Italian official shuns Cannes over quake film

Culture minister assails 'Draquila' as 'propaganda'

ROME -- Italy's culture minister is boycotting next week's Cannes film festival in protest at an Italian documentary criticizing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's response to a deadly earthquake last year.
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The documentary, by comedian Sabina Guzzanti, is called "Draquila" - a wordplay bringing together the Dracula vampire and L'Aquila, the city in central Italy where more than 300 people were killed in the April 2009 quake.

It will screen out of competition at the Cannes festival.

Culture Minister Sandro Bondi, a close ally of Berlusconi, said in a statement he was shocked that the film was selected for the festival, calling it "propaganda offending the truth and the whole Italian people."

He said he had declined an invitation to attend the festival.

Guzzanti, known in Italy for her abrasive satire about the prime minister, spent months in L'Aquila to portray the devastation of the medieval city and investigate the government's rebuilding efforts.

Berlusconi, who hosted last year's G8 summit in L'Aquila in a show of solidarity with the quake victims, often cites his hands-on handling of the disaster as one of his government's main successes.

But the documentary argues that he exploited the quake to boost his own popularity and that residents were not consulted as new houses were hurriedly built on the outskirts of the city. It also focuses on the role of the Civil Protection department, which led the rescue and reconstruction operations.

Center-left opposition leaders criticized Bondi's decision to shun the festival. "Berlusconi and his government are becoming increasingly intolerant of satire and freedom of expression," said Fabio Giambrone of the Italy of Values party.

The Cannes film festival runs from May 12-23.
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