Last year, Brunella Fili, a young filmmaker in Milan, looked around her and realized that half her friends had moved away. It was not that they had gone back to the south, where she is from; or that they had swapped Italy’s fashion and business capital for its political capital. It was that they had upped sticks and left the country altogether. They did not know, they told her, when they would be coming back.
Fili, 30, was saddened, but she was also inspired. She decided she would take her camera around Europe to interview her friends and others like them about why they had left and whether it had been worth it.
The result, a documentary called Emergency Exit, is scheduled to come out later this year. It tells the stories of young Italian graduates who became, variously, a vet in Vienna, an academic in Paris, a fishmonger in Norway and an archaeologist in London. They are just four of thousands. The problem, for Italy, is not so much that they are going, but that nobody is arriving in their place.
“I think they leave because — I don’t know if it’s an extreme sentence but — they have no choice, really,” Fili says. “It’s a generation that here is quite forgotten ... The choice is between making do ... or leaving and trying for a better opportunity not only for their career but for a better life, a family, a sort of civilization.”
She is at pains to stress that, for the people she knows, leaving was not something they did just to broaden their horizons or to take some time out of the rat race. To them, amid rising unemployment in a labor market already divided along generational lines, it felt a matter of basic necessity.
“It is not only an experience of life,” she says. “Because they are not thinking about coming back, not now. I ask them: Do you want to come back? And they say, ‘Yes, I hope to come back one day, but not now.’ They are happy, satisfied, but with a little sadness.”
Why, amid all the exodus, does Fili stay put?
“For now the question is open. For now I think I stay. Because it’s a challenge for me as an artist, but also as a citizen to say these things,” she says.
She hopes that, eventually, those responsible will be held accountable. However, she does not expect anything great from this election.
Fili is crowdfunding for her documentary at Indiegogo, where she says she has received considerably more interest internationally than in Italy. So far she has raised US$700.
Over the past few days, as I have traveled around Italy, I have received a lot of e-mails from Italians abroad. I wanted to publish this one at length. The writer asked to remain anonymous:
“I’m 30 and I live in London. As I’m an Italian citizen resident abroad I have already voted by post and I voted for [the center-left] Partito Democratico (PD). I have very mixed feelings about the election and about Italy, too. It is literally painful for me to think about the situation in my country, especially for young people. Note that I was 12 when Berlusconi came on the scene. Basically, I have been hearing about Berlusconi all my life. Every time I go home more friends have lost already precarious jobs and live propped up by their parents. The rise in prices and taxes is really felt and working people are counting their pennies. More and more friends and friends of friends are leaving Italy to go abroad, to Europe, the US, China, anywhere. These are mostly educated people who have lost any hope of finding decent employment and living conditions in their own country. Those who are staying suffer anxiety and panic attacks as they know they cannot plan anything. They don’t see their future, and I’m not here talking about buying a house or having kids; I’m just talking about paying rent next month or going on holiday once a year. I haven’t told friends that I recently landed a permanent job that is paid decently (well, living in London is always a struggle), that I’m appreciated at work and taken care of, that I have career prospects, because I feel bad,” it reads. “And this brings me back to the elections. I follow Italian press and TV as much as possible, but I still struggle to understand what the policies of the various parties are. And yet this is so familiar, because Italy is a country where in the last 10 years politics has become about who shouts louder and not about policy-making. When Berlusconi resigned, after all that was happening on the markets and the international reactions etc, I think everyone felt like he was done, once for all. Instead now he’s coming back on track and it terrifies me that still almost one in three Italians are ready to vote for him. I’m quite sure he is not going to win and be able to form a government but I don’t want to say it too loud. That would be disaster.”