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Locandina Aulò

Re-mapping postcolonial Italy: an interview with Simone Brioni on the documentary Aulò

by Ellen Davis Walker (University of Cambridge)
Let’s begin simply; what inspired you to make Aulò. Roma postcoloniale? What motivated you to choose this particular topic?

Aulò is part of a broader documentary project on Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa, which started in 2009 with La quarta via (which has been distributed since 2012 by Kimerafilm), a documentary that I wrote with the Somali writer Kaha Mohamed Aden and directed with Graziano Chiscuzzu and Ermanno Guida. As we really enjoyed making this first documentary we decided to make another movie. Our intention was to challenge the amnesia on the colonial period that is still present in Italy. Our second documentary constructs an ideal intertextual dialogue with La quarta via, as it presents similar structure and themes, and it also has a strong connection with African oral narration. As Kaha interrogates her audience about the connection between territory and belonging by narrating the history of Mogadishu in Pavia, Ribka aims to ‘populate Rome with the colours and the scents of Eritrea’.

I was struck by the way in which Ribka’s journey around the city seems to constitute a re-mapping of the urban space. She challenges the perception of the viewer, and informs them about their own history and past. What role do maps have in the documentary? And to what extent do you think she succeeds in creating her own map for us as the viewer to follow? 

The idea of creating an alternative map of Rome is crucial to our work, and somehow talks back to the colonial attempt to map conquered lands. We have tried to displace Rome, and create an African version of Rome. The camera frequently indulges on palm trees, shows the many signs of Africa in Rome (such as Piramide), the places of meeting for Ethiopian and Eritrean people (such as the church of Parione). The few references to tourist spots are connected to the role of Rome as a colonial power, such as Il Vittoriano. The original score by Edoardo Chiaf and Gabriele Mitelli, which is inspired by the Ethio-jazz of the 70s, also underlines our attempt to Africanise Rome. The reference to maps is crucial in an important scene of the movie, where the toponimy of some places that are connected to colonialism is explained.

Following on from the suggestion of Emilio Giacomo Berrocal’s rap song ‘Piazza dei cinquecento’, Ribka proposes to change the name of the Piazza dei Cinquecento in front of Termini Station into ‘Piazza Andrea Costa e Ulisse Barbieri’, since it recalls the five hundreds Italian royal soldiers who were defeated in Dogali in 1887. On the other hand, Costa and Barbieri were respectively a politician and an anarchist writer who strongly opposed this war. Significantly, Barbieri claimed that the real patriots were the Abyssinians, since they defended their own freedom and land like the Italian patriots had done during the Risorgimento. By invading a foreign land, Italy was negating the very principles of self-determination of nations, which had brought about its unification.

In contrast to Ribka the white male character is continually caught in motion. He never seems to stay still; we do not know where he is coming from or where  he will ultimately end up. Was this meant to be a conscious reversal of the colonial paradigm (with the white man condemned to a transitory, rootless existence)? Or does he represent someone or something else more personal to you?

The white male character is interpreted by Ermanno Guida. Ermanno produced (with his company, Redigital), directed and edited the movie. This character partly reflects his personal story. Ermanno comes from Brescia, like most of the group that made the documentaries, but he has lived in Rome for six years. Nonetheless, people often remark that he is not from there, because he was not born in Rome.  We wanted to describe a character that learns from Ribka and reflects on her words. Ermanno’s acknowledgement of the Italian colonial history parallels our own process of learning from the collaboration with Ribka. The character of Ermanno also embodies our frustrations concerning the recent racism against immigrants in Italy, which has not only marginalised migrants, but also made some Italian citizens feel uncomfortable towards the very notion of Italian-ness.

The motif of the sea also seems to be an important image throughout your film. We begin there and we end there; and in between we hear of how it claims the life of some of the immigrants trying to cross over into Italy. What role does the sea have in your movie? Why Ribka and Sarah chose to harness the force of the water as a symbol of renaissance?

In both documentaries, the sea connects different cultures together. In Aulò, Ribka and Sara talk of Eritrea in Ostia, by creating an intertextual dialogue with La Quarta via. Kaha evokes Mogadishu from the distance, in Pavia, and imagines getting to her hometown through the Ticino river.

Moving on from this, the film touches, briefly, on the question of immigrants trying to get into Italy on unseaworthy, dangerous boats. Your character does not react and the audience is left to make their own assumptions. People seem to be very aware of the perils involved in getting into Italy, but is there much awareness of the perils which face immigrants once they get onto land?

Newspapers usually talk of immigration as a problem. But actually immigration causes problems to immigrants themselves, which are rarely acknowledged. Immigrants contribute to the 14% to the Italian GDP, but they frequently are subjected to unstable work conditions, and they cannot claim any rights if they do not have a residence permit. According to the European Migration Network, illegal immigrants in Italy at present number 500.000.

