Documentary about life in New Haven’s ‘Little Italy’ screened in Amalfi

Documentary about life in New Haven’s ‘Little Italy’ screened in Amalfi

Amalfi, an Italian village along the Tyrrhenian Sea, is known for its dramatic landscape, mountains plunging into a sparkling blue sea. But for many people in Connecticut, this little village with its cathedral and rocky beaches is known as their ancestors’ home.

That’s certainly true for Wallingford resident Scott Amore. When he was offered the opportunity to edit a documentary about the migration of Amalfitani to New Haven’s Wooster Square neighborhood, he jumped at the chance. 

“For me, it was a no brainer. My family is from there,” he said. “A lot of my family things, the culture I refer to is from the Amalfi Coast, from Naples so I said yeah, anything you need me to do.”

“The Village,” directed by New Haven resident Steve Hamm and edited by Amore, premiered at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in June 2018 and has gone on to have a life throughout the state, being screened at schools, libraries, and community centers. 

Hamm, a Wooster Square resident, was inspired to make the documentary after watching a series of funerals at St. Michael’s Church, a parish founded by people from the Amalfi Coast. He felt the stories of those immigrants would be lost if someone didn't try to capture them. 

It only makes sense that this film, which chronicles the migration of immigrants from Amalfi and the neighboring village of Atrani to Wooster Square finally made its way home. “The Village” was screened at Salone Morelli, a gathering space in Amalfi’s town hall, on Oct. 25. 

The producers reached out to Mayor Daniele Milano. Milano, intrigued by the offer and already seeking to connect with Amalfitani emigrants throughout the world, accepted. Hamm and Amore worked with an Italian professor to come up with an Italian subtitled version of the documentary, no small task. 

“The mayor liked the idea of screening the film in Amalfi, in the municipality. He immediately accepted because he had long thought of building bridges with the Communities of Amalfi emigrants around the world,” said Susy Pepe, a spokeswoman for Milano. 

The community heavily promoted the event, arranging for a profile of the film’s inspiration, New Haven resident Frank Carrano, on RAI TV, a national network. “It was kind of like a red carpet treatment,” Amore said. 

Amore said they had a full house with many people in attendance who had a direct connection to New Haven. Most had family who moved there. Still others were born there and returned to Amalfi at a young age. The crowd was rapt, Amore said. 

“A sense of community has been joined up from one side of the ocean to the other. Amalfitans were able to see in the film how their relatives live in the states, and representatives of the New Haven have rediscovered with emotion their Amalfi roots,” Pepe said. 

Those who remained behind in Italy were surprised at the film’s depiction of the difficulty of life in America — the cramped apartments, backbreaking factory labor, and prejudice that were a staple of Italians’ arrival in the United States. 

“They said, ‘We can’t believe they had hard times. We thought that the streets were paved with gold and they all drove fancy cars.’ The perception of what was going on (in the United States) was conveyed through letters in such a way (that it) seemed idealistic, but at the same time there was hardships,” Amore said. 

Amore was initially drawn in the opposite direction — when he first arrived in Amalfi, where his grandfather was born, he starting thinking of how he could secure an Italian passport. After a couple of weeks, while steeped in the beauty, he understood a little more the difficulty of building a life there, even now. 

“It’s breathtaking to say, we’re from there. Why would you leave? It makes you wonder what the impetus was. Obviously it was economic for most people. One thing that sort of hit me is life is super hard, in a way. (The mayor’s) biggest challenge is to balance the needs of the residents with the needs of the tourists. The tourists don’t understand that there is one road through the center of Amalfi up to the hills where everyone lives. It’s still somebody’s road. They’ve got to get home,” Amore said. 

The same problem exists in the 21st century as existed in the 19th century — young people end up leaving. “People who are younger than us are called to Rome, Naples, or other parts of Europe. If you don’t want to work as a waiter or in a church or museum, there isn’t much else to do there,” Amore said. 

Amore, though, has fallen in love with the place. Camera in tow, Amore explored the Amalfi Coast, staying in Positano and traveling throughout the Coast and up to Rome. He’ll be back in 2020 for a visit with his cousins. 

He set up his camera in the main square in Amalfi, outside Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, where a grandfather clock donated by New Haven residents is proudly displayed in the sacristy. Amore let his camera run, catching tourists and residents alike engaging in their evening passeggiata — a stroll around common in small Italian towns.  

“Lots of people watching and slow motion … My whole goal was a study of time on the Amalfi Coast,” Amore said.

Amalfi coastline. | Steven Scarpa, special to the Record-Journal.