Roma reacts by telling itself

Reaction Roma is a social movie about the Italian capital city from a suburban point of view, but what it consists of, from the web, it is not clear that much. So I went where they would explain the project, in Renato Nicolini library, and this is my suburban trip in Roma…

I take the metro, and then I get on bus 889, direction Corviale, a north-west suburb of Roma known for the ugliness of its buildings, one in particular, called “Serpentone” (big snake). Ugliness that is just the external expression of what doesn’t work at all.

During the trip, a woman of a certain age approaches the central doors to get off, hits a boy and immediately apologizes. But at that point she is being overwhelmed by a girl that is getting on the bus. The lady breaks down, “what the Hell, first let me get off at least!”, revealing the tragedy all those dealing with Roman buses know: the human wall of people that appears just before you are trying to get off. The girl grins, sits down and shrugs her shoulders.

My stop is on via Poggio Verde, just the street where the Serpentone lies, as the Romans call it, namely Nuovo Corviale, “the longest monster in Europe” capable of hosting 1.200 families, but to my great disappointment, there’s still no trace of the famous “Green kilometer“…

Serpentone by matteo_dudek (flickr)

Serpentone in the present by matteo_dudek (flickr)

Owned by ATER (Territorial Company for Residential Building of Roma, former Autonomous Institute of Popular Houses) Serpentone “is among the most controversial architectural works created in post-war Italy”, as Wikipedia says: it had to represent a model of housing development, instead it resulted the umpteenth and largest piece of a “dormitory suburb”. From 1972 to the present, years of occupations and neglect have reduced the building into a state of decay and decay, until in 2009 it became the subject of an attempt of requalification, even from a territorial point of view.

Over years, a center for mental illness appeared together with a group of traffic wardens, a cultural and artistic center “Il Mitreo” and a farmer market. A further push came then in 2014, with the release of the film Scusa se esisto! (Sorry if I exist!) by Riccardo Milani, inspired by the architect Guendalina Salimei (Paola Cortellesi in the movie), who in 2008, with her T-studio, launched a project and in 2015 won a call to redevelop the fourth floor of Serpentone. For a moment it was really believed that the “Green kilometer” project (spaces, activities and services for residents) would become a reality.

But it still was on a bureaucratically standby, while in December 2015 another project was announced, winning another (international) competition, “Rigenerate Corviale: look beyond the present”. After Salimei, who still maintains the fourth floor project, another woman, Laura Peretti of Studio Insito, won the call with the same intention to return to the original project (in theory, even the first builder, Mario Fiorentino, had good intentions, but then his business failed), that is the construction of a real “piece of the city” (complete with square). In fact, the land floors are entrusted to her. In any case, the Ater makes it known that the time is still long: probably “we will not talk about construction before the end of 2016”. They said in 2016. Today is April 2019, and the works are just started.

A screenshot from the movie Scusa se esisto! by Milani, when Cortellesi (who plays the architect Salimei) has her first intuition about the “Green kilometer” project… at the time she is a waitress and one evening that is clearing up, she sees a patch of pea cream on a table mat, then she stretches it with a finger, and her imagination does the rest…

By the way, speaking of movies, Milani’s one is only the sixth made about Serpentone: like a real star, it has been the protagonist of Italian cinema (and not only) since 1983, with Pier Francesco Pingitore comedy Sfrattato cerca casa equo canone (“Evicted seeks a fair home”), but it did not disdain also Austrian-German documentaries, drama and even science fiction films, like Warrior of the lost world (Mad Max himself in Corviale!) by David Worth (1984)…

Just arrived, I see two boys playing in front of the monster, exchanging passages with the ball, they tell me to cross the green strip in front of them and there I will find Nicolini library where this Reaction Roma will be presented. The unmistakable Libraries of Roma’s red book sign peeps out on a barrack, rather bare, but with some color given by graffiti.

In the presentation room “we are four cats” (we say in Roma when few people is attending). There is the creator of the project, the director Pietro Jona, and some adult who is stalling. At a certain point a caravan of students is added and the situation is definitely animated:

What is it?“, they ask immediately, almost in chorus.

Reaction Roma on yellow flyer

Well now I will explain…“, the director replies with a smile as he starts distributing bright yellow flyers.

I am so curious…” insists a girl.

The director of the Library, Giovanna Micaglio, then intervenes, trying to frame the situation: “basically it is a matter of sending amateur contributions, which you can also create with your beloved I-phone”.

“And with Samsung??” asks a boy.

They laugh.

“They come good with the I-phone”, she continues with mothering, not realizing the teasing, “they even did a rap show at the Macro in via Nizza” she said with proud to the director. It refers to the HipHopLab organized by the Youth Aggregation Center Luogocomune, one of the many factories that revolve around this and other libraries in Roma, and which promotes “afternoon activities of study support and artistic-expressive, musical, intercultural workshops” and “on the move” (from acrobatics to parkour) for the kids in here. A lady describes them as “problematic”, but they just seem as energetic and a bit noisy as all teenagers are.

Eventually Jona tries to catch the attention and finally explain this Reaction: “in short, kids, this is an initiative that intends to tell the city, above all from a suburban point of view. Then we will collect the video contributions to give life to an infinite real video installation that will be exhibited in Macro Testaccio, and then we’ll also create a documentary about it with more calm”.

Serpentone in the future (Laura Peretti’s project)

The possibility of seizing a moment of life seems to remember Life in a day (2011) by Ridley Scott (and therefore Italy in a day, 2014, by Gabriele Salvatores), but not everyone knows that Jona was the true precursor: yet in 2000 he created “The first experiment in collective creativity“, Human’s y2k, a film that brought together content shot by video amateurs from 15 countries around the world, to tell the chaotic passage of the Millennium. Moreover, in Reaction Roma, the intent is to tighten the lens and not to enlarge it (a single city, central and suburban) and there is above all “the reaction to the fact that the people who speak is always the same“. Shooting can be uploaded on the website and are “free” in all respects, only inspired by four themes: Materials, Contrasts, Movements and Human.

Yes, but what should we do in practice?” The boys insist.

“Suburban Sunset” (from

You have to do what you want! Take back something, which is interesting for you, or put you in the foreground. You don’t have to worry: you don’t have to be correct and there is no censorship”. There are so many perspectives on things, and often the outskirts seem to be another city, even if it is always the same: “just an example, I’ve seen terrific suburban sunrises and sunsets, but if you think about it, it seems that they exist only in the center of the city”. Or the opposite situation. “I was at school in Prima Valle district and many of my classmates had never set foot in Piazza Navona, for example.”

When he also says that “for the most interesting materials there are also prizes, probably Canon cameras, but it’s all to see…”, despite the uncertainty, shouts of joy are rising.

A girl raises her hand, she’s already visiting the website via “smartphone”, and asks: “but here the registration is with email… I don’t have it. Can I put my grandmother’s one?”

“Of course… otherwise there is also the facebook option to register…”

The students at that point, as fast as they appeared, disappear again, followed by two volunteers. Only the adults, who start talking to each other, remain.

Nice to see this participation of young people…“, comments a man who is a traffic police officer.

Actually they are the first I see“, says the director. The average age of the people who are participating in the movie is in fact around 38, according to the website stats (65% of women from 15 districts, from Aurelio to Nomentano, from Tuscolano to Parioli…) “We do not intend to capture only a certain group of people, which happens if you only use social media, as Salvatores did for example. That’s just a part, you also have to go on the street”. As in politics.

A still image from Termini Tv

What Jona confides in is the possibility of grasping, through the people who live there, what is and is not going well in Roma, and helping to make it known, thanks to the great visibility that Macro can give. He believes that the video installation is “the most free tool to show”, and above all the great help of Libraries of Roma that, compared to schools, have been much more receptive. “Roma wants to be only the first city, the project intends to be replicable (and even the categories have been conceived in this sense)”. For inspiration they have in mind Termini Tv, which on the website is described as “the only online channel based in a station, which tells the humanity that passes and pauses” in this crucial point: according to him it is a valid thermometer of what happens in the city.

“But what if you are going to collect only bad words?”, the four cats ask again.

“So perfect, we will make a monument with them! I understand that in Roma there is a climate of such disillusionment and discouragement… “

Will Roma react to itself?

Categories: Stereotype-in-English

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