Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/The motorcycle journey from Rome to Beirut


The motorcycle journey from Rome to Beirut

In the past months I had been so busy managing the whole project that I actually did not do what my main task was as an author: to write the documentary script. Obviously in a research documentary, as it was in our case, you don't really know what you are going to find out. So you cannot write the whole script in advance. Still it is important to visualize a broad line before and then be ready to turns and changes. I had already been before in most of the places where the shooting was planned, so I had a clear idea of what we were searching for. But I needed to write that idea. I had not written it yet. I decided to do the writing “on the road”. I repaired my very old but very smart motorcycle (a Suzuki 600 induro) and left Rome for Beirut.

In fact the main destination was not Lebanon, but Syria. That was our most difficult and fascinating location. The Arab spring hadn't yet arrived there. It was a very quiet country, but with very strong censorship. How much would we have been allowed to record in Syria? We had our official documents in order but … you never knew in Syria what authority should also allow you to do what others have approved. Rather than rules, there are sphere of power; which are generally overlapping with others so each controller is also controlled. So, you really never know if you are authorized or not to do what you want to do.

On paper, we had an official Syrian partner. But for the past month, they were not answering our e-mails. Again, that was something normal in Syria, where everything is personalized. You can do more but you need to write less. So let’s go there.

I always liked the dimension of traveling. It is a dimension of openness. it is the metaphor of life itself. I wanted to arrive to Syria by steps. I wanted to gradually see the cultural changes from the two sides of the Mediterranean. With the hope that that graduality would help my understanding. Moving by plane is too fast. You arrive there with the body but not with the mind. If I could gradually digest the gradual changes, then maybe I could adjust better and enter with a more receptive mind in a culture I was going to narrate about.


It worked! Not only because the cultural changes were in steps; not even because I had more time to observe and reflect over them; mainly because, thanks the on/the-road dimension of the travel, I interacted with people. Overland many small incidents happen: mechanical problems with the bike, missed ferries, confusion about directions, sudden rain, sudden hunger pangs Then you take more courage to come out of your isolation and interact with people. You overcome the barriers. And especially when you travel alone, you happen to get across to person whom for no apparent reason, become friends. On the road it happens that you open up to strangers in a way that you rarely do with your long time associates. You narrate your life without caring of being precise, sometimes mixing a bit the memories without the correct historical sequence; and then by listening to yourself who narrates your life in a different way, you learn a new dimensions of yourself.

But on the bike is not an easy walk and I could not write much of the script on paper. But I wrote it in my mood. The documentary approach became clearer to me. I thought we should have given to it such a dimension of “travel”. It will be us who travel as a team, both physically (in different countries) and then psychologically (inside the way media forms, or tries to form, the mental aptitude of opinion makers and opinion made-s).

The journey also showed me two important things. One is how hospitality was becoming more and more a value and a belief as I was approaching, and finally entering, the Middle East and the Arabian Nations. The other was how the Mediterranean Region still has so much of a unitary cultural identity, the perception of which has been greatly lost because we made people think in terms of political and commercial borders (The European Community and the “others”). But in reality the cultural unity of the Mediterranean Region is much stronger than the "European" continent. How much damage must have been done to Italy, and especially to South Italy, this political estrangement from its own natural links and from its cultural milieu? Sure, I was feeling much more at home there, in the small tea shops of Turkey, or in the meeting places of Syria, than in the pubs of Northern Europe!

The last thing I expected was to feel somehow at home in an Arabic Country. But I was so much at home in Syria. Probably the Mediterranean factor! Or maybe the very dimension of traveling. May be my real home is on the road.

Next Script.pngReaching Vrinda in Lebanon