Producers of the Knightsville documentary and the city’s connection to Itri, Italy, whose trailer was shown at the opening of Cranston’s new Itri Park on July 7, are now looking for funds …
Producers of the Knightsville documentary and the city’s connection to Itri, Italy, whose trailer was shown at the opening of Cranston’s new Itri Park on July 7, are now looking for funds to help with the upcoming production.
The trailer for the film, which was just a snippet of the film to come, was displayed for attendees of the park’s opening with the hope of raising interest in the project and the diverse history of the area and its population of immigrants who brought their culture and history to the area.
A passion project of lifelong Cranston resident Bernadette Conte, the documentary will chronical the area and its diverse history with the Italian town of Itri and those who emigrated to Cranston to make it their home.
“I feel like it’s a calling. I started this in 1975 when I was asked by my pastor,” Conte said of why she started researching the history of the area. “He asked me to research and write the history of St. Mary’s Church. Because there was controversy and a lot of people who didn’t like the pastor they didn’t listen to anything he said. I got caught in the middle. They didn’t want me to write the history so I let it go. It wasn’t until 36 years later that I had a miracle in my life, and started all over again.”
Tom Denucci, recipient of the 2013 Rhode Island International Film Festival Robert Burgess Aldrich Award, has taken on the project of writing the script for the documentary with Conte and will edit the documentary. Between directing, producing and acting, Denucci has been involved in more than 30 films and TV shows in the last 16 years, according to his imdb.com page.
“We’ve been working really hard to compile all this information from some really great source material,” Denucci said. “As is the challenge with any movie, we have to tell a story in under a couple of hours. There’s a lot of culling and researching. The big thing is that we want this story to be digestible for people all around the world not just Cranston, Rhode Island. We want it to be impactful for a wide audience. So, yes we want to local and specific, but at the same time we want to make sure that somebody in Iowa could watch this movie and enjoy it.”
This attitude was one of the reasons Conte was so adamant in making sure it was Denucci that would direct her masterpiece.
“I have interviewed several people that were very enthusiastic about doing this film, and I was looking for certain clues,” she explained. “My spirit and my inner wisdom just told me they weren’t for the job. His (Denucci) name came up last year. I decided to look at some of his work, and I liked him immediately. I contacted him. He was busy with filming, but we arranged to meet. I had brought material, and when he said to me ‘do you mind if take this book so I can study it’ I knew he was it. How can you film this fantastic story, that’s so multifaceted, without studying the subject.”
Conte was already sold on Denucci’s work, but when she found out that he was also born and raised in Knightsville, was familiar with St. Mary’s feast and knew the heritage of the area she felt it was truly a sign.
“Bernadette was very aggressive in pursuing me,” Denucci laughed. “I was finishing a movie, and you know it is. I had a lot going on and didn’t have a lot of time. I was shooting a scene. I called cut, and I looked up to see Bernadette. I had seen her on facebook, and I was like is that Bernadette, the woman who had been messaging me?”
Denucci said he had appreciated the level of aggressiveness and Bernadette’s clear love of the project. As if the stars were aligning, his last project was ending and the “major motion picture strike” that followed that project ending, he said, left him free to take another project.
“Maybe the Blessed Mother had a hand in this one,” he laughed while holding up Conte’s book, “Eviva Maria: Madonna della Ceivita”. “As I got into making films I realized the secret to everything we do is in these pages. Now I’m kind of a sponge. If I make a project I become a little obsessed with it. I want to know everything. On my copy there are probably dried tears on the pages. These stories are so amazing.”
Denucci said that while everyone believes St. Mary’s feast is a big party, and it can be with the rides, the music and the sausage and pepper sandwiches, the feast is really about the Italian immigrants coming to this country with little to nothing and banding together to create a community.
“We just want to show that there’s more to this than a couple of rock bands playing in the street,” he continued. “One of the things I’ve been doing is taking a stack of material and thinking cinematically about what makes the most interesting stories. I’m a big history buff. There’s a lot of great stories about battle ravaged Itri and World War II. All of these Itranis having to seek refuge in the mountains to hide from the Nazis.”
Denucci said that Conte has provided a bunch of photos of the Itrani people and their history, but his plan is to capture a lot of the stories through the work of artists and animation.
“Obviously, we’re not going to back in time and recreate ‘Saving Private Ryan’,” he chuckled. “That’s the great thing about animation. We can create any image we want. If the video doesn’t exist we can have an artist animate whatever we want. Italians are known for their creativity and great works of art. I think this movie would be really great to be accompanied by wonderful illustrations.”
Conte, who has written multiple books on the subject of Knightsville and its connection to, what is known as Cranston’s sister city, Itri, Italy, has been working to make this documentary a reality for several years. Before finding Denucci, her first step in making this dream possible was to reach out to the city for help. That help would come from her meeting with Cranston’s Director Economic Development Franklin Paulino.
In Paulino, Conte had found one of her biggest supporters in making this documentary happen.
“I could tell what she wanted to do was worth it,” Paulino said. “We are trying to help her file for grants, maybe through the RI Foundation or the Rhode Island Art Council.”
Grants, however, have been slow in coming and have not been enough to fully fund the project. While Paulino and the city were able to help fund the short film that acted as the documentary’s trailer, there is still a lot more fundraising needed to tell these amazing stories. While Conte and Denucci don’t have an exact number on the funds they raise, they know that the film is going to come with a cost. Like the Itrani people who moved to Cranston 100 years ago, they are hoping that even small amounts donated will add up to something bigger.
“We need to have people become as excited about this project as we are,” Denucci said. “Bernadette has a lot of creative ways to bring in some funds from the local community in such a way that we like to think this movie could have little piece of everybody. It’s almost like how the people of Knightsville, 100 years ago, came together to raise funds for their church literally out of everyone’s pockets,”
Conte said that those looking to become a part of the film or to help fund this story should reach out to her non-profit Bernadette Conte Limited at bernadetteconte.org, or give her a call at (401) 942-4127. Whether $5 or $500, Conte has faith that the people of the city, whether they are part of the long line of Italian-American lineage or not, will see the importance of telling these stories and help to fund this historical documentary on the areas history.
“I feel this isn’t just for me,” Conte said. “This is to preserve our history.”