabulous. It’s personal, too. After years of believing I wasn’t fulfilling my destiny to live in the place I’ve felt so drawn to for 20 years, I was invited to the Florens 2012 cultural heritage & economics conferences, and this opened my eyes. The repeated theme was the embarrassing lack of funds, innovation and preservation in modern Italy and the need for deep change. While I’d still move there in a heartbeat, Hofer and Ragazzi’s work emphasizes the disfunction that exists in Italy and contrasts with the progress in much of the rest of Europe. As a resident of California, a land of contrasts, I identified with the themes of this film “Italy: Love It or Leave It,” and I’m sure you will, too. (You can get Italy: Love it or Leave it here on Amazon
or here on Google Play).
Jenna: Tell us a bit about who you two are and about your films.
Gustav: Luca is born and bred in Rome, he comes from a family of filmmakers and Luca himself was a filmcritic for almost 20 years. I am from Northern Italy, from South Tyrol and part of the German speaking minority in Italy. I had studied in Vienna and London and I moved to Rome in 1999, where I work as journalist for a French-German TV.
We became filmmakers by accident through our first film “Suddenly Last Winter”, a documentary about the fight for Equality for gay couples in Italy. We made that documentary for our personal urge to tell what was going on but we thought it would be something we would only show to our friends. But then, the film got selected to the Berlin International film Festival in 2008 and that changed our life.
After 2 years travels with the film around the world to festivals, we were looking for a new issue for our second film. We realized that more and more friends of ours started to leave Italy and in each country we went to, we met Italians of our generation. As we only do films that matter to us personally we thought that this would be the right theme for our second doc.
Jenna: I live in a place where a “dream life” can indeed exist, but only for those who are very rich or lucky. Most people consider it a spectacular place with excellent food and wine and incredibly beautiful, diverse nature, but also deep inequality, malfunction and debt. I’m describing my home state of California. How would you describe the Italy of today?
Gustav: That’s a tough question! Since we made the film quite a few things changed. Before we had the oldest politicians in Europe, now we have the youngest parliament and the youngest prime minister of Europe. Finally the generational Passover has taken place. But nevertheless Italy is still a quite conservative country which is afraid of any change. The society is still chauvinist, closed. It’s a country that today has to decide which way to go and it has to prove if it is ready to go towards a new direction.
Jenna: You’ve said that you often don’t relate to your own country. I feel the same way when I see certain lifestyles and ways of thinking in the U.S. In what specific ways do you feel disconnected from your country?
I think that it is quite normal. We all try to surround ourselves with people who we share similar views and ideas. That makes us think, that probably most of the people think in the same way. When we discover that we were living in a kind of bubble, it can be disorienting. I feel disconnected when I hear people talking against minorities or when we see how people lack of respect for Italy’s beauty, how people continue to destroy our environment and how many Italians still today have not understood that if foreigners love our country it’s for its beauty. But if we don’t start to protect that beauty, we are going to lose it.
Jenna: A lot has been made lately of the high unemployment in Italy, especially among young men, and the number of highly educated people leaving Italy. How do you think this situation affects Italy and the confidence of its people?
Gustav: The numbers of young unemployed people has reached 40% and those who lost hope of finding a job is even higher. Highly educated people are still emigrating and that’s a loss for our society – culturally but also economically. Our State has invested through our still good (and free) educational system to create this well educated people. But when they finish their university the chances to find a job or keep on their research in Italy are very low –or at least– the chance that they get reasonably paid for their capability is very low.
So we export well educated people all over the world losing their intellectual capacity in Italy. Their ideas often create jobs abroad while in Italy we would need these kind of jobs. So there is a feeling of frustration that if you stay in Italy it will be hard and almost impossible to make your dream come true. Hopefully this is going to change.
Jenna: I teach English to immigrants in California, so the part of your film about immigration especially caught my attention. What kind of changes should be made to improve the lives of immigrants and their assimilation into Italian society?
Gustav: What they need is an open path to citizenship in order to free them from the risk of becoming slaves. Being without documents puts them in a difficult situation and it makes it easy to exploit them. Often their children are born in Italy and went to Italian schools but nevertheless they are not Italian citizens. Inclusion instead of exclusion is what we need.
Jenna: What positive aspects of Italy make you love your country? How did those come through in your interviews with people in the film?
Gustav: It’s the humanity of the interpersonal relationships that make the difference. Our society is still much more about that than about your job and about the economical success. We still know how to enjoy life. And then there is the food, the weather, the sceneries, the arts, the culture, the men and women,…. 😉
Jenna: For an American public, what is the value of this film?
Gustav: We are glad that we discovered that people all over the world can identify with the film. The question what makes us love our country or what makes it difficult to identify with it is universal.
American audiences for us – when we screened the film at Festivals in the U.S. – are our favorites, because they just loved to go with us on this emotional trip – laughing and crying at the right moments.
Jenna: One of the things that struck me in the film is the contrast between you and your partner. It reminded me of the differences between me and my husband, who is Brazilian. You seem to be the more cautious one, exemplified in your careful driving and his scolding you for actually stopping at a red light! Do these differences reflect the regions of Italy that you come from?
Gustav: In the film we play with the clichés – but in reality – Luca is much more correct and precise than I am – even though – as a Northerner – I am supposed to be the straight one and Luca, the real Roman – should be the “head in the sky” guy….but things are not always as they appear.
Jenna: Your first film, “Suddenly, Last Winter,” is about gay rights in Europe. What good news is coming out of Italy and Europe regarding gay rights and the freedom to marry?
Gustav: There are big differences within Europe. Many countries have gay marriage now (France, Spain, Portugal, UK, Denmark, etc.), others have civil partnerships or similar solutions. Only Greece and Italy have absolutely no recognition for same-sex couples. We are from a legal point of view still in the dark ages in Italy when its coming to lgbt-rights.
Jenna: What’s next for Gustav and Luca?
Gustav: We have released our new film “What is Left?” in December in Italy. It’s again about our country, a trip into the fool and strange politics of our country. We are very excited that the film will have the US-Premier at the Minneapolis International Film Festival. In April we’ll be back in the U.S. – we love it!
For more about Gustav and Luca’s work: