VENICE- The Italian film "Sacro GRA" about people living along the ring road around Rome was chosen as the first documentary ever to win the Golden Lion for best film on Saturday at the 70th Venice Film Festival.
It also was the first Italian production in 15 years to win the top prize at the world's oldest film festival.
"I didn't know that it has been 15 years before an Italian won in Venice this award," director Gianfranco Rosi told Reuters as he left a news conference after the awards ceremony presided over by jury president and veteran Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci.
"The last one was won by (director Gianni) Amelio and the previous one by Bertolucci so for me it's an incredible honour. And tonight I saw the maestro and he was extremely moved when he gave me the award and this makes this even more important."
"Sacro GRA", whose name is a pun on the ring road's name which evokes the Italian for Holy Grail - delves into the lives of a dozen characters.
They include a weevil-fighting tree scientist, ambulance drivers, an eel fisherman and an intellectual down on his luck and living in a tiny one-room flat with his studious daughter.
"There is also drama in my film," Rosi said. "Reality becomes drama, makes drama from the ordinary. So there is drama. There is a narrative structure. I thought about cinema when I made this film."
Despite great differences this year among critics and audiences about the 20 films in competition, Bertolucci said he did not recall any juror opposing the award to "Sacro GRA".
"I think that all the jury felt the poetic force of Rosi's film and that's all there is to be said," Bertolucci said.
Some of the films that went away empty-handed included Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" with Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form, the JFK assassination movie "Parkland" and the James Franco necrophilia film "Child of God".
Rosi's film was one of an unprecedented two documentaries in competition at Venice. The other was American director Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known" about Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary during the Iraq war, which also won no prizes.
The Morris film failed to impress critics, the jury and festivalgoers alike for what was seen as its failure to ask challenging questions of the man whose response to questions about the looting of Baghdad after the US-led invasion in 2003 was: "Stuff happens".
Jay Weissberg, the Rome-based film critic for trade publication Variety, said Morris, who won an Oscar for his 2003 documentary about Vietnam-era US defence secretary Robert S. McNamara, hadn't deserved to win.
"This is very much a disappointing film and the music so much overwhelms that it winds up being annoying rather than being engaged," he said.