Filmmaker Vincenzo Lerose and the mayor of New York City have something important in common: family ties to a small town in southern Italy, Grassano. LeRose was born and lives in Torino, and De Blasio, of course, New York, but Italian-Americans with southern Italian roots will undoubtedly be emotional watching this sentimental journey back to the land of their fathers.
Vincenzo Lerose has been visiting the Basilicata town of Grassano since he was born.
“My father left for northern Italy when he was 18 but came back regularly to visit his parents, so when I was younger I used to spend one or two weeks there visit my grandparents,” he says, like many of us do when we are kids. And as many of us do when we get a little older, he got tired of the trips.
“I admit that when I became a late teenager my parents’ visits to Grassano became an excuse to stay home alone with no parents and have fun.”
But like the young people in his documentary, he found that his ties to his past were too strong, “I kept going there every once in a while especially since when my grandma lives alone… anyway I risked losing the connection.”
This remarkably talented young filmmaker says he started at the bottom when he entered the world of cinema.
“I spend my first years as an adult working as camera operator and video editor, so I was what they call a video maker but I wasn’t quite happy with it because I entered that world to make films, but as time goes by you end up making videos for other people (and that’s ok if you want to) but you really have no time or any chance to focus on being a filmmaker, which is another thing.. at least that is how it worked for me.”
And he could have continued like this for the rest of his life, making a good living, but he opted for what he calls being “born again”, saying that he was confused about his “filmmaking purpose”, and so he went back to school.
“I decided to attend an audio technician college (Scuola APM, a very good one) in order to improve my audio skills (which I dig, ’cause music always been my first love) and be a more complete filmmaker (and also a music composer). From there on I kind of found myself and started to think about making a film, maybe a documentary.”
As we all know, sometimes the perfect solution presents itself.
“I had the chance to start working on some ideas with a friend I’ve worked with a couple of times, Andrea Deaglio (a quite famous doc filmmaker and producer himself) and when the De Blasio news came along I had no doubt that should have been my first film.”
Bill De Blasio was coming to town, visiting his Italian roots in Grassano (and requesting his grandmother’s parmigiana).
“So I started working hard on the concept with Andrea, which functioned as a box trainer to me you know…
when the concept was done I took a camera and a mic and start shooting my film, and I decided to start this journey with my father to make me less nervous and share the trip, using him as a Dantesque Virgilio, a guide.”
Lerose quite effectively takes his experiences, his family, and gives them to us, a particularly poignant gift for Italian Americans.
“I’ve never intended to be really autobiographical, and one of the goal I think I achieved with this film (I product of the editing room) is that it starts quite personally but as minutes go away my point of view becomes your point of view… i just slide out of it.”
The film is about so much more than De Blasio’s trip to his grandma’s town, in fact, he’s only in the documentary briefly, at the end, as he arrives at the main piazza. Much of the film focuses on the town’s future as Lerose interviews young people who love their families but struggle with their futures in Grassano.
“I truly believe in the people,” says Lerose. “On one hand progress say that the fact people go away from a poor place with no may options is normal, and physiological, because doing everything there is hard, there are no jobs and also working in agriculture (as my grandpa used to do) is not as easy as it used to be.”
“On the other hand progress means that technology makes living in hard places easier and then you know, away from these problems those are wonderful environmental places to live in. Even if people goes away their strong tie to the land stays with them and it all produces something better, I’m sure.”
“So I still don’t know, but those areas will have a future because even if they are poor, they are also beautiful, as there are more opportunities in cities, but living there is not very pleasant a lot of the time, and that means something.
“Poverty and beauty always go together,”says Lerose.