My name is Jeannine Guilyard. Although you wouldn’t know it from my name, my origins are Italian. My paternal great-grandfather, Fiorello Guagliardi, was from Calabria and changed his name after arriving in America. Nobody knows exactly why, but it probably had something to do with the prejudice in America against Italian immigrants during the early to mid 1900s. It was difficult for them to find so work, so many chose to “americanize” their names.
I worked in the news business for many years as a video editor and then started writing about Italian cinema after attending a film series at Lincoln Center in New York in 2001 called Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. The series, which is still running and will be virtual this year, showcases the work of contemporary Italian filmmakers.
About five years ago, after purchasing a Canon EOS 80D camera and Adobe Premiere editing software, I discovered how accessible video and filmmaking technology has become and that’s when I started to make video reports and documentaries.
Around 2015, I started a series of articles for the magazine Fra Noi, which is based in Chicago, about the rise in movie production in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, which is also my region of Italian origin on my mother’s side. The series, “Basilicata: Land of Cinema,” featured contemporary filmmakers from the region as well as international films that were shot there such as “Ben Hur,” “Wonder Woman” and the latest 007 film, “No Time to Die.” So, I traveled there and did a tour that I called “Basilicata Coast to Coast,” which was inspired by a 2010 film by actor/director Rocco Papaleo. During that tour, I met so many young, talented artists enthusiastic to tell me about their region and all that it offers even though it’s been labeled one of the poorest regions in Italy.
After that experience, I wanted to show our readers the modern region that Basilicata has become and how it’s misrepresented in modern travelogues, which still present the region as poor and desolate. So I returned the following year with my camera and again in 2017. I attended regional film festivals and met even more young filmmakers who were making beautiful, compelling films. One of them suggested I interview Luigi Di Gianni, a trailblazing documentary filmmaker who shot there in the 1950s and ‘60s. So I called him and he was full of enthusiasm to talk about his work. My location producer, Mauro Ianari, and I met him. We had a lovely, insightful conversation.
The project received a grant from the Russo Brothers filmmakers, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) and the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). I called the documentary “Return to Lucania.” It came in as a finalist in the NIAF’s competition and I presented it in Washington, D.C. It’s currently available on Vimeo.
Mr. Di Gianni was ecstatic about his story being told to this audience. I really loved his part in the documentary and thought he deserved his own. So that’s how “Luigi Gianni: Soul of the South” came about.
The filming process was very simple. It just consisted of one interview. I sat right next to Mr. Di Gianni and shot the interview hand-held while Mauro asked him the questions. I wrote a few questions down ahead of time and then we let the conversation flow naturally. The clips are from Mr. Di Gianni’s films that he shot during the ‘50s and ‘60s. They are considered very important films to the southern regions of Basilicata, Puglia and Calabria because they captured rituals on film that no longer exist today.
Most people outside of southern Italy do not know of Luigi Di Gianni and the same goes for many young people there. So, I’ve received a lot of gratitude for bringing his works to light. We also recently won an award for Best Script, which validates Mr. Di Gianni’s relevance and timelessness as the script is his story told in his words. His son, Lucio Di Gianni, presented the documentary with us in Rome and enjoyed it very much. So it meant a lot to have his blessing. Mr. Di Gianni passed away the week that I finished editing, so unfortunately, he did not see it.
I am still writing about contemporary and classic Italian cinema. You can find me at www.italiancinematoday.comwhere there are links to my YouTube and Vimeo channels and social media profiles. Regarding future documentaries, I have a project in development that I hope to start shooting this summer. It’s not related to Italian cinema, so I’ll be expanding my horizons a bit..:-)