The docufilm “Voyage to Procida”, written by director Federico Siniscalco, is a story about sea travel and seafaring, and there is no better way to enjoy it than with a breathtaking view of New York Harbor.
The screening of the movie was hosted by Casa Belvedere, a mansion built in the early 1900s which was donated to the Italian Cultural Foundation of Staten Island in order to spread Italian knowledge to the largely Italian-American population of the area. The movie’s presentation, which was the first one to take place in the United States, was part of the series “Cinema sotto le stelle” – or movies under the stars – organized by the Program Director Beatrice Alecci. Contrary to the other movies that have been part of the series, however, Siniscalco himself attended the showing with his wife, the docufilm’s producer, Donna Logan.
“The people who come here want to reconnect with their origins,” said Alecci, former teacher and a lover of the Italian language. “We are all motivated by the same passion for Italian culture.”
During the past few months, participation in the events of Casa Belvedere, such as book and movie presentations, screenings, cooking and language classes, has increased dramatically, which has allowed the organization to self-manage and collect funds for the expensive renovations that a national landmark building requires.
Around 160 paying guests, between members and non-members, took part in the showing of “Voyage to Procida”, many of whom had last names and origins that can be linked back to the island the movie is set.
Federico Siniscalco, who has been teaching and directing documentary films for years, also started to think about “Voyage to Procida” as a way to reconnect with his own Neapolitan origins. Wanting to recount the multi-millennial history of the island of Procida, with its deep culture and flourishing economy, Siniscalco came into contact with the life stories of local people, too private to be included in a historical documentary.
For this precise reason Siniscalco wrote, for the first time in his career, a work of fiction, inspired by the stories of the people of Procida and stemming from the tradition of the American “Direct Cinema”.
“Because the actors were not professionals, but locals, the production style had to be extremely low-key, to avoid stressing them out with large equipment,” said Siniscalco. “We had to adapt to the everyday necessities of the actors.”
Among all of the characters in the story, which is based in New York and Procida, only one is interpreted by a professional actress. The main female character of the movie, Georgia, is a New Yorker interpreted by the American actress Melanie Neu. Neu was able to identify completely with her character because, like Georgia, she is an American woman passionate about Italian culture and its language.
The low budget allocated to the docufilm, with few lights, local sets, and small cameras, was mainly achieved through a kickstarter fundraiser, which reached 100 supporters and a total of 20,000 dollars.
“There was a lot of solidarity by the culture we represented, without which we wouldn’t have been able to make this movie. They supported us with dinners, logistical aspects, and making sure we had the support of the local administration, which was eager to make the island known,” said Siniscalco.
Procida’s mayor, Raimondo Ambrosino, filmed a brief video to be shown during the presentation, to greet the audience and express his support to the director and producer’s project. Ambrosino also described the strong relationship that there exists between Procida and New York, because of the seafaring tradition of the island.
“We are here waiting for you and hoping you are all able to come visit us soon,” said Ambrosino in his video.
Just this year the island was nominated as the 2022 Italian Capital of Culture, which made Ambrosino proud and hopeful for the future. In an interview he granted to the New York Times, the mayor announced that Procida had become the first fully vaccinated island in Italy.
The movie, inspired by a novel from the late 1800’s, describes the love story between Leonardo, a seaman from Procida on a trip to New York, and Georgia, an American woman with Italian origins, passionate about Neapolitan music. After a series of tragic events brings Georgia to Procida, a discovery that she makes becomes the main theme of the movie: the ever present solidarity among the women of the island.
Because of the constant travels of Procida’s men, employed in the lucrative field of seafaring, the women learned throughout the centuries to support each other, in a way that reminds us of the story of Ulysses and his journey off the shores of Ithaca.
While men traveled for work, women took care not only of their families, but of the economic activities of the island as well, never flaunting their work because of the deeply religious and traditionalist nature of the population. The docufilm aims to show this characteristic that has become intrinsic within the women born on the island, who are always ready to cooperate among themselves for their community’s sake.
The film was screened for the first time in January 2021, later taking part in two independent film festivals in Toronto and Montreal. In the next few months it will continue to be shown at various film festivals, before being distributed officially.
In the meantime, Siniscalco is working on a new movie, further amplifying his attention on the documentary film tradition. The director wishes to make a movie in the “Camera Stylo” genre, with almost zero budget.
“I’m working on a film close to Procida, I hope to create an almost one person movie. It is based upon the technique of ‘camera stylo’, meaning the idea that a person can write and produce a movie almost individually,” said the director during the Q&A that took place at the end of the movie. “I don’t only believe it’s doable, I also think it would be less intrusive.”