Palio protests planned; documentary trailer released

Crowds pack Siena's Piazza del Campo for the Palio horse race, which is held twice a year. Photo: Wpopp via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Crowds pack Siena’s Piazza del Campo for the Palio horse race, which is held twice a year. Photo: Wpopp via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Protesters intend to make their views known as thousands flock to Siena’s main square this weekend to watch the Italian city’s historic Palio horse race.

The spectacular race, which is run twice every summer, is a big drawcard for the region, but opponents have for years expressed their concerns over the number of horses killed or injured in the event.

The Palio, which has been raced since medieval times, draws tens of thousands of spectators to the Tuscan town. The tight course and fierce competition – jockeys are able to shove, whip and disrupt their rivals – makes the 90-second bareback race challenging.

Fifty horses have died since 1970.

Local authorities have said they do all they can to make the race safe, and changes have been made in recent years to reduce the risk to horses and riders.

The races are held on July 2 and August 16, for which the city’s central square, the Piazza del Campo, is filled with dirt to form the track. Ten of the city’s 17 districts are represented in each of the Palios.

Up to 2000 protesters are expected to rally during this Sunday’s race in their bid to have the event banned.

Authorities have given permission for the protest. Previous requests to protest had been denied because of the risk to public order, with the the Tuscan town packed with visitors to watch the race.

However, the protest will be nearly 5km from the city centre, well away from the Palio venue.

Meanwhile, a trailer for an award-winning documentary called Palio has been released, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the event, leading up to the spectacular dash around the town square.

Director Cosima Spender’s film won best editing in a documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It follows veteran rider Gigi Bruschelli, who has won 13 races in 16 years.

The documentary is due for US release on November 6. It will also be available on iTunes that month, according to reports.

“After an award-winning run at Tribeca Film Festival, we are thrilled to bring this story to a wider audience in the US,” Picturehouse director of distribution Marc Allenby said.

“We’ve seen this film connect with viewers of all ages, and with the US captivated by the recent exploits of the racehorse American Pharoah, the timing seems perfect.”

The film was produced by James Gay-Rees alongside John Hunt.

Hunt said: “The Palio is one of the greatest stories never told. We seized a historic opportunity to look behind closed doors and capture that story in intimate and dramatic detail.

“I have been fascinated by the Palio for 25 years, and I am certain it will resonate similarly with US audiences this November.”

Spender commented: “We’re proud that this film does more than just illustrate the scope of this epic event. Palio captures the human story behind the race — the hopes, dreams, drama and corruption that make it unique and a picture of modern Italy in microcosm.

“Having grown up near Siena, I could connect with the key characters to get inside access — and the drama that played out was something no screenwriter would dare imagine.”

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