In the Italian American community there are many examples of wonderful personalities who have made great contributions to every field of American society, culture, and economy. None excluded. One of the fields in which there are truly hundreds of examples of exceptionalism is entertainment.
That is why the work done by NOIAFT, National Organization of Italian Americans in Film & Television, is so important. I am very happy to welcome on We the Italians its founder, a young and beautiful Italian American woman whom I thank for what she does in this field: Taylor Taglianetti.
Taylor, first of all please tell us something about you and your relationship with Italy, where did your family come from and what do you think about Italy?
I am Italian American and from Brooklyn, New York. My great grandparents are from Salerno, in Campania, and Potenza, in Basilicata. I still have family living in Potenza. The first time I went to Italy was with the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) through their Voyage of Discovery program. I was one of twenty students selected from thousands nationwide to travel to Puglia and participate in educational and service opportunities. We were there for ten days and visited several towns. It was my first taste of Italy and that trip was actually one of the main inspirations for why I decided to start my organization. I was just so overwhelmed with the history and all of these stories. Even though I was passionate about my culture, there was so much I did not know and I wanted to share this knowledge with others. The idea of marrying my passion for my heritage with my passion for storytelling was thrilling to me.
The support that I received from the Columbus Citizens Foundation was also another main reason why I started my organization. I received significant high school and college scholarships from them. I made a promise on my application that I would pay it forward one day. When I attended college at NYU, it became apparent that forming my organization was necessary as Italian Americans don’t have a network that they can rely on in the entertainment industry.
I’m so appreciative of the support I’ve received; it’s inspired me to not only explore my roots deeper, but give back. So yes, I can say I am one proud Italian American and I am very grateful both to the Columbus Citizens Foundation and NIAF.
What is the National Organization of Italian Americans in Film & Television (NOIAFT)?
The National Organization of Italian Americans in Film & Television (NOIAFT) is a networking organization that aims to connect and empower Italian Americans to achieve their artistic goals, and we do that in a number of ways. We just had our two-year anniversary, which is very exciting, and I can’t even believe it has already been two years! We strive to be the place to go when people are looking to assemble teams or put together projects. You can come to us and we recommend the talent or point you in the right direction for resources depending on your needs. We also promote our members' work on social media and in our members-only newsletter. Additionally, we go to film festivals and conduct press coverage and interviews to promote Italian Americans that are already successful in the industry. We have recently begun working with other organizations and people in the industry to just get our name out there and to continue sharing all the great Italian American stories that we don’t get to typically see in our filmmaking history. By that I mean, it’s great to highlight some of the more authentic Italian American stories and to finally start putting our community in a good light.
We would like to encourage every one of our readers who is active or just interested in this field to become a member of your organization. How can they do that?
We have a few hundred members and the sign up process is very simple. Your readers can just go right on our website www.noiaft.org to join. It is a very straightforward application process. As it is completely free, there is only one thing that we ask. In order for us to keep going, as I am not making any money from this, we ask that members make a pledge to pay it forward and help another member.
For instance, a lot of actors need readers with them when they put together audition tapes. Maybe you'd volunteer to help someone do that. You might volunteer to read someone's script or you could recommend someone for a role, give someone advice. If you're a cinematographer, maybe you'll give someone a discount. It can take form in many different ways, but since I'm a product of a lot of free programs and great people who took the time out of their day and their lives to put their time and energy into me, I felt like if I was going to do this, it would be silly of me to have to have anyone pay for this. So I made it free, and I think that having that domino effect of people helping each other is what sustains us every day.
Is there a curious anecdote about a famous Italian American artist you've come into contact with that you can tell our readers?
I have two good ones for you.
I interviewed Dion, 50s doo-wop rock and roll icon; I'm 22 years old, but he's my favorite musician of all time. I just absolutely love him, I'm an old soul. I got to interview him a couple months ago and it was a total dream come true. We discussed his relationship with the Beatles and I brought up how he and Bob Dylan are the only two American musicians to be featured on the cover of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album. The fact that the Beatles thought of him so highly to only include him and Bob Dylan is a testament to who he is as a musician. It’s also just an incredible trivia fact that I try to test music aficionados with!
I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone’s brother, at the end of the month to promote the new documentary that came out about his life. I discovered that Frank wrote the soundtrack of Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. I had no idea what a prolific musician he is as well as a great actor.
His whole family thought that Frank was going to be the big star because he is such a terrific musician, but then Sly made Rocky and the rest is history. The documentary demonstrates how equally talented they are and that Frank was never bitter about his brother’s success.
I feel like there are absolutely too few positive Italian American characters in the history of American cinema. Am I right?
You're completely right. I will give you a funny example: have you ever seen the movie House of Strangers? It's a little-known film noir, it came out in the 40s and it's about an Italian American banker who is extremely corrupt, and his banking practices destroy his whole family.
