A young journalist is running for mayor in Palermo and becomes a star in social media.
He takes part in his election campaign partly with a hidden camera. He also films meetings with Interior Minister Salvini and a mafia boss.
Soon his feature film will be released in Italy: "Italian Politics for Dummies"
A red quiff, it all started. The Sicilian Ismaele La Vardera, 23, wears it like a trademark, like wildly disheveled. "That's half the story," he says, laughing. In a few weeks, his documentary film will be released in Italian cinemas telling this story: "Italian Politics for Dummies", Italian politics for beginners. And since Italian politics is playing pretty crazy, any moral picture may be a help to understanding. It also happens to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the new strong man in the country, involuntarily natural. And that was how it happened.
In his hometown Palermo one knows the journalist La Vardera at the latest since he works for "Le Iene". "The Hyenas" is the name of a successful television program on Italia Uno that mixes hard revelation with satire. La Vardera was her reporter on Sicily. One and a half years ago, he decided to accept the offer of a civic movement and run for the post of mayor of Palermo, the fifth largest city in Italy, with 680,000 inhabitants. Without any experience, without a party. "Politics has always been my passion," he says.
(Video: Le Iene
His sponsors had seen him on a talk show. La Vardera said that in order to defeat the mafia, one must first defeat the mafioso in oneself and overcome the small, everyday illegalities: parking the wrong way, throwing away garbage. Pretty banal. But the movement found: Great, a fresh face, with a red madness. Palermo, you know, has been ruled by Leoluca Orlando, a left-wing Christian Democrat, for a very long time, and that's fine too. But there are young Palermitans who have never seen another face in the power of their city than Orlando's. The elections took place on 12 June 2017.
After La Vardera had announced his application, his heart flew in swarms. In the social media soon no candidate had as many followers as he. Many peers wanted to help, it smelt of revolution. "I believed in our opportunity," says La Vardera. He put his entire savings, 6000 euros, into huge election posters. They looked like movie posters: "Il Sindaco", standing next to his head, "The Mayor". Also, as with a movie poster: "From June 12th". Maybe that was an indication of what would follow.
La Vardera had his campaign filmed openly. In all sessions, in all performances. But he also filmed covertly. When he met with politician greats, Sicilian and national, to silently talk about deals and posts, he recorded everything with a hidden camera, which he packed into a leather bag. He said that such "memorable things" soon happened to him, that he thought it must be documented. "For transparency," he says, "and also for self-protection: I exposed myself and my family."
Once he was led into a cellar in the old town, where a mafia boss was waiting, the grandson of Gino "the machine gun" Abbate. He said he could get 300 votes – "for 30 euros per vote". The people are hungry. "And I tell them whom to choose." La Vardera was shocked. He was probably not surprised.
Salvinis hope in the south
Central is the passage with Salvini, the boss of the Lega. The two meet in Rome. The northern Italian Lega had always trampled against the South, clichéd and vulgar. La Vardera was her hope to get involved. "I know my way around Milan," says Salvini in the scene, "not in Palermo." He sees a chance. "Now we come and say, 'There is news in the mire of the old, Orlando and Co.' That can work. " They do not talk about programs, ideals, ideas. Two hours later Salvini sits in a TV studio: "Soon there will be elections in Palermo," he says, "next to the old stuff there is a 23-year-old boy on a citizen list, a freelance journalist named Ismaele, he has a great red I like it."
Separation via Instagram, counterattack via Facebook
Elisa Isoardi does not want to be with the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. This is proclaimed through the social media in terms of image and language.
That did not go down well in La Vardera's campaign team. Ironically, Salvini! La Vardera persuaded himself that he could make Salvini apologize to the Sicilians for the iniquities that his Lega had set apart for years. And he said Salvini would soften his hard line in immigration policy – for Palermo and the city's legendary welcome culture. "I let myself be blinded," he says.
The survey institutes estimated La Vardera at five to seven percent. He was advised to meet Salvatore "Totò" Cuffaro, the former governor of Sicily. He spent four years in jail after his fall because he was shown links to the Cosa Nostra. Cuffaro, La Vardera found, still pulls the strings in the background. Everyone knows, talks to everyone, decides everything. Cuffaro promises him that he'll find a job for him in the regional administration – "whatever the hell you want, maybe something with culture and sport, five years' employment, for someone like you, that's all sorts of stuff." He only had to drop Salvini and support his candidate from the civil right.
That could not work out
But then Salvini came to Palermo, drove around the city with him, ate a panino with mint, made his show, filmed everything with his cell phone, shared it with his fans on social media. La Vardera was Salvini's husband. Of course he did not apologize to the Sicilians. And leniency in the migration question? What!
That could not work out. Orlando won the election in the first round. La Vardera received only 7140 votes. 2.7 percent. That did not give a single seat in the city council. Then he revealed to his team and the whole country that he had filmed everything secretly, for posterity, as a lesson. He was accused of being a cheater, he just wanted to make himself tall. But La Vardera asserted that his candidacy was not a bluff. He really wanted it, the idea of the film came later – and moreover: "If I had said three or four days before the election that I had filmed all the deals, then I would have won ten percent of the votes." Perhaps.
Salvini does not like the "ciuffo rosso" anymore. When asked if he agreed to show the scenes with him in the film, he did not answer. Nothing scandalous is what he says in confidence. Salvini is simply Salvini, and that's enough to mirror this crazy time. By the way, La Vardera is back at the "Hyenas", on Italia Uno.
Not to kill
Once upon a time, the mafia was a matter of course over Sicily. But how much does the criminal organization still shape people's lives there? A search for traces.
By Thomas Steinfeld