The idea for “If Only I Were That Warrior” took shape in February 2013, after I attended a panel discussion in New York about the recently inaugurated monument to Rodolfo Graziani. I was struck by the visceral reaction of anger and indignation that the monument brought out in the Ethiopians who were present that day — and I realized how little I knew, as an Italian, about our colonial ventures in Africa.

I began reading about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and I learned about the war crimes my countrymen had committed in the name of Mussolini’s imperial ambitions. But in Italy these events are not a matter of public knowledge — they belong to a chapter in history that is often overlooked in schoolbooks and obscured by revisionist myths such as italiani brava gente (Italians are good people), that portrays Italians as kind and tolerant compared to other colonial powers. As I continued my research, the question that I kept returning to was: how can Graziani, who is remembered in Ethiopia as the most despicable of criminals, be honored in Italy with a public monument? And furthermore, how was this monument approved in a country where Fascism is constitutionally banned? “If Only I Were That Warrior” is my attempt to unravel these questions.

I didn’t want to make a historical film, but rather a film about history: a malleable substance, subject to many different narrations. That’s why the film is primarily set in the present day, revolving around the memories of different communities, focusing on points of contact and contrast. I was surprised by the strong opinions and vivid recollections I found while filming in Italy, in Ethiopia and in the United States. It became clear to me that the legacy of this conflict — unresolved and often controversial — still binds these nations and their people.

“If Only I Were That Warrior” aims to peer into this complicated relationship and initiate a renewed dialog about a common history. It will be an uncomfortable and even painful process for both sides, but the case of Affile challenges us to take a first step towards better understanding the past and sharing its burdens.

— Valerio Ciriaci