It was actually one of the little known inspirations for The Godfather, but the interesting thing about the film is that the banker is based on Amadeo Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America, formerly Bank of Italy. I think it’s fascinating, because in that story, the character is seen as such a bad guy, to the point where the film had a limited release. The film was released by 20th Century Fox Films and Giannini’s family funded many of the studio's films. So when they found that out, they said, “This film can't happen. It's such a horrible depiction of a great man.” It’s a great movie nonetheless. To me, it’s sad that not many people know about Giannini’s contributions - I myself discovered who he was only just a couple of years ago. Interestingly enough, the film is based on a book and the original character wasn’t even Italian! Ironically, the character was Jewish and the studio didn't want a terrible depiction of a Jewish character.
Another interesting fact that I love to share is that in Frank Capra’s classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, the main character, George Bailey, is also based on Amadeo Giannini.
But the character is not Italian. The theory is that they couldn't make him Italian because of all the anti-Italian sentiment going on in the country surrounding World War II. House of Strangers and It’s A Wonderful Life came out only a few years apart from each other. I think it's fascinating how you can see that systematically, throughout film history, Italians don’t have the opportunity to be portrayed in a positive light.
There’s one film I’d like to recommend that you may like, I really like it. It's called True Love and it’s directed by Nancy Savoca. It's one of the few films that I have seen that doesn't depict Italian Americans in a stereotypical fashion. It came out in 1989 and it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival which is really remarkable, having been in competition that year against what are now cult classics, including Heathers and Sex, Lies and Videotapes.
The film is about a woman who is getting married and all the pressures that her Italian family puts on her. The film is out of print, but it’s so worth grabbing your hands on a copy.
Among the up-and-coming Italian Americans you've gotten to know, is there one still little known that you'd like to point out and recommend to our readers?
There's so many, I could go on for days! In terms of people we’ve interviewed for NOIAFT, Julie Pacino and Francesca Scorsese stand out. Julie is Al Pacino’s daughter and Francesca is Martin Scorsese’s. They’re both directors and Francesca is an actress as well. Both of them make such interesting, inspiring work. They don’t seem like women who are trying to be just like their fathers. They’re developing their own style and names for themselves. They’re definitely among the next great generation of Italian American artists.
In terms of NOIAFT members, Analise Scarpaci is fabulous. She’s one of the leads of Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway. She’s from Staten Island and is 21 years old. The show only had three previews until COVID shut down Broadway unfortunately, but I’m sure everyone is going to know her name if they don’t already. She’s bound to be a superstar! I’d also like to highlight Mo Scarpelli. She’s a documentarian. Her recent film, El Father Plays Himself, has been getting amazing reviews and accolades.
And then I have to selfishly plug my brother, Alan, because his band, Sweet Sienna, recently got signed to Cleopatra Records and his story is really inspiring to me, how he was able to get to where he is. My brother used to be a banker, but his first passion was always music and he really didn't like being a banker. There used to be this guy who would sit outside his bank every day playing the saxophone and my brother would talk to him often. One day, the guy told Alan: “Never lose music.” At that point, my brother had sold all of his guitars. He bought a new one and quit his job. Still being in his 20s, he decided to roll the dice and take a shot. Low and behold, he networked, he talked to every single person he could, and he wound up getting signed to a rock record label. On February 16th, the label released Sweet Sienna’s cover of the Kiss song, Black Diamond. They’re releasing an original song in a few weeks with a lot of amazing guest artists. I'm really proud of him.
Who are your favorite Italian artists, born and lived in Italy?
My favorite director is Giuseppe Tornatore. I love Cinema Paradiso, it's definitely my favorite movie of all time, tied with Bicycle Thieves. I love his work. Tornatore also made a great movie that I always recommend because it seems that almost no one's ever heard of it. It's called The Best Offer, it came out 8 years ago. The reviews weren't so good, but I thought it was amazing. He frequently collaborated with the composer, Ennio Morricone, who I also love, but unfortunately passed away last year.
I'm very disappointed that Sophia Loren did not get nominated for a Golden Globe, but the film that she was in, The Life Ahead, was nominated and the song written for that movie by Laura Pausini won, so fingers crossed for the Oscars!
I also like Andrea Bocelli. He does a lot of amazing charity work as well.
I wish I could give you names that were a little less known, but they’re popular for a reason!
Right now events are at a standstill, but when we finally get out of the covid nightmare and start being able to see each other and be together again, what activities do you have planned for the future of NOIAFT?
There are a lot of things that I want to do short term. I'm doing everything virtually now, but I'd love to have more in-person screenings of our members’ work. We have been working with the Columbus Citizens Foundation for panel discussions and Q&As. Our first panel was on the new feature film, The Cuban, directed/produced by Sergio Navarretta and written/produced by Alessandra Piccione. They’re both NOIAFT members and were featured on the panel, alongside Academy Award-winning actor and the film’s lead, Louis Gossett Jr.. It was a thrill to moderate the discussion. If your readers are interested in attending upcoming events, they can reach out to me for details.
In the future, I also want to hold some showcases because we have so many wonderfully talented members and I would like to invite executives in the industry to see what we're doing in hopes for future collaboration.
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