Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia is one of the most interesting films on Netflix. The true crime documentary (now streaming) is so complicated and sensational that it feels like a Netflix original series—but it’s something that actually happened in Italy.
As the title indicates, the project tells the story of how two public anti-crime figureheads—one a judge and the other a journalist—ended up being accused of being in league with the mafia. Vendetta follows the stories of Judge Silvana Saguto and TV host Pino Maniaci and tells how their own criminal trials unfolded. Produced by Nutopia with Mon Amour Films, it’s a wild story any true crime fan can sink their teeth into.
Crime-TV.com recently spoke with filmmakers Davide Gambino and Ruggero Di Maggio, who spent over a decade following the story and putting the film together. Here’s what they had to say about not only how the film was made, but the impact the project had on their lives.
Crime-TV.com (Brittany Frederick): What was it about this true crime story that initially made you want to pursue it?
Davide Gambino: This project started 15 years ago, actually, with Ruggero discovering this very weird, bizarre, and interesting character: a TV journalist, Pino Maniaci. He was making something very, very heroic—he was on television insulting mafia guys, in a territory with a very high density of mafia in Sicily; a small town between Palermo and the very famous Corleone. This guy was considered a hero, so Ruggero started to film him. Back then Pino was kind of happy to be filmed, but at the same time not. He was showing all his faces, because he was a very multilayered character. The feeling since the beginning was that he was a hero, but with an interesting past, and with a very multilayered universe. That’s why we stopped filming for a couple of years.
And then in 2015, we started again with him because there was something going on. He was not just investigating the mafia anymore, but also the hero that was fighting against the mafia. He was actually starting a war with the people on his side, who should have been supposedly his fellow partners. In particular, he led an investigation on the judge Silvana Saguto. And from there starts the big twist because one year later, while we were filming, Pino was stopped by the police and was arrested.
Crime-TV.com: You’re telling Pino’s story, Silvana’s story and then the story of their arrest. How do you organize Vendetta so that these two universes each have breathing room and then ultimately come together?
DG: We started to analyze a story that was really very nuanced. We were talking about heroes that were accused to be antiheroes somehow. They were supposed to fight against the mafia, but actually started to fight each other. So now there was this twisted world in which the values were exactly upside down. We asked ourselves how to tell this story and how to analyze the reality, and we based it on facts. We started the following the trials, using the language of the court drama as a way to see the characters we were exposing—their point of view, their story.
On top of that, we started analyzing how the media reported about the story. It’s a story inside the story: how the story was perceived by the media, and how [Maniaci and Saguto] were already condemned by the media. Then we decided to give them the possibility to tell their point of view, so we started to find out the right distance for the story, in order to give to the audience the possibility to become an investigator for the truth. That became the process.
Crime-TV.com: The Italian legal system is very different from the U.S. one, so what do Netflix viewers need to know to get those nuances that are in Vendetta?
DG: The biggest difference probably is the fact that in Italy you have three degrees of justice, of judgment. We have only been following the first degree, so the story is still unfolding, because they could go for a second degree of trial, which is the appeal, and then the third one, which is the Supreme Court. We have been following the first part of a story that is still very complex. That’s very important to know.
Another thing is that it’s completely true that we based our narrative on the trials. But there is more than just the truth of justice. There are also moral issues that have to be considered. We are talking about people that have been very, very known anti-mafia heroes. The question is how the media were reporting them. We’re [showing] them as heroes, and then [showing] them as evil. I think all of these elements are very important for the audience to consider.
We also have been following all the witnesses in court, and they were obliged to tell the truth. We were seeing every hearing as a chapter in the story, and we tried to focus on the search for truth more than looking at the technicalities of the court system. The technicalities were something we were studying, of course, but it was not really part of the narrative. Even the charges against Silvana Saguto are very complicated, so we tried to simplify, giving a general meaning of what it is so the audience doesn’t have to be scared that it’s super technical.
Crime-TV.com: With the level of access that you had, and the number of people you were following, were there particular moments that you were touched by as filmmakers?
Ruggero Di Maggio: It was amazing to be with the judge, Silvana Saguto, the day of the verdict—at her home, staying with her and waiting for the results of the trial. It was an amazing, amazing moment for us. The scene was directed by Flaminia Iacoviello. We built up this special access throughout the five years of the production, and the result of this amazing access was seen in particular at the end of the series, because we were literally with this former judge at the moment of the verdict. I think this scene summarizes the level of access we had.
Crime-TV.com: You mentioned earlier the years that you invested in Vendetta. What was the experience like for you, and what is it like to now have the finished product available on Netflix?
RDM: I have dedicated 15 years to this project, so you can imagine how this project was important for me, in terms of time. For the next project we don’t want to invest that much time but I also think it was really important to dedicate all these years to this story, because it was the only way to really go deep inside the story.
DG: The story is part of us as Sicilians as well, because we grew up in Sicily. In 1992 there was an army that came into Palermo trying to the defeat the mafia. It was starting to become like a terrorist organization because they started to create big mass acts, not only individual murders. So this is completely our story. We are used to feeling that tension in our city. For us, it was a very important story to tell in a very original way, with a new perspective on it.
RDM: The approach we had all along was to keep the right distance from the story. We chose to work with Nutopia and executive producer Nicola Moody to find the right point of view to tell the story and not to give any kind of moral judgments about the story and the main characters. We’re used to telling some stories with a certain approach. The presence of Nutopia was really important to make this series open to a wider international audience.
DG: It’s a project that tells really how the mafia developed, and all the impact that the mafia had. We considered this a project on mafia with a new perspective and a new approach, without using cliche. We are talking not only about a documentary about the mafia. It’s also about the truth, lies, and power. In our collaboration with Nutopia, we chose this hybrid approach to tell a story that is local, but for a big, big, big audience. And that was a fantastic journey.
Brittany Frederick has worked 20 years as a professional journalist, reaching millions of readers worldwide with thousands of articles. Her one goal is to meet Jonathan Groff, but she’s sung with Adam Levine and gone 200 MPH with Mario Andretti. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @tvbrittanyf.