Steve Scherer, Reuters
Seven years ago, Dagmawi Yimer was “between life and death” when Italian navy officers rescued him and 30 others from a skiff in heavy seas between Libya and the island of Lampedusa. Today, Yimer directs documentary films about immigrants like himself from the home in the northern city of Verona he shares with his Italian partner and their two-year-old daughter. (…) His fifth documentary film is about three Senagalese men recovering from racist attacks. Entitled “Va Pensiero” after the chorus of an opera by Giuseppe Verdi about an immigrant’s nostalgia for home, the film follows the men as they try to come to terms with the hate and violence they endured. The first man was stabbed and left for dead by a skinhead at a bus stop in Milan. Passersby ignored him for more than an hour. The other two were randomly shot by a radical right-wing thug who hunted down and murdered two other Senagalese men on the streets of Florence in 2011, and then committed suicide. At an early screening of the film for possible distributors, the reaction was that of having been “punched in the gut”, according to one representative of the state-owned TV network, who suggested softening the tone. Yimer and his Italian partners on the film, who have founded an association to collect the testimony of immigrants called the “Archive of Migrant Memories”, stood their ground. “I’ve experienced a lot of prejudice,” he said, “and I see a worrying trend in Italy where racism is becoming more ideological.”
December 22, 2013

Marianna Cappi, My Movies
“It is in speaking of a story of today, a recurring ugly story of racism, that Dagmawi Yimer’s documentary (a migrant himself, he landed in Lampedusa in 2006) touches hearts and consciences, without indulging in indignation or complaints; with his ability to blend together, in a small amount of time and on a small budget, a great sadness (“Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost! Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!” Veronica Marchi sings) and its main antidote: the art of telling, the only weapon capable of shattering silence and the threat of invisibility”.
December 27, 2013

Carlo Bonini, La Repubblica
There are some who challenge the impossible, with the strength of intelligence and a dignity that escapes self-pity; because they have something crucial to tell and nothing to be forgiven for. The 60 minutes of the ‘migrant film’ Va’ Pensiero, a documentary by Dagmawi Yimer, is a manifesto of this. Even more so because of the timing of this viewing, on the second anniversary of the San Lorenzo market killings in Florence, when Gianluca Casseri, a Tuscan neo-Nazi, fired his 357 Magnum against a group of “immigrant others”, against the Senegalese street vendors, taking the lives of Samb Modou and Diop Mor and marking for ever those who were lucky or cursed to survive, Sougou Mor and Mbengue Cheik, the protagonists of Va’ Pensiero. Dagmawi Yimer takes us beyond a boundary we do not usually cross: into the days and months of the unbearable aftermath, when media attention wanes, silence waters down the memory and the victim of the racist attack finds himself alone in a hospital bed or on melancholy bench in a park, trying to deal with the indelible scars left on the deformed and swollen flesh by the expanding bullets and those, far worse, of the soul.
December 9, 2013

Pietro Veronese, Il Venerdì della Repubblica
“A man is lying on a physiotherapy table. The therapist is helping him perform painful movements. What we see of the doctor are only her white hands, which stand out on the man’s black skin… These are the images that moved me most in Va’ Pensiero, a beautiful film that RAI (Italy’s national television) should really buy, so that the greatest number of people could see it… In Va’ Pensiero we find the silences that are in Dagmawi’s other films, as well as the centrality of oral narration, of words. I asked the author if this was an African characteristic; he answered that it had nothing to do with it, that – if anything- he is Swiss, referring to his punctuality. I loved this answer, because if Dag is Swiss, then I can surely be African”.
March 14, 2014

Cécile Kyenge
“Thank you Dag for telling these stories, the lives of those who are often unseen and unheard. Telling the life stories of people means trying to make their path more human. Often, when talking about diversity, there is a tendency to focus on people as if they had no feelings. This masterpiece is a contribution to the cultural change that should take place, is already taking place… The film we saw this evening is well thought-out, it is developed with expertise and intelligence… It must inspire us to think, when we see someone different, that that person may have something more to offer.
Florence, December 13, 2013

Flore Murard-Yovanovitch, L’Unità
Frame after frame, Va’ Pensiero accompanies you gradually into the violence, alongside the blameless victims. It raises a question: Why are we still dealing with racial violence? This disease of our times… Yimer’s film query is very poetic, smooth and fluid, with a splendid editing by a professional such as Lizi Gelber. Throughout its 60 minutes it walks you – with a dramatic crescendo – into today’s heart of darkness, to make it visible”.
December 13, 2013

Simone Moraldi, Cinemafrica
Va’ Pensiero weaves together political indictment and the protagonists’ storytelling. Everything is craftfully “filtered” through Dag’s eyes, with his ability to narrate Italy, Milan, Florence, buildings, streets, people, while keeping intact a mysterious authorial strength: we don’t know if this stems from Dag’s migrant origin, we are not sure whether this is an “accented” film, a film which bears “the accent” of someone who, as a “foreigner”, tries to speak the language of the country he resides in; but we do know for certain that the film, like Dag’s previous ones, communicates a rare sensibility in dealing with the issues told here. This lightness bestows a poetic tone on a very political project, making Va’ Pensiero a beautiful film, with its clear structure, its excellent music, its simple and immediate language.
December 14, 2013

Francesca Materozzi, Corriere delle Migrazioni
“With the sweetness and poetry that has always marked his work, Dagmawi Yimer allows us to partake in the thoughts and feelings of the film’s protagonists. He takes us by the hand and accompanies us into the kitchen, the bedroom or the public park where their conversations take place. It’s as if we too were there, to share such closeness. We are so involved in a familiar feeling that we almost forget that we are only spectators. We are there, with the three protagonists while they cook or put a child to bed, and reflect on what has happened, trying to find a meaning or at least an escape from something from which, unfortunately, there is no going back”.
December 16, 2013

Annalisa Oboe After seeing Dagmawi Yimer’s Va’ Pensiero, no Italian will be able to listen to Verdi’s chorus without thinking about the intense, true and heart-warming images of this film, which tells of a very different Italy from that of the Risorgimento, from the country which nostalgically thinks of its past, and is dangerously close to the Italy imagined by those who have unduly adopted the chorus of Hebrew slaves in Babylon as their anthem. Yimer’s Va’ Pensiero re-tells the Israelites’ sorrow, transforming it into a familiar but also new soundtrack, which creates a connection between the Jewish diaspora and the Atlantic slave trade, the dispersal of African peoples and today’s migrations. Verdi’s powerful chorus turns here into a woman’s distraught singing, which accompanies the personal stories and often unknown tragic destinies of those who come to our country in search of a home and a job; a singing in which the accent is skilfully shifted to connect singular and plural, the individual and the community. Va’ Pensiero appropriates Verdi’s chorus, adding other and more recent voices to it, and claiming diversity and suffering as part of everyone’s history. In doing so, Yimer strategically reopens the archives of Italian culture and rewrites them, in an involved but firm tone, telling what it means to be black and foreigner in our country, to be a victim of blind racism, such as that struck against the African migrants in Florence, on December 13, 2011. University of Padua, January 10, 2014

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