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Aug 1, 2009

Interview: Roberto Purvis

by Abi Weaver


Roberto Purvis is most well known for his documentary Walking with Pasolini (British Film Institute) and his work with Noam Chomsky. LIDF invited Roberto to join our post-screening panel discussion on Gianfranco Pannone’s Red Sunrise, which screens on Wednsesday 1 April, 21:00 at Curzon Soho. In this interview, the director talks to Kamila Kuc about his reaction to Red Sunrise and his new film about Pier Paolo Pasolini

Kamila Kuc: How would you best describe Red Sunrise?

Roberto Purvis: The documentary Red Sunrise is an attempt to have former Red Brigade members reflect on their decisions, actions and logic in forming the group. There is always so much one can do on the topic of “terrorism” in Italy, and understanding the former members’ logic in reacting to the betrayal of the PCI was interesting to hear as an observer to their informal interactions. Their struggle, as we know now, was in vain as Italian sovereignty was already lost upon its defeat in WWII and under absolute control of the US. They were fighting a losing battle from the onset, as modern day Italy shows us today.

It was encouraging that the documentary brought up the Italian embrace of consumerism, and the PCI [Italian Communist Party] attempt to form some rapport with the corrupt US client party the Christian Democrats. However, interestingly and blaringly absent, whether by their own volition or directorial choice, was the notion that the Red Brigade organization was manipulated by the secret services as their movement attributed to discrediting the left in the eyes of the Italian electorate. I believe Franceschini [Alberto, one of the founders of Red Brigade] has been the only member to speak about such a concept and its probability. Many members refuse to entertain the thought, and understandably so. It would be crushing to know that your principles were used against you and the years in jail were all in vain, all for the benefit of those you were supposedly fighting against. Playing into your enemies’ hands is a timeless concept that continues even today – i.e. “terrorists” reinforcing US foreign policy. Makes you wonder who is on whose side in any conflict really.

“Left-wing” terrorism was a reaction to the PCI betrayal, the Christian Democrats corruption and subservience to US interests (NATO), and the secret war the government lead against its own citizens in supporting right-wing terror. What happened in Italy from post-war to the era of the Years of Lead (and even today) was a direct result of US foreign policy and control. The PCI was never to govern at the national level as dictated by National Security Council Memorandum 1. Means to halt the PCI electoral rise in the late 1960s and into the 1970s became a dire mission for the US, thus the US “supported and sanctioned” state terrorism that began in 1969. For this reason, in essence, the Red Brigades were just another pawn in protecting US interests, although indirectly and unintentional on the part of the Brigatisti.

KK: Your new film is about Pier Paolo Pasolini and the subject is very much related to Red Sunrise…

RP: Yes, that is what I am working on now. My next film is going to raise these topics and challenge many notions not readily spoken about in any debate. Incorporating Pasolini and his last film Salò or the 120 Day of Sodom will be a challenging, but it will offer an interesting story line to the focus of the film.

KK: Tell us more about the film’s production. You chose Patrick Hazard, the LIDF Director, for your UK producer…

RP: The production of the film is essentially an EU project with US participation. Yes, the UK producer is Patrick Hazard, Director of the London International Documentary Festival. He was approached via the US producer who has signed on recently, Yaron Schwartzman. I met an associate of the LIDF Michael Gibson in the US, who in turn contacted Patrick. Given Patrick’s interest in not only the subject matter of US sponsored terrorism, but in the Pasolini angle as well was of extreme interest to me. Patrick has a great knowledge of international dynamics and has a grasp of Italian history. He was a perfect person to fill the role of Executive Producer.

Premiere Heure, the French producers, have obtained Capa TV’s support, which is a tremendous contribution to the direction and success of the documentary. Difficult to obtain is an Italian component. I have spent time speaking to producers and filmmakers in Rome and there hasn’t been any response, which is not surprising. It is very indicative of Italy’s current socio-political situation. Very sad…

KK: Tell us more about your interest in Pasolini…When was the first time you saw Salò?

