Silvio Berlusconi is accustomed to allegations about his predilections being excitedly received abroad. France's Nouvel Observateur recently published a story titled "Sex, Power and Lies" and the Spanish newspaper El Pais showed photographs of naked guests at the Italian Prime Minister's retreat in Sardinia. (He announced his intention to sue both for libel.)
Back home, though, the priapic 72-year-old’s influence over the media is such that the slew of claims over his private life usually receives a muted reception – perhaps because they come as little surprise.
So when Italy’s state television channel refused to show a film trailer which blamed Berlusconi for creating a frivolous media culture filled with “half-naked women” and chauvinistic images (he owns three commercial Italian TV channels), the movie’s director interpreted it as straight censorship.
But the ban by the network RAI on screening the clip for Videocracy – showing today at the Venice Film Festival – has backfired and led to a surprising uptake in interest in the documentary.
Videocracy is among the most contentious films to be shown at the two-week event. RAI wrote to the director, Erik Gandini, stating that the film was “offensive” to Berlusconi’s reputation.
The advert showed scantily-attired women and statistics claiming that Italy had a low press freedom rating. Mr Berlusconi’s company, Mediaset, which runs Italy’s private TV stations, also declined to screen the trailer.
Since then, requests from cinemas in Italy to obtain a print of the film have shot up from 35 to 70 venues, leading to many hundreds more screenings.
“The ban indicated the level of tension in Italy regarding everything that goes on TV,” Gandini said in an interview with The Independent yesterday. “He [Berlusconi] runs three commercial channels in the country. In Italy, what does not exist on TV does not exist.”
“I was scared by the ban, and by RAI’s Orwellian-style letter, but the day after, there was a huge explosion of interest on the internet. The print numbers have doubled and people were spreading the trailer through Facebook.”
Gandini, who made the documentary Gitmo – The New Rules of War, about Guantanamo Bay, interviewed staff who worked on Berlusconi’s channels and filmed near his Sardinia summer resort.
“For the last 30 years, Italy has been subjected very strongly to Berlusconi TV, which has a lot of semi-naked women and triviality. These things present themselves as harmless but it’s a dangerous culture. Italian TV is very superficial and very male chauvinistic. It’s based on the idea of total hedonism,” he said.
“I portray the idea that Berlusconi’s own personality is mirrored on his channels. I’m not saying he is singly responsible for the culture of Italian TV... but what we see on his TV is very close to what he is.” He added: “I interviewed someone who worked on his channel and he said Berlusconi hates the colour green, therefore they never had green as the colour of the backdrop.”
Videocracy is distributed by the independent company Fandango, which was behind the acclaimed 2008 Naples gangster film Gomorrah.