By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - An Italian documentary about the Mafia whose director said she checked all the facts "1,400 times" cast a spotlight at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday on a mooted, covert deal between Italy's political establishment and organized crime.
"La Trattativa" (The State-Mafia Pact), shown out of competition at the world's oldest film festival, is directed by Sabina Guzzanti, a former television satirist and a longstanding foe of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, through film clips, figures prominently in her new film.
"In understanding and getting to the bottom of this material, I too, had moments of depression, of fear and I thought the same things all of us have for years, 'I'm leaving (Italy), there's nothing left to do here'," Guzzanti told a news conference after the screenings.
"But I believe the purpose of this film is to enable everyone, including those who don't get into specifics and who don't read the newspapers every morning, or ever, to understand what we are facing and the facts that have changed the course of our democracy."
While never definitively proven, speculation about possible contacts between shadowy representatives of the Italian state and the Sicilian mafia to end a string of bombings in the early 1990s has never gone away. Sicilian prosecutors are currently working on a major trial over the case.
The so-called "Trattativa Stato Mafia" is believed to have formed part of a wider set of relationships between Italian politicians and the mafia reaching to the highest levels.
The film strongly suggests that Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, was created at least in part to provide the Mafia with a friendlier government that would ease off on prosecutions and restrictions on convicted organized crime figures that limited their activities while imprisoned.
A year ago, a Palermo appeals court convicted Marcello Dell'Utri, a longtime political ally and friend of Berlusconi, of acting as a go-between for the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite, including Berlusconi's companies, until 1992 and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Dell'Utri ran the advertising company in Berlusconi's media empire from 1984 to 1995, and became a key adviser when Berlusconi entered politics two decades ago, helping him to establish Forza Italia from scratch.
Berlusconi, who has always strongly denied mafia links, and Dell'Utri have been dogged by legal troubles for most of their political careers, and both accuse magistrates of persecuting them for political reasons.
Guzzanti's film uses the device of what it calls "show business" people mounting a stage play that uses actors to play some of the investigators, politicians and Mafia figures.
It intersperses their performances with film clips of the actual bombings, and the political, judicial, police and crime figures of the time.
The bombings, including one that used a car rigged with 1,000 kilos of TNT, killed special prosecutors and investigative magistrates in Italy in the early 1990s, most notably the anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed in Palermo in 1992.
The disappearance of Borsellino's red police diary, in which he jotted investigative information so sensitive he would never let out of his sight, has become one of the enduring mysteries of that period and is one of the focal points of the film.
It suggests that it contained incriminating evidence of negotiations between representatives of the government and the then-Mafia chief, Salvatore "the Beast" Riina, brutal capo of the Corleonesi clan.
Guzzanti said she and the film's researchers had taken great pains to ensure the facts reported were correct but she showed little confidence that anyone would ever be held to account.
"Everything in the film has been verified and double checked and all the facts are real and confirmed," she said, adding that her team had "verified everything 1,400 times".
"This doesn't mean that if a fact is confirmed to have taken place, that a guilty party will be found. In our country we've never found the guilty ones for anything and probably won't find one in this trial over the negotiations," she said.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)