September 5, 2008 / 8:48 PM / 10 years ago

Venice remembers steel factory deaths in two films

VENICE (Reuters) - “Is my face burnt? I don’t want to die!” shouts a steel worker engulfed in a fire last December at a ThyssenKrupp plant in northern Italy, shortly before dying with six of his colleagues.

His screams, recorded in a phone call made by fellow workers to the emergency services, can be heard in “The Germans’ Factory,” one of two documentaries about the workplace deaths premiering at the Venice film festival.

“Are they burned or are they charred?” the emergency services operator chillingly asks.

“The Germans’ Factory” uses interviews with the victims’ families, colleagues, the fire brigade and the prosecutor investigating the case to describe the inferno in which the seven workers burned to death in the early hours of December 6, 2007.

Some were working on regular night shifts, others were doing overtime to top up a monthly salary of less than 1,500 euros. One was just passing by to greet his colleagues before returning home.

Fellow workers who tried to save them say the fire extinguishers were empty and that safety standards in general at the Turin factory, which was being dismantled to be relocated in central Italy, were inadequate.

That charge is denied by ThyssenKrupp, which earlier this year reached a 13-million euro compensation deal with the families. A Turin prosecutor has asked for six of the factory’s executives to be sent to trial.

“Thyssen’s seven dead were a rude awakening that brought us back to reality,” director Mimmo Calopresti said in production notes. “A nightmare made of danger, flames and employees, workers who still to this day risk their lives.”

The tragedy, one of the deadliest work accidents in Italy in recent years, shocked the country and prompted the government to tighten job safety legislation, so far with limited effect.

Hardly a day goes by without newspapers reporting deaths at work, and a recent survey by research institute Eurispes said 1,170 people died in Italy in 2007 while doing their job — almost twice the number of murders and far more than in other European countries.

The second documentary screened in Venice was “ThyssenKrupp Blues” by Pietro Balla and Monica Repetto, a project which started before the accident and follows nearly one year in the life of one of the factory’s laid-off workers.


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