Death penalty, prejudice against immigrants, physical elimination of the "foreigner" and a song - Joan Baez' Here's to You - that is still an hymn against injustice. Sacco & Vanzetti is a powerful and unfortunately still topical film. Shot in 1971 by Giuliano Montaldo with two extraordinary actors such as Gian Maria Volonté and Riccardo Cucciolla, the films tells the story of two Italian anarchists, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, Nicola & Bart, sentenced to death on the electric chair on the 23 August 1927. Their only crime was to have inconvenient political beliefs.

Restored in 4k, the film is presented at the Rome Film Festival by Unidis Jolly Film in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna, Istituto Luce-Cinecittà, and Rai Cinema. This new version comes 90 years after the execution of the two anarchists, and 50 years after their rehabilitation: all disgrace on their memory was deleted by decree thanks to the big emotional impact of the film. The film is screened at the film in attendance of the director, master composer Ennio Morricone, female protagonist Rosanna Fratello, Sacco's and Vanzetti's nephews, history scholar Luigi Botta, and Amnesty Italy President Antonio Marchesi. Before the film, the original funeral sequence will be screened, too.

Montaldo, was this film difficult to make?
It was difficult to convince a producer to finance a film set in the 1920s USA, and in Italy nobody knew Sacco and Vanzetti because at the time of the events the Fascist regime censored the fact completely. I didn't know about them either and just came to know about it in a small workers' theatre in Genova. A friend of mine helped me collect more information and a desire to tell the huge suffering caused by intolerence grew in me. This topic is dear to me and I made other films about it, such as The Golden Glass and Giordano Bruno. I went very humbly looking for a producer and after two years I found Arrigo Colombo and Giorgio Papi. Being Jewish, Arrigo flew Italy in 1938 and learnt English by reading Vanzetti's letters to the defence committee. When I told him about my project he was touched, and decided to help.

Is it true that it's been hard work to have Riccardo Cucciolla playing Nicola Sacco?

We had this French coproduction on board, and they wanted Yves Montand at all costs. But I loved Cucciolla and I wanted an Apulian actor. Rosanna Fratello, playing the wife, is Apulian too, and this was her first role as an actress. Vanzetti is a man without family ties and very politically committed. Sacco was more introverted, had a family, wife and children. I was right in choosing Cucciolla, who also won the Best Actor Award in Cannes.

How was the experience of Volonté during the shooting?
Througout the whole shooting period, he never stopped being Vanzetti one minute. Since he found out that during the seven years in prison Bart was very sweet and encouraging with Nicola, he did the same with Cucciolla. It was moving to see those two men so united in the drama they were intensely living. Volonté, who worked with me again two years later in Giordano Bruno, delved into his character completely, emulated it through and though. 

Did Volonté know the story of Sacco and Vanzetti before the film?

Yes, he already acted in the theatre piece. That didn't deal with the whole process, but was just focusing on the human drama.

The film had a strong echo for its topics: injustice, the horror of death penalty, the manipulation of evidence in order to sentence two innocent men that the authorities wanted to deem guilty from the very beginning.
There were manifestations all over the world, even in India. The film became a flag for many young people, the law students in Boston presented the court records to the Governor Dukakis in order to have the two anarchists rehabilitated. The movement against death penalty is still using Joan Baez' song today, and it's no coincidence that Amnesty International will attend the screening here at the Rome Film Festival.

Where did you shoot the film?
Mainly in Yugoslavia, the jail in the film was the prison of Tito. Then in Dublin and a small part in the US too. We found the shoe factory where Sacco used to work so we shot the murder scene there.

In the sentence against Sacco and Vanzetti, besides the political attack, the paranoia against foreigners played a big role.
The court wanted to sentence the two anarchists because they made the equations: anarchists equal assassins. Americans were afraid Italian immigrants could bring this virus, because they were fighting for jobs and the defense of immigrants.

How did that famous song come up?
That was an incredibly stroke of luck. I went to the US to look for archival materials in Washington and to talk with a prospective coproducers, that eventually didn't come on board. One day, while leaving my hotel in New York, I bumped into Furio Colombo and I confessed I had this ballad that I wished Joan Baez could sing. He told me: look, Joan is coming for dinner at mine tonight. So I gave him the script for her to read and the morning after she called me to say yes. The encounter between Baez and Morricone was another memorable moment. She came to Rome to record the song and they couldn't talk because they couldn't speak each other's languages. They understood each other perfectly though. In one day only they recorded everything, sharing a lot a big hugs.

Racism and intolerance still trouble the world today.
Intolerance against the other still keeps on causing wars, hatred, racism, and other kind of madness. There's a lot of it in this world that is going in a direction that makes me suffer. Cinema is not enough, we need serious actions against this widespread injustice.

When Bartolemeo Vanzetti speaks to the court, he says: one day you'll be dust, but our names won't be forgotten.

These are the true words of Vanzetti and can be found in the court reports. They echo what Bellarmino said to the cardinals when they sentenced Giordano Bruno: this rogue threatens to burn for eternity. It's just like this. Sacco and Vanzetti will be remembered forever. That's what cinema is for.


ROMA 2017