“The bound that Italian immigrants have with their history, even though they don’t live in Italy anymore, is unbelievable to me. It is quite shameful that Italians in Italy don’t know much about this part of history. We just know that a few people left for financial reasons. But it’s more than that,” explains journalist turned filmmaker Ferdinando Dell’Omo.
In 2008, Dell’Omo and filmmaking partner Lilia Topouzova set out to interview hundreds of Italians now living in Canada who all share one important history – they immigrated to Canada from Italy by ship.
The result is a documentary film, titled Saturnia, that follows a second generation Italian who wants to uncover more information about her father’s journey from Italy to Canada. She set out to meet other Italian passengers of the Saturnia to learn from their experiences.
During their initial research, the filmmakers found the story of the Saturnia to be quite powerful. They soon decided to make this particular ship and its passengers the focus of their film.
Originally built as a luxury cruise ship in 1925, the Saturnia was considered to be one of the most beautiful transcontinental ships ever built.
“Many say that the Saturnia was probably the most elegant ship, the most beautiful back then,” explains Dell’Omo.
During the war, however, the ship was used by American forces in various functions. Once the war was over, the ship was transformed once again, this time for immigration transfers. Between 1946 and 1965, it is estimated that 265,000 immigrants travelled on the Saturnia from Europe to Canada and the U.S. A majority of those travellers were Italians bound for the ports of Halifax or New York.
Dell’Omo himself is an Italian immigrant. He arrived in Toronto just six years ago to work as a reporter for OMNI Television. His fascination with immigration and transcontinental voyages would lead to his collaboration with Topouzova, a trained historian and researcher. Together the pair founded Still Ocean Films.
Dell’Omo recently completed a Masters degree in Film Production at York University. His thesis was a short film titled, The Voice of the Fish, which covers a day in the life of an old Italian immigrant, Giuseppe, whose daily routine is still accompanied by silent skirmishes with the invisible ghost of his wife.
Nostalgia and immigration are strong themes in Dell’Omo’s work.
“What has come out of my research is that most of the Italian immigrants were not poor. They had financial reasons for leaving Italy, for sure, but I think it was more complex than that, especially for the women. I am fascinated by these reasons,” he comments.
A one-hour version of Saturnia aired on OMNI TV and City TV in 2011. Last year, with the aid of additional funding from Canadian and Italian organizations, Dell’Omo and Topouzova released a feature version of the film.
The feature premiered in November at the Moving Images Festival in Toronto. Last month, the film was released on DVD. And there are more plans in the works… The filmmakers hope that this is the just the beginning of the Saturnia’s cinematic voyage.
To learn more about the film, or to purchase a DVD copy, please visit www.stilloceanfilms.com.