Women of Molise taking notes for a movie about Frank Monaco

Women of Molise

Director’s notes

Taking notes for a movie about Frank Monaco

Logline
A quest for Frank Monaco’s Women of Molise. A journey in search of a forgotten past, a path towards understanding the present.

Story lines
Frank Monaco was born in New York. He grew up hearing his mother vivid tales of her native village, Cantalupo del Sannio, in Molise, a mountainous region in Southern Italy. In 1950, Monaco went to Rome to study art and in 1955 he took a long bus-ride to Cantalupo, a journey that changed his life. Introduced by a aunt, Monaco quickly became part of village life. He borrowed a camera and begun taking pictures to send to his mother.

“I tried to approach your paesani as close as I could, wherever I met. At times I was on a margin, like the straniero; then, there were moments, when their land and folkways were as native to me as your voice, your laughter and your prayers. From a distance, and then, near enough to feel the friendly clasp of their honest hands, I tried to show their dignity, strength and integrity…”

Soon, he became the chronicler of the village, documenting its births, deaths and festivities with tremendous warmth and grace. Mostly, he photographed the women of Cantalupo, all tough, dignifed mothers whose husbands had emigrated to the US leaving them behind to work the land and raise families.

In Rome, Monaco showed his pictures to his friends and colleagues, that enthusiastically encouraged him to switch from painting to photography. Thenceforth, he referred to the camera as “the means to follow my heart”. This was the start of a life long project.

His black-and-white photographs frst appeared in the book The Women of Molise: An Italian Village, 1950 (Four Seasons Publishing, London, 2000).

I conceived of this project in Summer 2006 during a photography exhibition, “Ethnos, Rural Culture of the XX Century”, that I set up at the Macchiagodena Castle. The exhibition displayed Mario Giacomelli and Frank Monaco’s works. Rather immediately I observe that people look deeply interested in Monaco’s pictures, in which they, frst timidly and then more and more frmly, identify their parents and friends, places and situations. In the days after, they continue to visit the exhibition, bringing friends and relatives and arguing with them about this and that person in the images.

I am a witness to a fascinating process of reminiscence and elaboration of the memories. The past they recall does still powerfully concern them.

This persuades me that there is still a lot to say about these people, their culture and identity. From here the inspiration for a documentary flm, continuing and reinterpreting Monaco’s project, is a matter of course.

Here my journey begins, in search of the Women of Molise.

When I show the book to these women a profound pathos arouses. They begin to recall the distant times in which a foreigner came and took photographs of their mothers, aunts and children. They reminisce about their husbands’ long and sad journeys to a better life in Canada, Australia and the United States. Their tales take me to a past of poverty, work and humility.

Following this track and over the three-years activity of the IO PROJECT 2007-2010, I collate a bulk of material which now brings me to a documentary flm. This is made up of Monaco’s biography, mainly through interviews of artists, his friends and relatives; an anthropologic and sociologic analysis of his pictures; and the analysis of the emigration issue through a comparison between the 50s and nowadays situation in Southern Italy.

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