Interview by Khalid Ali
‘Il Posto’ is showing on Saturday 24 June at Bertha DocHouse, as part of the Cinecittà Italian Docs season, https://dochouse.org/event/italian-doc-season-a-steady-job/
The report ‘Sustain and Retain in 2022 and beyond’ showed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the already fragile state of the global nursing workforce.1 The situation in Italy is especially critical as stated by Walter de Caro, President of the Italian Nursing Association: “about half of the nursing workforce in Italy had been infected by COVID-19. The country has one of the lowest staffing ratios in Europe which means high workloads, stress, and burnout. The politicians have called nurses heroes, promising several improvements for nursing, but nothing changed in terms of salary, in terms of career, in terms of autonomy.”2
In this article, documentary film makers Mattia Colombo and Gianluca Matarrese discuss the inspiration for their documentary film which follows a group of nurses travelling across Italy to take a qualifying examination to secure a permanent ‘steady’ job with a contract in hospital. Thousands of nurses take this exam, but only few passes, of whom even fewer manage to secure a job. Hence huge numbers of nurses re-sit these exams with detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, on their families and on society as a whole. “We discovered the story in an international magazine where a journalist interviewed a bunch of travellers. We instantly related to their testimonies; we thought that their stories had to be told from their point of view. We felt the need to give voices to these men and women who are treated as a spectacular social phenomenon, but in real life, they are professionals desperate to secure a job with very little hope. We decided to join them during the whole journey. We feel we are like them, a generation leading nomadic lives in instability, in a continuous search for a place to belong”.
Raffaele, the bus coach, who is also a nurse, became the central figure in the road journey: “Raffaele was our main contact since the beginning. The story of his business was covered in the article we read. Initially, he was not interested as he gets lots of requests for interviews, but we reassured him that our project had nothing to do with journalism. Once we explained that we wanted to make a documentary film from the POV of nurses, he promptly accepted. Raffaele gave us access to his privileged position on the bus, and that helped us document the stories of these nurse travellers and his own journey from a nurse to a businessman”.
The film co-directors remember how the process of filming was affected by the pandemic, but at the same time enabled them to get closer to their protagonists; “we had to stop filming as bus trips were suspended. We kept in touch with some of the nurses and discovered that they were mostly employed, but with temporary contracts during the pandemic. As soon as the bus started to travel again, we joined. We captured how the situation had gotten even worse than before in terms of their work conditions and instability. At the beginning we wanted to edit numerous bus journeys into only one journey but then Covid made us rethink the film’s structure, there was a before and after Covid. Also, the story of Raffaele with his bus company on the verge of collapse because of Covid made us decide to use his storyline as an anchor to the other nurses’ stories. His challenges to keep the business running during a global pandemic introduced a different dimension, which is “what does work mean for our generation?”.
The film’s title is the same as a 1961 film directed by Ermanno Olmi which told the story of Domenico (Sandro Panseri), a young man seeking a permanent job in a large company in Milan. “With due reverence to Olmi’s film, ours takes place 50 years later and covers a completely different era. A time of change, of economic and social crisis, a time that seems to favour a new style of professional mobility, and adaptability. Flexibility, autonomy, and resilience are sought in nurse candidates. In these days of smart working, start-ups, freelancers, a time when work and personal identity are closely intertwined, does it still make sense to talk about a permanent position? Is it still a legitimate goal to secure a formal occupation or is it a mirage? More importantly, what does the existence, or should we say the persistence of a segment of people still chasing the illusion of stability, say about our society?”
The film was well received in several festivals: “We started in Switzerland (Vision du Réel), then Canada (Hot Docs), South Korea (DMZ), and now London. We witnessed a different reception towards the film’s themes, depending on the culture and country. Usually there’s a lot of empathy alongside incomprehension of such a dysfunctional system, and curiosity on how hopeless this could look. The audience in some countries like South Korea were astonished by the sense of cohesion that nurse competitors showed on the bus, compared to their very competitive culture. It was a real surprise for us when we screened the film in Italy that the reaction was one of anger and indignation against a major social injustice that was never told as it is, raw and with no filters. We haven’t had the chance to screen it for government agencies or Nurses Unions, but we plan to invite them to future screenings”.
About the motivation behind making ‘Il Posto’, Mattia and Gianluca comment: “We didn’t know we were doing a political film while we were making it. We were just doing what we like to do: telling stories, being close to people and their intimacy. But in the end, intimacy is political. We learned a lot through this journey, and we really hope this humane adventure will reach the largest audience possible. We are not saving lives by doing a film as a nurse or a doctor would do in their daily jobs, but a film can certainly change people’s minds and at least awaken consciences”.
 Sustain and Retain in 2022 and Beyond. International Council of Nurses. https://www.icn.ch/system/files/2022-01/Sustain%20and%20Retain%20in%202022%20and%20Beyond-%20The%20global%20nursing%20workforce%20and%20the%20COVID-19%20pandemic.pdf. Accessed 17th June 2023.