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CEcilia Mangini: Documentary Filmmaking as Freedom

Giovanna Faleschini Lerner, Franklin & Marshall College

The first major Italian woman documentary filmmaker, Cecilia Mangini was born in Mola di Bari in 1927 and moved to Florence with her family in 1933. In 1952 she took a job in Rome at the Italian Federation of Film Clubs (FEDIC), where she met her future husband, movie director and screenwriter Lino Del Fra. That same year she traveled with him to Lipari and Panarea, and documented her explorations with her Zeiss Super Ikonta 6X6 camera. (Her photos from that journey were exhibited in 2009 in Trieste and in 2017 in Rome and Nuoro.) Mangini always considered her work as a photographer essential to her cinematic production and believed that images were 


Cecilia Mangini at the 2020 International Film Festival Rotterdam

Photo by Vera de Kok under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

more powerful than words to represent human experience. Despite her belief in the primacy of the visual over the written word, she also worked as a film critic for the journals Cinema Nuovo (directed by Guido Aristarco), Cinema ’60, and L’Eco del cinema

Beginning in the late 1950s, she directed several documentaries, developed in collaboration with the controversial writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Ignoti alla città (1958) and La canta delle marane (1961) both explore the experience of the disaffected youth of the Roman borgate and are inspired by Pasolini’s novel Ragazzi di vita (1955). Mangini credited her association with Pasolini for launching her career, in part thanks to the controversies it generated with state censors, who asked to cut a sequence from Ignoti alla città for inciting criminal behavior. As she explained in a recent interview “[w]ithout getting any prizes or acclamations, all that buzz was a springboard, above all a springboard for a woman who does cinema” (Povoledo 2020).  

Pasolini also wrote the text for Mangini’s documentary Stendalì-Suonano Ancora (1960), which focuses on the tradition of female mourners and the highly ritualized tradition of funerary lamentations in Griko, the Greek language of the Salento region of southern Italy. In Stendalì, as Gunnar Landsgesell writes, “Mangini’s frequent dialectical montage—here furiously speeded up—shifts the scenery toward the unfamiliar, amplified by the avant-garde score of Egisto Macchi,” who would continue to write original music for her films (Landsgesell 2019). Like Landsgesell, Michaela Schäuble underscores the way in which Mangini developed a sophisticated visual style in Stendalì, where she “analyzed funerary rituals and formulaic patterns of wailing by skillfully editing motion sequences such as the rhythmic waving of handkerchiefs and the tearing of hair, with the ritualized sobbing, rocking back and forth of the women’s upper bodies, and close-ups of their feet jumping” (Schäuble 2019, p. 36).


As she did in this exploration of a tradition that is losing ground in Italy’s acceleration toward modernity, Mangini often aimed to uncover the hidden consequences of the economic boom. Essere donne (1965) is a highly stylized documentary on the working conditions of women employed in manufacturing, agriculture, or domestic labor, their struggles for equality, and the challenges of balancing work and family. She continued to explore the impact of industrialization on Italian society, especially in her native Puglia, with Tommaso (1965) and Brindisi ’66 (1966). Tommaso is the story of a young man from Brindisi, whose dream of working in a great industrial complex clashes with the brutal reality of factory work, while Brindisi ’66 investigates the social and environmental impact of the Monteshell factory on the fabric of the city.


Mangini’s attention to human and natural ecologies in Brindisi ’66 returned in the 2013 In viaggio con Cecilia, where Mangini and her co-director, Mariangela Barbanente, explored the environmental and human-health disasters caused by the Ilva—the largest European steel factory—in Taranto and the petrolchemical industry in Brindisi. As Anna Paparcone writes, the film is marked by an ecofeminist stance that focuses “on the interaction among generations, collective struggles, and the effects of capitalism and patriarchy on nature and women” (Paparcone 2020, p. 216). The documentary incorporates footage from Mangini’s earlier work, including Stendalì, Essere donna, Brindisi ’66, and Comizi d’amore ’80 (1982, co-directed with Del Fra as an update to Pasolini’s own Comizi d’amore). These references help give historical depth to the filmmakers’ investigation, while the individual interviews with people that have suffered the consequences of environmental pollution and unsafe work conditions highlight the long-term consequences of the capitalist rush toward industrialization in the 1960s. These interviews are interspersed with long takes and slow pans that invite a contemplative stance: “slowness, as generally employed in Slow Cinema, becomes an occasion to reflect on other temporalities that govern human and natural ecosystems and on the effects of globalised culture and turbo-capitalism” (Paparcone 2020, p. 217). The film also gives space and voice to the two filmmakers, who repeatedly appear on screen alongside their subjects. As Valeria Castelli has written, “[b]y being present on screen and performing their own civic participation, Mangini and Barbanente become part of this ‘laboratorio’ [of participatory democracy]. They also express themselves in their role as citizens, and share their ideas, feelings, and visions of the future” (Castelli 2018, p. 245). The important role of the filmmakers within the film—as well as the visibility of the technological apparatus and the crew that make a film possible—contributes to a mise en abyme of documentary filmmaking itself: 


