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Delay in Italy Premiere of Anti-Berlusconi Doc Sparks Controversy

Silvio Berlusconi
Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

With the venue postponing the screening until after this month's elections, producers are searching for a alternative location.

ROME – A decision from Italy’s MAXXI Museum of 21st Century Art to postpone the Italian premiere of a controversial documentary examining the “decline” of Italy under the leadership of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi is sparking cries of censorship in the Italian capital.

Girlfriend in a Coma, directed and co-written by Italian journalist Annalisa Piras, was scheduled to premiere in Italy on Feb. 13. But the museum canceled the event at the request of the Ministry of Culture, saying it would be unfair to show the film during the heat of the election campaign in which Berlusconi is a candidate. The museum said it would screen the documentary after the elections.

Three weeks ahead of the Feb. 24-25 vote, Berlusconi, who has been prime minister three times, is running a close second among seven candidates to head Italy’s next government, behind former minister Pier Luigi Bersani and ahead of incumbent Mario Monti.

Berlusconi was prime minister for seven months in 1994-95, but the documentary focuses on the country's "decline" during the ten-year span ending in 2011. Berlusconi was prime minister for eight years over that period.

Bill Emmot, the documentary’s co-writer and the former editor of The Economist, whose book Good Italy, Bad Italy is the basis for the film, called the decision to postpone the screening “stupidity.” Some of Berlusconi’s political opponents say the decision smacks of censorship, even though the initial request came from a ministry in Monti’s government.

Officials with Berlusconi’s campaign have denied exerting any pressure to have the premiere changed.

Monti himself appears in the documentary, along with film director and Cannes regular Nanni Moretti, a vocal Berlusconi critic; author Roberto Saviano, whose book Gomorra was the basis of Matteo Garone’s Cannes jury prize winning film of the same name; noted Italian essayist and author Umberto Eco; and Sergio Marchionne, chairman of automakers Fiat and Chrysler.

The film -- which bills itself as “a blend of Michael More, Adam Smith, and ‘Bunga Bunga’ with a dash of Dante” -- has already screened in London and the U.S. “Bunga Bunga” is Berlusconi’s term for the sex parties he often hosted.

Emmot, who was editor of The Economist when the magazine was sued for an editorial that stated Berlusconi was unfit to lead Italy, said the film’s producers are looking for a venue for the film to screen in Italy before the elections. 

The news broke the same day the 76-year-old Berlusconi was scheduled to appear in court in Milan on charges of abuse of power and paying an under-age girl for sex.

In addition to his political career, Berlusconi controls Italy's biggest media company, which includes three national television networks, the Medusa cinema production and distribution company, a major ad buying firm, several print media, and the AC Milan professional soccer team. 

The MAXXI is best known to film lovers as the home of the International Rome Film Festival's provocative CineMAXXI sidebar.