Italy’s “Brain Drain” Becomes Big-Screen Drama

Modern Italian great minds are fleeing the country, unable to get valuable research done in the face of shrinking funds, nepotism, red tape, penurious salaries and colossal inefficiency.

Now this drama is being turned a movie called “Il Bene Oscuro” (loose translation: the dark good), riffing on the common expression “dark evil” (il male oscuro) a euphemism for cancer or other lethal illnesses.

While Italian scientists and researchers have often left for other shores, one study found the number of Italian college grads heading abroad, often to Europe or the US, quadrupled in the 1990s. Italy will surely have to face consequences of a country bled dry of potential Leonardo Da Vincis and Enrico Fermis as it exports 30,000 researchers yearly and imports just 3,000, according to one program aimed at getting some of them back.

If you think the subject matter of genius lost is important but doesn’t lend itself to nighttime drama — watch the trailer. The gloomy, tension-filled treatment looks like something out of CSI: secret phone calls, shattering glass, a woman thrown across a lab table, threats and accidents and the word “researcher” repeated hauntingly throughout.

The producers are hoping to get it picked up by a national network and it shows: at least of the actors was from a popular soap opera, an Italian friend who watched it thought it might be a satire until the sponsor logo from Milan city government and Bayer popped up. If it’s a success, it will, however, raise money for an oncology research center in Milan’s San Raffaele hospital.

It’s hard to do any reporting on Italy’s scientific community without coming across the loss of human capital issue — one research lab I wrote about had lured back brain drained researchers from Canada but there are a many stories of researchers who’ve gone abroad and then been lulled back home, too, to mixed results.

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