The female voiceover, speaking through the personal pronoun io in In viaggio con Cecilia, contrasts with the male voiceover that spoke in the third person in the majority of Mangini’s documentaries of the past. Differences also emerge in the recording of the sound. As Mangini stated: ‘I nostri documentari avevano spesso un che di ingessato, lo speaker in off era una sovrapposizione autoritaria e dirazzante, la mancanza del suono originale un vuoto che oggi sento incolmabile.’ (Castelli 2018, p. 241)


Mangini’s use of the plural “nostri” in reference to her past filmmaking spotlights her multiple collaborations with her husband, including their best-known project, All’armi, siam fascisti (1962), co-directed with Lino Miccichè and with texts by Franco Fortini. This documentary used archival material (from foreign sources, as the Archivio Luce refused to lend its material to the filmmakers) in order to reconstruct the rise and fall of Italian fascism, against the backdrop of Italian and European history from the early 1900s through 1960. The film interpreted fascism, as Fortini’s voiceover reads, as “l’organizzazione armata della violenza capitalistica,” and ends with the explicit question: “does fascism still exist?” In this sense, the double-entendre of the title is particularly important, for, at the same time that it cites a well-known fascist song, it also raises the alarm about remnants of fascism in Italian society. Not surprisingly, in a society that had been intent on understanding its own fascist past as an aberration, when not actively suppressing its memory, All’armi, siam fascisti was blocked by state censors for an entire year, before being released in select theaters.


After her collaboration with Barbanente, Mangini worked with Paolo Pisanelli on another documentary, which begins with the discovery of two boxes of photographs that she had shot in Vietnam, during a three-month trip she and Del Fra had taken in 1964-65 to gather material on the war against the United States. Due scatole dimenticate (2020) is both an exploration of the workings of personal memory, aging, and the role of photography in these processes, as much as a reconstruction of a journey in a landscape ruined by violence and war. 

As a maker of “cinema militante,” Mangini faced many challenges in her long career, including the very concrete issue of funding and circulation. Until the 1970s theaters were obligated to show 10-minute documentaries before all features, which allowed them to earn a small percentage of the major film’s total box office revenue. However, Mangini found that the majority of her documentaries tended to be paired with experimental films, which never generated much revenue (Povoledo 2020). In recent decades, even that source of funding dried up. Despite the difficulties of the genre, Mangini argued in favor of documentary filmmaking until the end:


Se mi si chiede cosa sono, io rispondo: 'sono una documentarista' (...). Sono convinta che il documentarista è assai più libero del regista di film di finzione, ed è per questo, per la mia indole libertaria con cui convivo fin da bambina, che ho voluto essere una documentarista. Il documentario è il modo più libero di fare cinema.” (Mangini, Domini, Pisanelli 2017, n.p.)

Her passion for freedom can be recognized as a thread through Mangini’s work, from Essere donne to In viaggio con Cecilia, and allowed her to remain a stylistic innovator and a pioneer in the landscape of Italian documentary filmmaking until she died in Rome, at the age of 93, in January 2021. 



Ignoti alla città. Italy, 1958. 11 min. 

Firenze di Pratolini. Italy, 1959. 17 min.

Vecchio regno, with Lino Del Fra. Italy, 1959.

Maria e i giorni. Italy,  1960. 10 min.

Stendalì-Suonano ancora. Italy, 1960. 11 min.

