In October 2018, an Italian mayor was banished from his home town after being accused of corruption and malpractice.
Under laws usually reserved for mafia bosses, he was ordered to leave the place of his birth until his case was heard. At the time Italian politics was gripped by populist fervour, and supporters feared he had fallen victim to attempts to blacken his name and remove him from office.
That mayor was Domenico Lucano, named by Forbes in 2016 as one of the world’s greatest leaders. Lucano had founded a refugee welcome project years earlier in a final, desperate effort to rejuvenate his town of Riace, drawing new workers from the steady flow of refugees and migrants landing on Italy’s shores.
In May 2019, new elections forced locals to choose between Lucano’s liberal-minded reforms and a populist agenda put forward by supporters of the right-wing League party, which had pilloried the mayor for his refugee-friendly stance.
Allowed back to Riace for just one hour to give his campaign speech, Lucano found himself justifying the welcome project he had founded decades earlier, long opposed by many and which had attracted world-wide media attention, for good or ill.
‘Mimmo’ is the story of that week in May 2019, when everything Lucano had fought for hung in the balance, and a small-town local election seemed to bring the forces of populism head-to-head against his own vision of a more accepting, open-minded society.