RP: Pasolini was the most outspoken critic of the “democratic regime of consumerism” that was destroying Italy. He actually had the means to talk about it on a national platform, and the artistic means of raising these points in films, writings, poems, etc. His politics influenced me tremendously at a young age, but unfortunately after I finished high school. The anger and frustration I felt as a teenager was vented in music as school was torturous for me, and it was punk music precisely that had a great impact upon my teenage years. In the US, no one spoke out against what was being taught. I was labelled a communist, a ‘pinko.’ I was threatened with being shot by fellow students, etc. all to the amusement of my history teacher. And this was New York. In no way do I adhere to the false stereotype that New York is a bastion of liberalism and openness. It was very isolating to someone who actually thought about issues and their relevance.

I remember seeing Salò the first time in New York. I was 19 and with a friend of mine looking for anything Italian to watch. I heard of Pasolini (I saw Mamma Roma) and the cover looked interesting. Well, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. I couldn’t eat for a week and my libido as a 19-year old was reduced to nothing in a matter of two hours. I laugh now because I didn’t understand immediately what I saw. But I watched it again and did research on the film, and it changed my life forever. I suddenly did not feel alone. It is very liberating, but also destabilizing because suddenly your belief system collapses. Mind you, I had a hard time letting go of the education and belief system that was drilled into my head, even in its subtleness. That’s the efficiency of a US education.

Pasolini helped me realize that there were others who thought outside the box of what was deemed “normal” in any political or social discourse. Being an Italian – American and identifying with an Italian like Pasolini, was monumental as well. It gave me more of an identity and allowed me to embrace my heritage in a quite fanatical way, thinking “this was Italy”. That was until I moved to Italy upon finishing high school and witnessed first hand how Italians betrayed their identity and history for anything American. And they’ve become progressively worse over the years, which has be attributed to TV, film, Berlusconi, etc., but I will not go into that now.

KK: You previously worked with Noam Chomsky and he will also feature in your new documentary…

RP: Chomsky entered my life much later. I remember speaking my mind (as I did to anyone and anywhere I could), while living in Stockholm over a decade ago. A friend from Australia just handed me a book Chomsky wrote and since then, I’ve become enveloped in his writings and I espouse his views. As if foreshadowing my future, I would speak out and challenge what was being taught at Johns Hopkins (where I received my Master of Arts in International Affairs) with concepts raised by Chomsky, only to find out Chomsky already wrote about them, and obviously in a more coherent and organized manner.

Since then we’ve developed a working relationship in that he participated in my last documentary Walking with Pasolini I did for the British Film Institute, and he is a mentor of mine as I am writing a book on NSC 1 – National Security Council Memorandum 1 I just spoke about regarding the first covert CIA operation which took place in Italy. Chomsky will be fundamental in my next documentary on Pasolini, as his views will not only be pinnacle, but will bridge the film’s concepts brilliantly.

KK: Pasolini was brutally murdered by a young hustler. What’s your theory on it?

RB: I cannot speculate on Pasolini’s death. Without any secret files from the CIA or SISMI/SISDE (Italian secret services) anything would be conspiratorial. However, I do accept the probability Pasolini was murdered by more than one person, and the investigation on his death was mismanaged and thwarted purposely by the State. Pasolini spoke out against what was happening, and even alluded to “secret armies” in Italy that worked with NATO. People thought him out of his mind for making such statements, but on August 2, 1990 then Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti outed and confirmed in front of Parliament the existence of NATO secret armies in every Western European country. In Italy, it was called GLADIO. Their objective was to discredit the left by any means and not halt a Warsaw Pact invasion as originally orchestrated. Pasolini was right. He was eliminated. That is not a stretch. It is probable. Unfortunately Andreotti mentioned this the day after US ally Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the international press was occupied in reporting how such a dictator could carry out such an anti-democratic attack on a sovereign country. The ironies and contradictions are beyond words.

KK: Pasolini’s murder investigation was re-opened 3 years ago…

RP: Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome, requested the investigation into Pasolini’s death to be re-opened. This was June 20, 2007. Since then, a self-proclaimed “neo-fascist” center-right mayor has entered office and I do not know what has happened to the new investigation, if there ever was one. Given the new mayor’s supporters greeted him at City Hall with the fascist salute and cheers of “Duce, Duce”, I do not believe it will go anywhere. No. Something tells me it won’t.

KK: Why do you want to continue making political documentaries?

RB: To keep sane…

To read our interview with director of Red Sunrise, Gianfranco Pannone, click here.

Posted in: Interviews



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