Crowd at Branford showing of movie Wednesday night. (Steve Hamm)
EAST HAVEN, CT -A movie about the immigrant history in Wooster Square in New Haven played to a packed house in Branford on Wednesday. It’s next showing is in East Haven.
The East Haven showing is Saturday, March 2, 2 p.m., Hagaman Library.
The movie creator, Steve Hamm, has this to say about the Branford show:
"We had an audience of about 200 people at St. John Bosco Parish/St. Mary’s Catholic Church this evening. Filled all the seats.
"It was a typical screening. People in the audience were thrilled to be reminded of how things used to be in Wooster Square and to see photos of their parents, grandparents and families.
"One woman talked about how a priest from St. Michael Church interceded with boys from the parish who were in the habit of smoking pot in Wooster Square Park in the 1960s–and convinced them to hang out in the rectory instead.
"Another woman said her grandparents had owned the Connecticut Macaroni Company, which was featured in the film. Others recalled their interactions with Louisa DeLauro, a longtime New Haven alder who represented part of Wooster Square for 35 years. They talked about how Frank Sinatra use to stop in for pizza at Sally’s.
"People said they were glad that the film was made so older people will remember how things use to be and younger people will learn about life in an immigrant community. One of our goals with the film is to remind people of the importance of immigration to America–back in the earlier days and today. We are pro immigrant!
"We have had 17 screenings so far with a total of about 2000 people in our audiences, and we have another 9 screenings scheduled. I feel that our strategy of showing the film to groups of people and encouraging them to comment and tell their own stories is working. In a sense, our film and our screenings are "rebuilding" the community that was lost with urban renewal, highway construction and white flight to the suburbs.
The film, The Village: Life in New Haven’s Little Italy, was the creation of award-winning journalist Hamm. It had its successful debut at last year’s New Haven Documentary Film Festival.
Let Hamm tell the story of how the film came to be:
"The idea for this documentary came from the fact that I live in an apartment on Wooster Square, and I do my freelance writing in a room that looks over the square and St. Michael church. I noticed all of the funerals at the church and I thought that each funeral meant a lifetime of stories were being lost. It seemed like a good idea to try to capture some of the stories from people who were still living.
"At the same time (summer of 2017) Frank Carrano’s wife, Angela, died, and he was posting items on the Wooster Square Cultural Exchange site on Facebook about his memories of Wooster Square as a kid. I know Frank from covering organized labor in the mid-1980s, so I reach out, we had lunch at Pepe’s (white clam pizza) and we decided to do the project together.
"I had noticed that there have been a number of good picture books about the Italian-American community in Wooster Square, and one documentary in the early 1990s by Carol Leonetti, but modern videos were mainly just about the pizza parlors–so there was room for us to do something important.
"Frank had the central perception that animates the film–the Wooster Square neighborhood was like a village where people lived, worked, shopped, worshiped, played and shared values.
"The filming of the interviews took six months, and the editing took two more months. We collected thousands of photos from families, the New Haven Museum, collectors and libraries. The film was edited by Scott Amore, a veteran editor in the area.
‘The film was made on a pro bono basis. I’m all about building community. Since we did the work pro bono, most of the sources of photos let us use them royalty free. My total costs were under $1,000.
Hamm added: "In addition to telling the stories of this fascinating community, one of our main themes is the positive impact of immigration on the USA–then and now. So, in the context of today’s immigration conflicts, we favor immigrants.
"We don’t charge for the screenings, and there are no tickets. We show the film (60 minutes) and then typically have a 30 minute discussion afterwards. People ask us questions, but we also want people to tell their own stories of their memories and of their immigrant ancestors. There is a lot of laughing and a bit of crying."
The next Branford showing is March 7, 7 p.m. Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library, Stony Creek .
Carrano, who is a Branford resident, said the film was a "very moving experience for him.
Carrano, who along with his family was a longtime Wooster Square resident of New Haven, said what makes the story all the more compelling is that with the issue of immigration so much in the news these days, "the film has really sparked lively conversations at all the showings."
Carrano added while there is a big audience of older citizens who come to see the movies, the movie was also used by a North Haven teacher to illustrate to his class of students "what immigration really is all about."
The whole experience, Carrano said, "has been richly rewarding."
Hamm said he sells DVDs of the film to anyone who wants it as a keepsake. People can send checks for $15 to me at 42 Academy Street, Apt 3, New Haven, CT, 06511, and I send them the DVD.
There is also an online version, at: https://vimeo.com/255952306