What does Gianfranco Serraino, an established documentary filmmaker from Europe living in California have in common with Francesco Giacobbe, an Italian Senator living in Australia? Both were born in Sicily and have great fondness for their homeland. Giacobbe states, “It is always in my heart because it has so much to offer in terms of history, culture, social and diverse landscapes.” And Serraino says, “Sicily is one of the most intense places in the world and every Sicilian carries inside him something very special.”
But both men, despite their heartfelt admiration for Sicily, fled to other countries to seek opportunities they didn’t believe were possible if they stayed.
Recently, the Italian Senate in Rome recognized these two men who spoke about their professional journeys, along with author Felicia La Bara, who on March 2014 published Born in Sicily, Famous in the World. Mrs. La Bara, who lives in Palermo, located eleven unique and distinguished individuals, including Mr. Serraino and Mr. Giacobbe, ranging in professions from mathematician, humanitarian and conservationist, art and literary restorationist, environmental biologist and engineer, poet, author and executive chef, all born in Sicily and immigrated to countries like the United States, Australia, Moscow, Holland, Peru, Argentina and Chile.
In 2005, Mrs. La Bara and her husband Giovanni Cusimano, both athletes, participated in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., the fourth largest marathon in the U.S. and the ninth largest in the world. Although no monetary award is given to the winners, it is known as “The People’s Marathon,” for the great prestige it holds. Accolades were given to La Bara and Cusimano as they were among the top runners and their names were listed in the sports page of the Washington Post. Their efforts also prompted recognition from the Councilor of Sports at the Municipality of Palermo.
Participating in the marathon and reflecting on her accomplishment, not only struck Felicia on a personal level but also on a profound one because she had the realization that the event and success, deeply connected her to other accomplished Sicilians. She contemplated a few noteworthy legends like, Ettore Majorana a theoretical physicist from Catania, Luigi Pirandello from Agrigento, who won a noble prize in literature in 1934, Vincenzo Bellini from Catania who was one of the most important composers of Italian opera during his time and Renato Guttuso, an anti-fascist and expressionist painter from Bagheria, in the province of Palermo.
Remembering stories Felicia’s father Giorgio had told her about his early life traveling the seas and meeting people, she became inspired to research and explore the social phenomenon of human migration and what motivates people to move from the place of origin to a new settlement. In celebration and appreciation for all things Sicilian, Mrs. La Bara acknowledges the “new” contemporary Sicilians who migrated in, Born in Sicily, Famous in the World.
We briefly spoke to Mr. Serraino, born in Messina, who came to Los Angeles in 2010 with a backpack filled with his scripts. It was his mentor, Tony Brandt, who was the Assistant Director to Francis Ford Coppolas’ The Godfather and The Godfather II, who encouraged him to go to Hollywood because he had ‘what it takes’ to make it as a writer and director in the States. Shortly after moving to L.A., Gianfranco’s first script written in English and titled Safari Island was sold, but after one year in development the rights were returned to him.
Partnering with Neal Kingston from Cornerstone Pictures and Lys Sparrow, independent producer, writer and filmmaker, they are working to produce the film. A video game inspired by the story of the movie is also in the works in partnership with HitCents, an established video game production company with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kentucky and Shanghai. Safari Island the video game is scheduled to be released prior to the 6 million dollar action thriller over the next two years.
In addition, Gianfranco, Lys and Neal have been working on RED ASH: Burning Rights, a documentary that explores the dangers of pollution from burning coal.
Serraino and Sparrow are also collaborating with Italian-American writer, Carl Veno to produce Little Chicago, a gangster movie based on real events that took place during prohibition in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. Mr. Veno’s script is adapted from a short story he wrote that was published in the book Invisible Ink and is selling on Amazon. Serraino, who is attached as director, is committed to staying connected to his Italian roots and he is in conversations with Enzo Sisti, seasoned Italian line producer who has worked on such great films as Gangs of New York, The English Patient, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the recent remake of the classic Ben Hur, in hopes to make Little Chicago a co-production with Italy. Some other Italian movie legends who have committed to working with Mr. Serraino on Little Chicago are Stefano Ortolani, production designer and art director known also for Gangs of New York, The Talented Mr. Ripley and the Exorcist: The Beginning as well as Nicoletta Ercole, custom designer who has worked on Letters to Juliet and Under the Tuscan Sun and iconic Italian film star, Fabio Testi.
In conclusion Gianfranco sadly admits, “I could have never pursued a professional career at this level if I had remained in Sicily. While I long to be living there and enjoying the beautiful things it has to offer, I am working to blend my professional life with my birth place of Italy.”
In the fall of 2014, Mrs. La Bara gave a presentation of the book, Born in Sicily, Famous in the World at the Center for Italian Studies –Stony Brook University in Long Island. She is exploring the possibility to give additional presentations of the book in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, hosted by the National Italian American Foundation and the Italian Cultural Institute.