director David Gregory
Not exactly the most probing of documentaries, David Gregory’s The Godfathers of Mondo provides Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, the directors of Mondo Cane (1962), Women of the World (1963), Mondo Cane 2 (1963), Africa Addio (1966)
and Addio zio Tom (1971), an opportunity to appraise their work. Probing or not, it’s an interesting sojourn behind the scenes of some of the most notorious Italian documentaries of all time.
Jacopetti and Prosperi aren’t pressed very hard on the factual aspects of their films or the truths behind them. Whether it’s the verity of the images Mondo Cane or the far more disturbing suggestions behind Africa Addio, the men are given a pretty softball opportunity to deny wrongdoing or out-and-out fakery. I won’t try to dive into the issues, since I’m no scholar, though it’s interesting how little the onscreen scholar seems to get.
Neither of the men seems too happy with the genre that they helped popularize and define, turning “mondo” from an Italian noun into a global adjective. It’s really quite interesting, the story behind Africa Addio, shot over 3 years across the continent, amid massive uprisings and political unrest. I won’t comment further because it’s one of the films I haven’t seen, but from the shots of brutality to humans and animals alike, it seems like a massively loaded piece of cinema, whatever the truths of the images captured.
It’s also interesting to hear the men discuss Addio zio Tom, which I recently watched, because they openly acknowledge the failure of that endeavor, a radical shift in production style for them, shooting sets rather than capturing documentary footage, the pretend documentary of real life on a slave plantation. It was made in response to criticism over Africa Addio and the irony of its own inherent racism in its attempt against racism only further suggests how complex it is to unpack their work as a whole.
Challenged or not, it is worth hearing them out. Not an amazing documentary itself, The Godfathers of Mondo allows its subjects, Jacopetti and Prosperi, to at least speak for themselves.