Of the nearly 20 films I’ve seen at Tribeca thus far, Sabina Guzzanti'sViva Zapatero! is easily the most powerful, and possibly the most moving, as well. A documentary that grew out of the cancellation of her satirical TV show on Italian state television (RAI), the film is an eloquent cry of protest against the endless, unchecked violations of free expression, perpetrated by only-recently-former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government. The daughter of a Center-Right Italian senator, Guzzanti is a novice filmmaker, but clearly an experienced public speaker, satirist, and comedienne. She never fails to hold her own, whether she’s performing live on stage, debating Italian politicians in the street, or interviewing members of the press from around the world, and the resulting film is a funny, painful, sharp condemnation of Berlusconi’s actions, as well as a celebration of the spontaneous strength of the Italian people.
In 2003, Guzzanti created a show called RAIot, a satirical program that was singled out for its unusually good writing by the president of RAI just a few days before the first episode aired. Hours before the show was due to debut, however, it was pulled, without warning or explanation. Only when Guzzanti and her colleagues planned a press conference to discuss the affair did RAI relent, and the episode was finally allowed on the air. Ratings were sky-high, and the public clearly loved the show and its skewer of Berlusconi and his associates. Shortly thereafter, however, Berlusconi himself, as well as Mediaset, the holding company for many of his television and newspaper outlets and two other Berlusconi-owned companies, filed defamation lawsuits against the show, to the tune of about €41 million. As a result, RAI took the show off the air -- it wasn’t, they said, a question of censorship, but rather of a company protecting its interests.