'The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer': Talking to Director Pierfrancesco 'Pif' Diliberto

| Tue, 01/28/2014 - 10:13

When preparing for the interview with Italian journalist, TV satirist and director Pierfrancesco “Pif” Diliberto, about his debut film La Mafia Uccide Solo d'Estate (The Mafia Only Kills in The Summer), I knew it was not going to be an ordinary interview. We both grew up in Sicily during the 1970s and 1980s, two decades marked by a bloody war for Mafia supremacy, with regular killings of rival mobsters and anti-Mafia crusaders, and his film is the first attempt at explaining what our generation went through.

Poster of La Mafia uccide solo d'estate

It is the fictional story of Arturo (Diliberto), a guy born and raised in Palermo during those troubled years.  Through satire and with a fancifully dark comedy style reminiscent of Benigni's La Vita è Bella, Diliberto explains how regular people coped living side by side with corrupt politicians and Cosa Nostra's mobsters in Palermo. With a sharp sense of irony, he underlines how ridiculous the position of the state was during those years. In his words: ‘If a 7 year old child like me knew that a certain bar was the place where Mafia mobsters used to hold their meetings, how could the state not know and ignore it!’. He also paints Mafia bosses in their entire humanity, not as negative heroes, but as normal people who chose to be criminals, and as such they could have been stopped.

The film explains also how the assassination of anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and  Paolo Borsellino in 1992, began to change Sicilians deeply, especially our generation.


I belong to Diliberto’s generation, I grew up in a different part of Sicily, the South-East, and recently  shared with you my experience in a special account of the aftermath of Paolo Borsellino's killing. That's why I knew that Talking to Pif  was not going to be an interview, but more of a group ’psychotherapy session '

The title of the film comes from what Arturo's father replies to one of his kid’s questions in the film:
Arturo: “Ma la Mafia ucciderà  anche noi? (Is the Mafia going to kill us too?)"
Arturo's dad: "Tranquillo. Ora siamo d’inverno. La Mafia uccide solo d’estate. (Don't worry. We are in winter now. The Mafia only kills in the summer.)" 
'They only kill each other!', 'As long as they only kill each other!', 'If you do not mess with them they leave you in peace', 'They fight over women', etc, these are just some of the comments we heard about Mafia killings in the 1970s and 1980s, as you point out in your film. At the time Sicilian adults were cowards or was that their only survival strategy?
I was in Mexico on holiday some time ago. There was a shooting in the area where we were staying and the owner of the B&B reassured us saying: 'Yes, there are some criminal gangs in the area, but if you do not mess with them, they do not bother with you'. Which was exactly what we used to say few years ago. From this episode you understand that we are dealing with survival strategies, wherever criminal organizations are, if people do not feel protected by the state they have no choice. 
Coming back to us, at that time, it was clear that the Italian State had no intention to destroy the Mafia, they were actually going hand-in-hand with it. 
Therefore, there was no choice, the average person could not defeat the Mafia alone. I even justify the 'omertà’ ( code of silence ) of those days, because if you were so unlucky to witness a murder, reporting what you saw to the police would be equal to signing your death sentence, because the state was not there to protect you. 
So yes, it was a matter of surviving, and even a Swiss or Danish citizen would  have behaved this way in that context. 
'Sicilian' is for some people synonymous with mafioso, how can we explain that Sicilians are, first and foremost, the victims of the Mafia?
Few days ago I was thinking about a sign which is often placed behind bars’ counters saying 'Per colpa di qualcuno, non si fa sconto più a nessuno' (literally "Due to someone's fault we do not give credit anymore.). Firstly I thought that it sums up Italy's current problems, but it can also help explain the relationship between the Mafia and Sicilians. The Sicilian Mafiosi are just a few thousands out of millions of honest people born in the island. 
The problem is that the Mafia, especially American Mafia, is quite fascinating from a cinematographic perspective. Many authors, especially, foreign authors, are charmed by the spectacular nature of this form of criminal organization and always describe it in spectacular ways. But actually, we know that the Sicilian Mafia is just sad, just think about mafiosi like Provenzano who lived in shacks, eating wild greens and old bread. Nothing glamorous about them. 
How did the idea for the film come about? 
When I realized that many people outside of Sicily do not know much about the Mafia and the years that led to the 1992 massacres.  When I moved to the north of Italy, people asked me questions about the Mafia that I assume were common knowledge. I had to explain what had happened.  Today, 
I notice that many of them are living how we used to live back then, in total denial. While various Mafia and camorra operations in the north have already been uncovered, it is hard to accept that Mafia crimes are not just something that happens in Sicily.
I was just 19 years old when Falcone and Borsellino were killed, I think their assassination had a big influence on my life and on that of many friends of mine, but only recently I started talking about those years. Do you think it took us 20 years to actually comprehend what happened in 1992? 
Probably yes, I like to think that the success of this film is due to the fact that many people of my generation had come to similar conclusions about those years, but never had a public space to share their thoughts and experiences. I am convinced that we are doing it now probably because of our age, the younger generations need to know. 
This is the first movie about the Mafia from the perspective of someone who is in his forties now and who was, therefore, just a child back in the 1980s and early 1990s. The day before the film premiered, we organized an event in a theatre in Palermo where I invited all the  Palermitani of my generation using this expression: “let’s come together for a great moment of self-analysis  and let’s try to understand if the Mafia influenced our lives and how”. 
Usually, films about the Mafia in Sicily tell the story from the perspective of the victims, for example like the film about Peppino Impastato (a journalist writing about the Mafia), ending with their assassination. In my film the story continues beyond the Mafia murder, it shows you what happened in Palermo after they killed a police commissioner, a journalist or a judge.
You also run a TV show on Mtv Italia, Il Testimone (The Witness), where you deal with all sorts of issues, from the life of famous tv, music or fashion stars, to the Padre Pio's sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo. One of the episodes was dedicated to anti-Mafia writer Roberto Saviano, was this filmed before you made the movie and, if yes, how did your encounter with Saviano influence the movie? 
The film was actually finished when I met Saviano, so we can say that my episode of Il Testimone dedicated to Roberto continued my work on organized crime in Italy. But there were other episodes of Il Testimone dedicated to the Mafia that prepared me for the film.

