The unrepeatable story of an undertaking whose hero was a unique man. Cagliari’s scudetto and the life of Gigi Riva, who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 79, the best scorer ever for the Italian national team, are at the center of In our sky a rumble of thunderdocumentary film by Riccardo Milani (Like a cat on a tangentthe, Thank you guys) which has the great merit of narrating Riva through memories, thoughts, confidences and Riva’s face. The film returns at 2.00pm on Sky Sport Calcio, at 9.15pm on Sky Cinema Due and at 11.10pm on Sky Documentaries to remember the great figure of the great champion who marked an era. A film about Riva, about Sardinia, about the symbiotic bond established between them, as the director says.
Here is the interview with the film’s director that he gave on the occasion of the film’s release
When and why did you decide to tell Gigi Riva’s story?
Twenty-two years ago, in 2001, I met Gigi for the first time and explained to him about this project. For many years I wanted to do a work on him because for me it meant telling the story of a man and his land, the land that became his, Sardinia. In the titles of this film it says “written and directed by Riccardo Milani”, but in reality this story was written by Gigi and Sardinia, by the person and the land that hosted him and still hosts him. As a child I was fascinated by Riva and the Cagliari of the Scudetto, of those years in which a very small team could win the championship against the big ones, with the example of a man who refused all offers and had the courage to say no. I have never taken that teaching away from me again, and perhaps it is still possible to say no by paying prices but choosing the life that you want to live to the fullest. Riva’s is a story of humility, courage, honesty, coherence: all qualities that 22 years ago seemed necessary to me to tell and exalt and which today, 22 years later, seem even more urgent to me.
Talking about a giant known and loved by all is not easy, we need to look for a new cut, a new angle. What did you find it in?
I didn’t set myself the problem of doing something different, but of telling Gigi’s story with him well. For the first time Gigi gave himself up and allowed us to have him in front of a camera. It seemed like an impossibility but instead it happened, as it happened later that at the end of the film, two years ago now, we continued to see, hear and hang out with each other. This is an added value to this whole project, a great pleasure knowing the confidentiality of man. I wanted to tell a magnificent and unrepeatable story which however is renewed on occasions such as the promotion to Serie A, with Ranieri who is called by Gigi to support the team and the Island and manages to bring the team back to Serie A. Ultimately, Riva is a man who has moved mountains and who is still able to move them despite moving very little from home but continuing to look at the world with the same clarity and courage. A courage that is rarely seen around.
Riva is a deeply private man. How did you convince him to open up?
The only argument I had was that of total sincerity, affection and esteem. I told him, “Gigi, this is something kids need to know, people need to know your story.” As much as he is a man who ever consciously wanted to give lessons, he gave them to us. With his story, he has guided a generation and the hope is that he can also guide others by stimulating them to recover the values of sport, those of honesty and respect for others.
What aspect of Riva’s personality struck you the most?
The sense of proportion, knowing how to weigh words, saying few. We were together a lot, I go to visit him every now and then, and it happens that we are together sometimes even without saying anything to each other, but the silences with Gigi weigh heavily, I think her trust in me was cemented on those silences.
What did you discover about Riva that you didn’t know before making this film?
Something I had only caressed from the outside, generosity. He is a person of great generosity and he does so by making generosity and selectivity travel on two different tracks but in the same direction. He selects people, friendships, he is able to understand when there is something behind it that isn’t right. And this is a bit of a value for all Sardinians. I have been visiting the island for more than 50 years, I am not Sardinian but I have known something about it, I have understood its roots and values a little. Gigi is generous as Sardinians often are generous when he tiptoes into their house, when he respects them.
In your opinion, why did Riva never leave Cagliari? Maybe because deep down he has always been Sardinian even before knowing Sardinia?
I think that’s the case and he says so in the film. I believe that even the pains of childhood and adolescence, the deaths of his father, his mother, his little sister, Sardinia contributed to smoothing them out, making them less present in his life, and helping him to face the path that he then faced. He found the family he no longer had in Sardinia.
The documentary also talks a lot about Sardinia. In doing so he chose some images with a strong evocative power. I was particularly struck by the use of mamuthones. Why do they see each other so often?
One thing that Gigi told me and that is known is that he was afraid of going to Sardinia, he heard it spoken of as the land of kidnappings, a very distant, hard, inaccessible land. Then he was accompanied by his sister, he met the footballers and his first friends like Martino, the fisherman. When he realized that he could trust him he became grateful. Several times in the film he says that it would have been a betrayal to leave. The mamuthones represent fear, fear, evil ready to present itself. Then, however, the same mamuthones, when Gigi returns to tour Sardinia, take off their masks and greet him with affection, as one of them.
Because for the Sardinians Riva is one of them.
Yes. In the film there is also a song written specifically by Bitti’s tenores for him, and there wasn’t a single town, even the smallest, that didn’t have a bar with a photo of Cagliari winning the scudetto or Gigi Riva . There is a very strong connection with what is a moment that changed the course of Sardinia’s history. Even if a Pope notices the existence of a land after that victory, evidently something big had happened. As Gianni Brera, sports journalist and man of great values, said, with that championship the Island entered Italy.
There is a song by Piero Marras called When Gigi Riva returns. Do you think there could be a new Gigi Riva?
In the meantime, I hope that that ethical baton passes. That quantity of values, that example remains there. There is always the possibility that the witness will be collected. But it already is now, in the sense that it has never fallen into oblivion, in Sardinia all generations have passed down the story of Gigi Riva. When we presented the film at the Teatro Massimo in Cagliari there were 700 people and Gigi was convinced to come. At the end of the screening there was an ovation for him but no one approached him, no one touched him, no one got up from his seat to hug him or take a photo of him. They all behaved with great respect. Only a 7-8 year old boy clung to his legs, and it made me want to investigate. So I spoke to the father who told me how his grandfather had told him the story of Gigi Riva and upon seeing him the child couldn’t resist the urge to hug him. Maybe that child will be the new Gigi Riva, who knows…