Photographers Focus On Italy's Unhappy Campania

Originally published on May 23, 2012 11:56 am

There's an area of Southern Italy that the Romans dubbed "Campania Felix": happy country — lush, green and peaceful. But for documentarians Matt Nager and Ivana Corsale, the region is anything but that.

According to their film, Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country), toxic industrial waste has been illegally dumped on the land surrounding one of Italy's most fertile regions for the past 20 years. It has been buried, burned and secreted away from the people who depend on the land for their livelihood.

Nager and Corsale first read about the problem in the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, which ties the illegal dumping to the Italian crime syndicate, "the Camorra." Salviano now has a permanent police escort for his protection from the mob.

Looking to explore the presumed health effects of toxic dumping on the people of Campania, the filmmakers spent 10 weeks in an Italian region dubbed "the triangle of death" — because of its high rates of cancer.

Corsale, who is from southern Italy, directed, produced and edited the film, while Nager worked as the photographer and videographer. The images of the people and the region are startling: dying sheep, piles of trash in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and, according to the filmmakers, a population hounded by weakened immune systems, dioxin poisoning, birth defects and cancer.

"The situation doesn't look bright for the area," Nager says. "What was shocking to me was that this had become the norm for these people. They would drive by and look at us like we were weird for filming burning trash."

Nager and Corsale are working to show the film at various film festivals around the United States and Europe. They will soon be relocating to Denver, where they will continue to pursue documentary projects.

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