The one about Addiopizzo (a grassroots movement established in 2004 to build a community of businesses that refuse to pay "pizzo" – Mafia extortion money)  and the one entitled Orfani di Mafia (Mafia orphans) where I met the children of Mafia victims, EMP Sonia Alfano (daughter of Beppe Alfano a journalist killed by the Mafia),  the daughters of Carmelo Iannì (one of Palermo’s hotelier killed by the Mafia) and Camilla Giaccone, daughter of Paolo Giaccone (a forensic pathologist killed by the Mafia).

You made a point of filming in Palermo without paying the ‘pizzo’ (‘protection’ money), does it mean that even film productions pay the Mafia and if so, how did you manage to avoid it?
I find it incredible that after having stated in various interviews that I refused to pay money to the Mafia, other productions and colleagues do not feel the need to say ‘wait a minute, you are not the only one, we did not pay either!’. How is it possible that no one got offended by my remarks. 
The reason is that they could not say it, because it is very easy to verify that they actually did pay. It is enough you read the film credits and you find the names of companies and people linked to the Mafia. This is because the Mafia does not come to you asking for money directly, like in the old days. They have companies and you have to hire their companies even if they offer neither the best service nor the best price. So if you want a catering service, you have to hire that specific catering service, if you need a bus driver, you need to hire that bus driver, etc. So it is enough you look at the names in the credits and you know everything. 

I was even lucky, that while we were filming in Palermo, there were other two crews filming around the city, so the Mafia focused on those two and left us in peace. But surely my outspoken position in general helped. Before even coming to Palermo we send the Mafia a ‘Mafia-style’ message they could not ignore saying ‘WE ARE NOT GOING TO PAY’,  and if I managed to do that, anyone can. 
It is enough you decide that you do not want to pay, have producers who support you, and look for the right people to work with on the ground, like Addiopizzo guys; without them, I have to admit, it would have been more difficult. 
We had film crews coming to Palermo to shoot movies about anti-Mafia heroes who paid money to the Mafia to be able to work there. Can you imagine that?!
How is Addiopizzo managing to oppose the Mafia and bring about this significant change to the city?
The strength of Addiopizzo is that they do not have an identifiable leader or symbol, so they don’t have an easy target for the mobsters. The owners/managers of all the businesses involved are all leaders of Addiopizzo. Some ‘pentiti’ (former mafiosi who decided to collaborate with the judicial system) said that when they saw the Addiopizzo sticker outside a shop, they went away. This tells us a lot about the strength of simple people just coming together and organizing themselves to fight crime. Ten years ago, this would have been impossible, now we have some hope. 
You seem hopeful about the future, but is there anything that worries you? 
The people who scare me are not the Mafia mobsters, but the regular people who are against the Mafia in theory, but in practice do nothing to oppose it.  I am talking about those who do not make an effort and live their life minding only their own business. I remember how few years ago, we were commemorating Paolo Borsellino on the 19th anniversary of his assassination in Via D’Amelio and while we were observing a moment of silence two elegantly dressed ladies got out of a car complaining that we were blocking the road. These are the people who worry me and we have to work to make them aware of their responsibilities.
You also launched an on-line side project called ‘Aiuta Pif’ (Help Pif) where you asked people to prepare videos to help promote the movie. Is this just a marketing tool or part of a larger campaign to make people aware of the issues the film touches on?
Considering that this is my first feature movie we had a good budget, but still rather limited compared to other films. We could not have that many billboards around the country, so we used social networks to promote the film. I thought of getting people involved and launched the idea of ‘Aiuta Pif’ depending also on the people who follow my show (Il Testimone) on Mtv.  I was overwhelmed by the number of people who actually took the time to make a video to promote my work. 
At the same time, this initiative does also contributes to making even more people aware of the issues I tried to explain in the film. 
At the end of the interview it is customary to thank the interviewees for their time, as this interview was not an ordinary one as I had imagined, my thanks to Diliberto were not an ordinary exercise of polite journalism either. I thanked Pif from the bottom of my heart for representing the voice of so many Sicilians in such a powerful way and making it easier for us to explain the Mafia to the rest of the world. Grazie Pif.
The film won the Audience Award at the Torino Film Festival in 2013 and I hope it will be distributed abroad soon. Enjoy the trailer below, it has not English subtitles, but images speak for themselves: 

Photo credit:OptimaItalia