Divino amore. Italy, 1960. 10 min.

La passione del grano. Italy, 1960, with Lino Del Fra.

Fata Morgana. Italy, 1961, with Lino Del Fra.

All’armi, siam fascisti, with Lino Del Fra and Lino Miccichè. Italy, 1962. 107 min. 

La canta delle marane. Italy, 1961. 10 min.

Stalin. Italy, 1963, with Lino Del Fra (censored and not signed by the authors)

O Trieste del mio cuore. Italy, 1964

Tommaso. Italy, 1965. 11 min.

Essere donne. Italy, 1965. 28 min.

Brindisi ’65. Italy, 1965. 13min.

Felice Natale. Italy, 1965. 13 min.

Pugili a Brugherio. Italy, 1965.

Domani vincerò. Italy, 1969. 42 min.

La briglia sul collo. Italy, 1972. 15 min.

L’altra faccia del pallone. Italy, 1972.

Mi chiamo Claudio Rossi. Italy, 1972.

Dalla ciliegia al lambrusco. Italy, 1973. 

Una doppia assenza. Immagini sul lavoro femminile nell’industria (collective film). Italy, 1987.

Uomini e Voci del congresso socialista di Livorno. Italy,  2004. 

In viaggio con Cecilia, with Mariangela Barbanente. Italy, 2013. 74 min.

Due scatole dimenticate, with Paolo Pisanelli. Italy, 2020. 58 min.



Firenze di Pratolini, 1959. 17 min.

Maria e i giorni, 1959. 10 min.

All’armi, siam fascisti, with Lino Del Fra and Lino Miccichè. Italy, 1962. 107 min. 

Stalin, 1963, with Lino Del Fra (censored and not signed by the authors)

La villeggiatura, 1972, (Marco Leto).

La torta in cielo, 1974, (Lino Del Fra).

Antonio Gramsci – I giorni del carcere, 1977, (Lino Del Fra)

Comizi d’amore ’80, 1982, (Lino Del Fra)

Klon, 1994, (Lino Del Fra)

Regina Coeli, 2000, (Nico D’Alessandria)

In viaggio con Cecilia, (Mariangela Barbanente). Italy, 2013. 74 min.


Alfonsi, Valentina. “Fare l’inquadratura è un dato culturale.” Intervista a Cecilia Mangini e Mariangela Barbanente. Cineforum 54.6 (2014): 45-49.

Barletti, David, Gianluca Sciannameo, and Lorenzo Conte. Non c’era nessuna signora a quel tavolo: il cinema di Cecilia Mangini. Bari: Edizioni del Sud, 2010.

Castelli, Valeria. “The Filmmaker is Present: Performance, Ethos, and Politics in In viaggio con Cecilia and Io sto con la sposa.” The Italianist 38.2 (2018): 235-57.

Landsgesell, Lundsar. “Ignoti alla città.” Viennale 2019.


Mangini, Cecilia, and Claudio Domini. L'impero dell'immagine. Cecilia Mangini fotografa, 1952-1965. Trieste: Associazione Culturale il Nodo, 2009.

Mangini, Cecilia, Claudio Dominici, and Paolo Pisanelli. Cecilia Mangini: Visioni e passioni. Fotografie 1952-1965. Roma: Errata Corrige & BigSur, 2017.

Missero, Dalila. “Cecilia Mangini: A Counterhegemonic Experience of Cinema.” Feminist Media Histories 2.3 (2016): 54-72.

Paparcone, Anna. “Between Cities and Mountains: A Look at Contemporary Ecofeminist Cinema in Italy.” The Italianist 40.2 (2020): 214-228.

Povoledo, Elisabetta. “A Legendary Documentary Maker Closes ‘an Open Wound’.” The New York Times, January 24, 2020.


Schäuble, Michaela. “Ecstasy, Choregography, and Re-Enactment: Aesthetic and Political Dimensions of Filming States of Trance and Spirit Possession in Postwar Southern Italy.” Visual Anthropology 32.1 (2019): 33-55.


Sciannameo, Gianluca. Con ostinata passione. Il cinema documentario di Cecilia Mangini. Bari: Edizioni dal Sud, 2011.

To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Lerner, Giovanna Faleschini (2021) "Cecilia Mangini's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed. 

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