Sweet eyes and melancholy painted on the face of a kind and gentle man. “But behind that apparent docility, the Italian filmmaker Daniele Segre, known for his documentary films, hid a determination and an extraordinary strength. His career proves it: a director capable of delving into the least explored areas of our society and telling the stories of the last, the marginalized,” explained David Terracini and Bruna Laudi to Pagine Ebraiche. Both had had long conversations with Daniele Segre about his work and his Jewish identity. Those dialogues then became interviews for the Turin Jewish newspaper HaKeillah. “With us he had opened up about his relationship with Judaism and the Jewish Community. He was an original voice and his death is a great loss,” Laudi emphasizes.
Born in Alessandria and recently died in Turin at the age of 71, Segre from the very beginning pointed his camera at the shadow areas of society: from the story of drug addiction in the suburbs of Turin (Perché droga – 1976) to the lives of former patients in psychiatric hospitals (Non c’era una volta – 1989), from the struggles of the last miners in Sardinia (Dinamite – 1994) to the deaths on construction sites (Morire di lavoro – 2008). “Surely the fact of being part of a persecuted people has influenced my commitment to defending the defenseless,” the director told Terracini.
From his home Segre saw “the onions on the towers of the temple” of the Moorish-style synagogue in Turin, feeling “comfort and a sense of belonging.” He had grown up in those spaces. “He was the son of Lelio, the shammash of the Community, who was responsible for keeping the temple in order. While his mother Marcella took care of the gatehouse,” recalled Dario Disegni, president of the Jewish Community of Turin. “His family was very religious, he had a grandfather who was a rabbi, but Daniele was not a temple-goer. In fact, as a child he had felt excluded from the other children at the Jewish school. Perhaps – reflects Disegni – this also contributed to his worldview.”
Surely, as Segre himself tells it, antisemitism marked him. Before moving to Turin, he had attended elementary school in the nearby Biella area. “There I learned to run fast to escape the classmates who wanted to beat me up because I was Jewish,” he said. It will also happen in a Turin high school, but there to put an end to the antisemitic insults will be “a brawl.” “He was not a man who accepted bullying,” said Disegni. “He felt that he lived in an unjust and difficult world and tried to give a voice to those who did not have one.” An approach similar to that of the Italian photographer Lisetta Carmi, also known for representing the last and with whom he was bound by a long friendship.” To Carmi, who escaped the Nazi-fascist persecutions as a young woman, the director Segre will dedicate the documentary “Lisetta Carmi, un’anima in cammino” in 2010.
Portraits of more or less known figures are part of Segre’s repertoire, which also gave voice to Giuliana Fiorentino Tedeschi, a survivor of Auschwitz. “I decided to turn the interview with Giuliana Tedeschi into a film, – he explained in 2013 – because I believe it is of the utmost urgency to remember the inhuman tragedy of the Nazi death camps at a time when serious episodes of antisemitism are increasing in Europe and the world.”
In addition to his political and social commitment, in 1997 Segre took the camera to make “Sinagoghe, ebrei del Piemonte”, a film co-produced with the Italian public broadcaster RAI and dedicated to telling the story of the Jewish heritage of Piedmont. “I strongly wanted to make it and I dedicated it to my parents. An act due to my history as a Piedmontese Jew,” he declared in the conversation with Terracini. On several occasions he paid homage to his parents. “I have breathed Judaism since I was born, but in freedom,” he told the website CineCriticaWeb. “For this I must thank my parents. They always gave me the possibility to choose, even though they knew that I would probably made mistakes. And I sure did”
Despite this, Segre, a teacher at the National School of Cinema, has always persevered, building a career made up of international recognition, but also of misunderstandings and contrasts. As his children Marcella and Emanuele recalled, he made “uncomfortable and provocative films, he was the creator of an unmistakable cinematographic language that broke with conventional canons. A demanding and esteemed teacher, he introduced generations of students to social cinema, transmitting to them perseverance, passion and technical skills.”
Or, as he said of himself, “Carrying out certain battles in complete solitude is hard. Sometimes your image is misunderstood and you are labeled with labels that do not correspond to you.” But not for this reason, he added, those battles should not be fought.