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Berlinale Bloggers 2019
A selfie film of everyday life in Naples

Selfie | Photo (Detail) © Selfie - Agostino Ferrente

Agostino Ferrente’s “Selfie” received several minutes of applause. His documentary film about two Neapolitan youths is a successful experiment and also an extraordinary sociological document.

By Andrea D’Addio

On 4 September 2014, Davide Bifolco, a 15-year-old Neapolitan, was shot dead by police. Davide had no criminal record and had done nothing wrong. He was sitting behind two other youths on a scooter. When they failed to stop at a police roadblock, the police briefly chased through the streets of their neighbourhood, Rione Traiano, and eventually shot him. Firing at him was a mistake, admits the carabiniere who shot him – for which he was subsequently convicted of manslaughter. But that won’t assuage the grief of Davide’s family and friends and others who knew him.

This tragic event prompted Agostino Ferrente, one of Italy’s preeminent documentary filmmakers, to contact Davide’s friends. He found Alessandro and Pietro and convinced them to tell the story – on camera – of their lives in this particularly run-down part of Naples. So as not to influence daily life for the youths and those around him through his presence, he equipped them with a smartphone and a selfie stick, thereby making them the directors of the film. This experiment produced compelling results.

Alessandro and Pietro's story

Alessandro and Pietro are both 16 years old and best friends. Alessandro works as a busboy at a bar, while Pietro has his sights set on becoming a barber, but can’t find any openings or even customers to practice on – except his father in the living room. Both are dropouts and they’re the only ones who believe the excuses they give for dropping out of school. And yet every day they try anew to give meaning to their existence: “Life as criminals is not for us,” they say. The two youths support each other. But they disagree on what to shoot: should they show the ubiquitous juvenile delinquency in their milieu or not? “We have to make a movie showing the best sides of our neighbourhood.” “No, we have to be realistic and cater to our viewers’ tastes: they expect a bit of spectacle.”

The exciting thing about this undertaking is that no matter what they decide, the interviews and monologues they record with the selfie stick also clearly show how hard it is for everyone in Naples, even the most motivated, to follow all the rules all the time. But if even someone like Davide Bifolco, who really tried to, ended up getting shot dead by a cop, how credible is a state that claims it wants to change this situation?