Bravo to New York Film Academy Documentary graduate Valerio Ciriaci for winning the Italian Golden Globe for Best Documentary! This significant award, assigned annually by the Foreign Press Association in Rome, was presented to the director “for the courage, balance and the technical mastery he employed in his first feature film to shed light on the dark pages of Italy’s colonial past and expose the amnesia that surrounds them.”
The feature documentary, If Only I Were That Warrior, focuses on the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 1935. Following the recent construction of a monument dedicated to Fascist general Rodolfo Graziani, the film addresses unpunished war crimes he and others committed in the name of Mussolini’s imperial ambitions. The present day stories of three characters filmed in Italy, Ethiopia and the U.S.A. take the audience on a journey through the remains and living memories of the Italian colonial venture in Ethiopia.
“The idea for If Only I Were That Warrior took shape in February 2013, after I attended a panel discussion in New York about the recently inaugurated monument to Rodolfo Graziani,” said Ciriaci. “I was struck by the heartfelt anger and indignation voiced by the Ethiopians who were present that day. Their stories spoke of atrocities carried out in the name of my country, and I realized how little I knew, as an Italian, about our colonial ventures in Africa. I began to read about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. I learned how Fascist propaganda told the Italian masses that Ethiopia was their rightful ‘place in the sun.’ I learned about the war crimes committed in the name of Mussolini’s imperial ambitions.”
In Italy these events belong to a chapter in history that is often overlooked in schoolbooks and obscured by revisionist myths. For decades, Italians saw themselves as “italiani brava gente” (Italians, good people), an expression suggesting Italians were kinder and more tolerant compared to other colonial powers.
“As I continued my research, the question that I kept returning to was: how can Graziani, who is remembered as ‘the Butcher of Ethiopia’, be honored in Italy with a public monument? How was this monument approved in a country where Fascism is constitutionally banned? This film is my attempt to unravel these questions,” added Ciriaci.
Since its premiere at Festival dei Popoli in Florence, the film has screened at various festivals and venues in the United States, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia.
“The film is self-distributed and we often present the film in person at cultural centers, community venues and schools,” said Ciriaci. “Educational distribution has become especially important for the film and we continue to receive requests from history, Italian studies and African studies professors who want to use it as a teaching tool in class. Producer Isaak Liptzin and I have traveled quite a lot both here and in Italy.”
Be sure to check out the film’s website to stay up-to-date on upcoming screenings. Later this summer the team plans to release the film on both streaming platforms and DVD. In the fall, the documentary will be broadcast on TV in Italy and Switzerland.
Ciriaci is currently working on a couple of new documentaries that are set between Italy and the US—both in the past and the present.
“Subjects such as memory and migration are of particular interest to me, and I intend to continue investigating them in the next films,” concluded Ciriaci.