Gualtiero Jacopetti (Barga, September 4, 1919 – Rome, August 17, 2011) was an Italian journalist, director, and documentarian. He co-created the Mondo movie genre, along with Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi. Their pioneering work in this genre was Mondo Cane. Jacopetti’s film Africa Addio received the David di Donatello award.
Life and Career
1919-1945: Early Life and World War II Years
Gualtiero Jacopetti was born in Barga (LU), in the Media Valle del Serchio region of Italy. He described his connection to his hometown with sentimental fondness. Initially a supporter of fascism, he volunteered for the military during World War II. However, by 1944, he switched sides to join the partisan resistance, fighting against Nazi occupation in Versilia. By the war’s end, he had become a liaison officer in the army.
Post-war Years and Journalism
After the war, Jacopetti moved to Milan and met journalist Indro Montanelli during the 1948 election campaign. Montanelli would become a key influence throughout Jacopetti’s journalistic career. Jacopetti wrote articles for publications like Oggi and La Settimana Incom, and was eventually brought to Vienna by Montanelli to write for Corriere della Sera. In the early 1950s, Jacopetti founded and directed the weekly publication Cronache. The magazine was groundbreaking for its time and paved the way for future Italian publications like L’Espresso. However, the magazine also led to legal trouble for Jacopetti due to its bold content, such as a photograph of actress Sophia Loren.
1959-1980: Cinematic Career
During the late 1950s, Jacopetti ventured into cinema. He gained fame for his work on Mondo Cane, a documentary film produced by Angelo Rizzoli. Despite controversies over its graphic content, the film was a global success and even received an Oscar nomination for its soundtrack, “More” by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero. Jacopetti continued to produce films like Mondo Cane 2 and Africa Addio, often confronting socio-political issues head-on, albeit not without controversy, including accusations of racism.
Jacopetti’s personal life had its own set of complexities, including a relationship with British actress Belinda Lee, which ended tragically in a car accident in 1961. Jacopetti had a troubled relationship with legal authorities; he was arrested and imprisoned briefly due to an incident involving a minor, eventually marrying her to resolve the issue, although the marriage was later annulled.
Later Years: From Television to Art
In the 1980s, Jacopetti withdrew from professional work to focus on travel and painting. He produced some documentaries with Japanese television but mostly resided in Rome until his death on August 17, 2011. He is buried in Rome’s English Cemetery, where Lee is also interred.
Controversial Historical Claims
Gualtiero Jacopetti has been the subject of various historical controversies, most notably regarding the photograph of Benito Mussolini’s corpse at Piazzale Loreto. While Franco Prosperi claimed Jacopetti took the photograph, Jacopetti himself insisted it was taken by Fedele Toscani.
The life of Gualtiero Jacopetti remains a subject of both admiration and criticism, encapsulating the complexities and contradictions of 20th-century Italian society.
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