Description from TIFF 2009 catalog by Thom Powers:
How can you explain what’s happened to Italy in the age of its current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi? As the owner of the country’s television empire, he wields a powerful tool for shaping public opinion to his benefit. His force of will is reflected by the TV commercial in which throngs of Italians sing, “Thank God Silvio exists.” To an outsider, it may seem bizarre. Videocracy tries to show how it feels from the inside by profiling people immersed in Berlusconi’s world. They range from a wealthy talent agent close to the prime minister, to a paparazzo feeding off the media circus, to an amateur singer seeking the fame that only television can supply.
Words can’t do the story justice. Videocracy is richly illustrated with the trashy TV clips that earned Berlusconi his power. His talent for pandering outshines the crassest of American broadcasters by far. Early in his career, he bought a local channel that aired a late-night quiz show in which a housewife would take off her clothes to reward correct answers. The only complaints came from local factories whose employees stayed up late to watch and were subsequently too tired to work. From then on, Berlusconi’s shows have been heavily populated with scantily clad women known as veline whose job is to pose sexy and silent next to the host.
Director Erik Gandini approaches the material as both insider and outsider. He grew up in Italy but now lives in Sweden, and gains remarkable access into the opulent world of Berlusconi’s associates. Their lavish lifestyles become further fodder for Italian media, but any journalist who’s inclined to criticize faces a strong temptation to simply join the party. Gandini maintains a critical distance and treats modern Italy as both comedy and tragedy.
Throughout the film, we see clips of Berlusconi speaking in public. At one press conference, the prime minister states, “Dedicating fifty per cent of your time trying to make Italy a credible nation on the international scene is incredibly hard work.” Maybe so. But from the looks of Videocracy, we get the impression he spends the other fifty per cent doing the opposite.
About the director:
Erik Gandini was raised in Italy during the rise of Berlusconi’s television empire, moving to Sweden in 1986. With Tarik Saleh, he has co-directed the documentaries Sacrificio: Who Betrayed Che Guevara? (01) and Gitmo &”8211; The New Rules of War (05), which won the best documentary award at the Seattle International Film Festival. Gandini’s other documentaries include Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers (03) and Videocracy (09).