Idroscalo is a small, 500-populated family-oriented place on the Italian Mediterranean coast, beside Ostia, and close to Rome. Most of the houses were constructed up to 60 years ago; fragile, often-improvised buildings, homes for people with larger needs. It’s an exposed place, threats by water floating not only from the ocean but also from the Tiber River. Water puddles, trash, but also fragments of destroyed houses, fill the unstable and not-asphalted grounds. But this is only one threat. An administrative intervention caused the 2010 destruction of a large number of the inhabitant’s homes at the seaside, thereby becoming objects for market and real estate speculations. Interestingly, a new yacht harbour has been built close by. This action was carried out under the protection of 500 cops and carabineers in full battle gear, a nightmare still lingering in the memory of the town. The remaining families have never received legitimized housing status. Idroscalo is the last self-built neighbourhood in Rome. They call their place Punta Sacra (Sacred Point).
A sharing community
This unconformable place is the meeting point for the main winner in Nyon´s 2020 online edition of Visions du Réel. Francesca Mazzoleni took time to build up a very intimate relationship with some of the families. The result is a touching portrait of a community, which stays together in the spirit of resistance and humanity, as an example of togetherness, something rarely found these days in capitals or even smaller villages, marked by differences and disparate group spirits, if not simply isolation. Preparing parties is evidently the most visible activity of this sharing community. Decors, costumes, technical equipment; to arrange all this isn’t an easy task in a place where even a pharmacy, a medical or any other administrative office is missing. On the other side, a local radio station has been constructed, shared by people of all ages.
The remaining families have never received legitimized housing status.
Inside the houses we see family members sharing often small spaces, sleeping on thin mattresses, sometimes five people or more in a room. The older ones remember the times when outsiders gave them bad nicknames. It took a while to stand up, more than this, to create a proud community that finally got respected. Sharing the same (political) opinions isn’t the question. Rhetorical conflicts are carried out in open debates. Some of the older ones don’t believe in politics anymore. Also, mother-daughter conflicts concerning school and the future can take vibrant dimensions. But the point is that people stay together, overcoming these challenges. They create their values of sharing. The youngsters, especially the female ones, often sing or dance together, to prepare their performances for the next public event. The imperfections are often the most beautiful moments of laughter and joy, not to forget the tender moments of sympathy, teasing, sharing their beliefs, and falling in love (a little bit). Even animals, ducks, foxes and turtles play their role.
Francesca Mazzoleni structured her documentary in chapters: Sea – Christmas – Father – Mother – Children – Faith – Celebration. Titles, which offer much space for daily observations. Most inhabitants rarely leave the place. One young man remembers the overwhelming experience of seeing a clear beach, but also later the negative challenges for such a paradise. In a drone perspective, the spectator is invited to have a look at the geographic situation of Idroscalo, protected only by large stones and a thin wall precariously withholding the ocean’s power. This aesthetic decision intensifies the impression of fragility and collectivism. On one occasion, an unusually high 20m wave had flooded the place.
Moments of rebellion are part of the community. The idea of occupying a part of the harbour, which now looks ghostly and deserted, seems to be a meaningful action, even if only to have a space for common activities, or as a help desk, an educational space, or just a store, especially for medicine. But this action is carried out cautiously and symbolically, remembering the police violence years ago.
Most inhabitants rarely leave the place.
In the last chapter «Celebration» we hear a rap composition of a talented composer, a member of the local radio station. He resumed the specificities, beliefs, and challenges of Idroscalo and gives the best introduction to explain why Mazzoleni´s work has touched a broader international audience, starting with the Nyon´s jury. «Let’s have a revolution – one of thought!», surmounting the illusion of materialism, believing in solidarity, moving forward «as in wartime, but in peace», celebrating friendship, give time to time and even «if nothing is changing, but I feel inside…my essence is a poetic wake». This poetic wake is exactly what Mazzoleni accomplished to transmit. Giorgio Agamben´s utopia of a non-hierarchic society developed in his book The Coming Community (1994) seems not far away.
The youngsters send their fireworks and their night candle balloons, carrying their wishes into the air. Some of them want to stay on even later into the Punta Sacra night. But maybe the place will not be existing for that much longer…