Do you think that in a modern, post-colonial context the notion of home as a homogenous idea can exist? Aren’t we inevitably going to be caught between a number of different places and ‘homes’ in the plural?

There are many definitions of home, and it is not possible to find just one paradigm. Home can be defined in affective terms, in material terms, or in more metaphorical terms. My definition of home is connected to the idea of privilege. In our society those who are privileged, paradoxically, are also those who live under the constant threat that someone might deprive them of their own home. Thus they deny others the right to make a home for themselves. I believe that rethinking the idea of home in terms of mobility and sharing, rather than in terms of private property, is a fundamental challenge for our future.

Leading on from that, to what extent do you think urban spaces like Rome eclipse this question of home? The notion of being considered to be romano/a is treated with both cynicism and reverence respectively. How important do you think the city of Rome is in creating a notion of home?

Aulò is a work by many voices that aims to show a ‘different Rome’, a Rome which belongs to those who live there rather than the Rome of souvenirs, tourists and monuments. Ribka’s story made us discover an unknown city, enriched by scents, sounds and colours of another culture. It is a Rome which can be described only through negation: it is not the Rome of ‘abbacchio’, nor that of the ‘cupolone’ and only partially does it remind the city sung in popular folk songs. The Rome described in Aulò is not the capital of Italy, or rather, it is only so to the extent that the values which it represents are universal and are not linked to any nation in particular. Ribka is proud to be a Roman citizen, but only if this does not mean a strictly parochial or nationalist belonging. In a sense, the community represented in the documentary excludes exactly those who think that being Roman is an innate characteristic, delimited by boundaries which are as senseless as they are fixed.

Although Ribka’s story leaves us with a message of hope I felt that the final assertion at the end of the film jeopardises the notion of Rome as a unifying emblem of belonging…

In Aulò belonging to a territory is linked precisely to a redefinition of the territory itself. In other words, one can not belong to Rome, if that space does not become a place which unites different cultures, instead of dividing them. ‘Belonging’, in Rome, is only possible if it is not all-encompassing so that one can have different belongings at the same time.

My questions to one side, is there one particular message you’d like a viewer to take away from Aulò?

Aulò is the result of a peculiar encounter between different sensitivities, cultures and professional skills, which were joined together by the common purpose to develop new communicative forms that could impact on the amnesia on the Italian colonial past and the negative representation of immigrants in Italian media. We wanted to invite people to listen to the voices of African immigrants around them, and to show the story of an Italian intellectual of African origins.

What has been the response to this project in Italy?

On August 11, 2012 a monument for the fascist war criminal Rodolfo Graziani, also known as ‘the Butcher of Fezzan (Libya)’, was inaugurated in Affile (Rome). It is really sad to say. But this might be seen as the answer of some people and Italian institutions to the history that Ribka narrates in Aulò[1].


Simone Brioni, ed. Somalitalia: Quattro Vie per MogadiscioSomalitalia: Four Roads to MogadishuCon allegato il documentario La quarta via: Mogadiscio, Italia (Rome: Kimerafilm, 2012). Pp. 37. € 15.00. ISBN 978-88-907714-0-8.
Ribka Sibhatu. Aulò!Aulò!Aulò! Poesie di nostalgia, d’esilio e d’amore. Aulò!Aulò!Aulò! Poems of Nostalgia, Exile and Love. Con allegato il documentario Aulò: Roma postcoloniale. Ed. Simone Brioni (Rome: Kimerafilm, 2012). Pp. 41. € 15.00. ISBN 978-88-907714-1-5.
Further information about these documentaries are available at:

Simone Brioni has completed his PhD, with a thesis entitled The Somali Within: Questions of Language, Resistance, and Identity in ‘Minor’ Italian Writings, at the University of Warwick, where he is currently Institute of Advanced Studies Early Career Fellow. He also edited the volumes Somalitalia. Cinque vie per Mogadiscio / Somalitalia, Five Roads to Mogadishu (Kimerafilm, 2012) and Aulò!Aulò!Aulò! Poesie d’amore, di nostalgia, d’esilio e d’amore by Ribka Sibhatu (Kimerafilm, 2012), which include the documentaries La quarta via: Mogadiscio, Italia and Aulò: Roma Post-coloniale, written respectively with Kaha Mohamed Aden and Ribka Sibhatu, and co-directed with Ermanno Guida and Graziano Chiscuzzu.

Ellen Davis-Walker is a recent Modern Languages graduate from the University of Cambridge, where she has completed a dissertation on transnational cinema (for which this interview was conducted).

[1] This interview was conducted before Regione Lazio suspended funds for this monument. However, it should also be noted that on 27 May 2013, the mayor of Affile who dedicated the monument to Graziani was elected for the second time.

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2013 by in Memory.
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