All for the love of St. Lucy.
After countless hours of filming, three years of work and endless fundraising, the documentary “Devoti” will have its world premiere Friday night in Joslyn Art Museum's Witherspoon Concert Hall.
It started as a simple video about the cannoli-eating contest at Omaha's Santa Lucia Festival. But planners Mike DiGiacomo and Jen Mandolfo Carey, who grew up in Omaha's Little Italy, and videographer Pete Soby realized they had a bigger story to tell — one about the hundreds of families who left Carlentini, Sicily, to settle in Omaha, bringing their cultural traditions with them.
Omaha's first Santa Lucia Festival was in 1925. Carlentini is celebrating its 392nd festival this year.
The title, “Devoti,” which means devoted, can refer to the faithful who honor Santa Lucia every year, or it can refer to Carey, DiGiacomo and Soby, who have devoted a big part of their lives the past three years to the project.
Although many other people have been involved in making the documentary, it was Soby, Carey and DiGiacomo who made the film a reality, working endless hours around full-time jobs and family obligations.
They recorded remembrances of older residents of Little Italy (some of whom have since passed away) and younger people who are trying to carry on the traditions of their parents and grandparents. The three of them even went to Carlentini to see how that city celebrated Santa Lucia and talk to residents who have family in Omaha. A side trip took them to St. Geremia Church in Venice, Italy, where St. Lucy's remains rest.
They have scraped together $30,000 of the $40,000 they were hoping to raise for the film, but a lot of people made in-kind donations, DiGiacomo said. Volunteers of time and expertise included sound engineer Curtis Grubb and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore, who didn't shoot video but became the film's narrator. He even used his day off from filming a new Denzel Washington movie in Boston to record some of the last-minute but necessary narration.
Another Oscar winner had hoped to lend a hand. Unfortunately the filmmakers and writer-director Alexander Payne could never synchronize their schedules. But Payne is willing to see the finished film and make suggestions, if needed, before the DVD is finalized.
Giovanni LaFata helped translate the Italian dialogue into English. And he will translate the entire film into Italian for its premiere in Carlentini.
“I learned a lot about heritage and memories, as well as about documentary-making,” said Soby, whose ancestors are Polish. He said he's pretty sure the film's ending will make people cry.
“It's a beautiful story that will appeal to everyone,” Carey said.
DiGiacomo agreed. “Catholics, Italians and history buffs will all like it,” he said.
One of the special features at the premiere will be live re-enactments of some scenes in the film. In two of them, Roselyn Procopio Fisk portrays Grazia Bonafede Caniglia, who arrived in Omaha in 1900 and eventually organized the first Santa Lucia Festival in Omaha. “It's amazing how much she resembles the real Grazia,” Carey said.
Tickets for the Joslyn showing Friday are $25 and will be available at the door if all 1,000 seats aren't sold out in advance, DiGiacomo said.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for a social hour and entertainment by the Santa Lucia Festival Band and Kathryn Bisanti & Mark Morello. The 7:30 p.m. showing of “Devoti” will be followed by coffee and dessert.
This will be the only showing of the film for now, although future presentations are being considered. A DVD soon will be available also.
Advance tickets can be purchased at www.santaluciadocumentary.com, TicketOmaha.com or 402-345-0606.