MAXXI cancels "Girlfriend in a Coma" screening during elections

The producers of a highly-critical documentary about the direction of Italy’s politics, economy and society claim they are victims of censorship after the film's Italian premiere in Rome was cancelled during the run-up to national elections on 24-25 February.

Billed as a documentary on "the decline" of Italy, Girlfriend in a Coma (now also referred to as GIAC) was scheduled to be screened on 13 February at Rome’s MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts. The film was written by London-based Italian journalist Annalisa Piras and is narrated by English journalist and author Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist magazine from 1993 until 2006. The producers say the event was cancelled on 1 February after the film was thought too political for the pre-election period by the culture ministry, which supervises the contemporary arts centre in Rome.

The MAXXI said it was standard practice not to host politically-linked events during an election campaign but said it would be happy to screen the film once the election was over. A spokeswoman for the MAXXI’s new director Giovanna Melandri – a former culture minister in two centre-left governments from 1998-2001 – said the decision did not amount to censorship and denied that the culture ministry issued orders for the postponement of the film’s premiere.

Emmott says he is “astonished” that the Italian premiere has been cancelled and deduces that “too many Italians, which especially means those in politics and in official public positions, do not want to confront and understand the truth and reality of what has happened in Italy over the past 20 years.” Now Emmott is taking his protest over the film’s rescheduling to the office of incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, the MAXXI and the culture ministry.

The hard-hitting documentary charts the quest to “make sense” of Italy in recent decades, searching for the country’s “virtues as well as her vices”. It features interviews with prominent Italian figures such as Monti, author Umberto Eco and filmmaker Gianni Moretti.

Despite the cancellation of the Rome premiere – which was to be hosted by the capital’s airport bus company Terravision – screenings of the film are scheduled for Pisa, Milan, Venice and Taranto later in February. It has already been shown in several European countries and in the US.

As editor of The Economist, Emmott was one of the fiercest critics of Silvio Berlusconi during his reign as Italian prime minister, frequently accusing him of being “unfit to govern”. Berlusconi attempted to sue The Economist for libel on two separate occasions but judges in Milan ruled against him both times.

In June 2011 Wanted in Rome broke the news that a consignment of The Economist was blocked at Fiumicino airport for an “inspection”, delaying its arrival at the capital’s newsstands. That particular edition of the magazine was dedicated to Italy and featured a bitter attack on Berlusconi with the front page headline The man who screwed an entire country”.