MIFF 2013 – Lygon St – Si Parla Italiano (2013)


Directors: Shannon Swan, Angelo Pricolo
Narration by Anthony LaPaglia

The story of the Italian migrants in and around Lygon St is told through their own stories and narrated by Anthony LaPaglia from humble beginnings straight from the resettlements camps, to providing services to their own community through to the major well-known brand names of today and being pillars of the community.

While I did know some of this story, it was great to see the original participants telling their own story and the differences in the telling make it more interesting such as people claiming they had the first espresso machine in the country and one person even going as far to say he invented the “Aussie” pizza and his father would “kill” him for daring to put pineapple on a pizza.

With a pizza place being the staple take away in almost every town in Australia, it is difficult to imagine a time when it wasn’t well known and thought of as exotic. The same for spaghetti and the various cheeses and smoked meats and delicatessens. It is telling that one of the restaurants that became an Italian shop was a “stake and eggs joint”.

There is also newsreel footage with the commentary telling the problems with the new arrivals and bemoaning that they are used to a “lower standard of living”, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The documentary also went into the issues involving racism and prejudice, but missed the interment camps of Italians during World War II as it was a bit before the story.

During the 1950s there were 150,000 people arriving in Australia per year as asylum seekers, the equivalent of an entire year’s intake were Italians and people are complaining about a few thousand these days.

What I enjoyed about this documentary is that it could have been just self congratulation, but the stories of the people make it something better. They do like to talka the bullshit and were open and honest about the Carlton crew as the directors said in the Q&A they were expecting that to be the last thing they talked about, but after the first half hour they went straight into it. Even the owner of the café where the high stakes card games were going on in pre-casino days is open about it. Mick Gatto does make a brief appearance also.

I do sort of remember the Lygon St Festival from the news and it was good to see the footage of the “greasy pole” event. They do go in to the effect of the gangland wars and Underbelly, but it has helped getting more visitors into the area so it is a good thing.

The documentary took three years to produce that there were hundreds of hours of footage to go though. The main stories with the men sitting around a table were the highlights of a five hour session. It was interesting that one of the film makers was Italian and the other did not really know much about it, but was interested enough to embark on the project.

Another interesting thing is that the documentary was privately funded, so they could make it on their own terms. With funding their can be some restrictions such as length and having to make it with some of your own choices removed.

The film makers do have a distributor lined up and are hoping to release the film later in the year. It would be good to have a progressive dinner up Lygon St and finishing with a screening of the film at Cinema Nova.

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