The Valley Of The Jato


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

"The underlying implication here is that organised crime is a social phenomenon: a form of systematic opportunism, it flourishes under certain historical and political conditions."

Indefatigable, chain-smoking eccentric Pino Maniaci bought television station Telejato in 1999 from the Italian Communist Refoundation Party, 10 years after its inauguration. Based in the Sicilian town of Partinico, Telejato has since become a lo-fi, family-run broadcasting platform by which its owner and anchorman – courting caricature-status at every step – has fought against local corruption, most notably in the form of a polluting distillery owned by the Bertolino Group, and the Mafia, whose international reputation has made Maniaci’s home region infamous.

A rambunctiously enterprising figure with a vague resemblance to Laurel and Hardy’s chief foil James Finlayson, Maniaci took it upon himself to cover everywhere from Corleone to Partinico, reporting on organised crime so as to help sustain pressure on local authorities as well as reigniting a sense of community after years of systematised extortion and racketeering has instilled a culture of fear and silence. Maniaci’s one-man-crusade against crime and corruption is the focus of UK-Italian documentary The Valley Of The Jato.

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His efforts are as funny as they are fascinating – all the more so because of the elusively unassuming nature of Maniaci, whose ongoing interest in and energy for such a demonstrably resourceful and threateningly pervasive organisation seems to have no real roots beyond the fact that the broadcaster was sick of the Mafia being mentioned whenever he introduced himself overseas as a Sicilian. Even his moustache looks fake.

Indeed, there’s something cartoonishly vigilante in the way Maniaci seemingly embraces the anonymous threats made against him. The burned-out cars outside the Telejato station and the many besmirching graffiti slogans that adorn the walls of the town seem only to fuel him further, as if confirming he’s hitting the right targets. “The daily broadcast is sacred,” Maniaci remarks. “It’s like a priest’s daily mass – it must happen at any cost.” And though, threats aside, no real costs were incurred during the filming period of Caterina Monzani and Sergio Vega Borrego’s documentary, one watches here wondering just how Maniaci and his family haven’t come into more danger than they have.

Perhaps it has something to do with the strength and mobilisation of the ordinary citizens of Partinico and neighbouring towns. Meeting with the farmers and workers whose livelihoods have for too long been preyed upon by the Mafia and whose interests have been all but abandoned by local police and governing authorities, Maniaci is able to appeal to a large social base. We see him giving his time to just about anybody who approaches him in the street. As one interviewee puts it: “A phone call to Pino takes 30 seconds. Reporting something to the police takes half a day…”

The underlying implication here is that organised crime is a social phenomenon: a form of systematic opportunism, it flourishes under certain historical and political conditions. As such, imprisoning the upper layers of such networks does very little to change the actual objective root causes of crime in the first place. One passer-by notes that “the ability of these guys to replicate is impressive – and it’s especially easy these days, when people don’t have jobs.” The real social malaises that enable the formation and continuation of the Mafia remain, then. But, as The Valley Of The Jato shows amply and amusingly, a guy like Pino Maniaci isn’t to be dismissed. After all, the daily broadcast is sacred – and it must happen at any cost.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2014
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Documentary about a family-run TV station in Sicily that has taken a stand against corruption.

Director: Sergio Vega Borrego, Caterina Monzani

Year: 2012

Runtime: 65 minutes

Country: UK, Italy


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