by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You are the most talented person that I have ever interviewed. You are a published author in both English and Italian, a great artist, you are my favorite filmmaker, one of my favorite photographers, and a well-known theater and dance critic. There are many things that I hope we can discuss, But, first, let’s discuss what happened when you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What were some of the questions you asked your physician?
Lucia: First of all, Gordon, thank you for your very kind words of support. As is often the case, we set out on our path in life...then the universe throws us a curveball. Mine was being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. The symptoms were vague and puzzling – bloating, feeling full after eating a few bites, nausea, and flu-like signs. They can also mimic the symptoms of peri-menopause.
I was diagnosed via ultrasound, CT-scan, a CA-125 blood test and, lastly, surgery. My main question for my gynecologic oncologist was how could the disease take hold when I had no family history of ovarian cancer, and he said that there are numerous reasons other than genetics, including environment or a glitch in cell division. And even though I got regular check-ups from my previous doctors, ovarian cancer was never discussed. There is still no early-detection test for this type of cancer.
So it’s crucial to be aware of any unusual changes and see a doctor immediately. With ovarian cancer, time is of the essence. I believe it’s one of the first cancers gynecologists should consider when presented with these types of symptoms from their patients.
Gordon: What treatments did you take and how long has your cancer been in remission?
Lucia: It’s hard to believe, but I’ve had A LOT of treatments: six surgeries, chemotherapy (in 2012 and in 2015), radiation, and I participated in an immunotherapy clinical vaccine trial. In addition to being diagnosed in 2012, I experienced an isolated recurrence in 2014 and another in 2016. To date, I’m doing well and continue to move forward with my life, do my regular follow-up tests and make films that I hope inspire others.
Gordon: I recommend that anyone with or who has had cancer see your film One Year Later, Please provide our readers with an overview of the film.
Lucia: One Year Later (2016) is a semi-autobiographical narrative film that addresses the emotional side of cancer survivorship through my protagonist, Liz, who takes a life-affirming trip to the Italian Alps one year after completing cancer treatment. It chronicles the effect of illness, not only on the patient but on the caregiver, family, and friends. This is, in no way, a solemn film. It’s humorous and uplifting and is appropriate for anyone who has gone through trauma and wishes to move on with their lives.
Ultimately, each character must re-navigate their relationships, and they change for the better. Most importantly, my main character acknowledges that she’s been changed by cancer, but not defined by it. In fact, One Year Later begins with Liz leaving the hospital and proceeds to be set in the healing, multi-sensory environment of nature, the mountains and fresh air. As a side note, ever since attending Loyola University’s John Felice Rome Center in 1985, I’ve been enamored by and inspired by all of Italy.
Gordon: I understand that the film is shown at cancer treatment centers to inspire patients and survivors and to create a forum for discussing the more intangible psychological aspects of the diagnosis. What have been some of the responses from the viewers?
Lucia: It’s always so rewarding when, while viewing the film, the audience laughs and nods in a way that shows how they can relate to the issues. But by saying they laugh does not mean that I diminish in any way the effects of a cancer diagnosis. One Year Later makes certain moments of well-intentioned over-protectedness or misunderstanding palpable.
For instance, in one scene, Liz’s husband Bill tries so hard to pamper her that he ends up creating a minor disaster in the kitchen, including breaking a rather gaudy coffee mug. When Liz tries to console him by saying, “I always hated that stupid coffee mug anyway,” he looks wounded and responds, “But I got you that.” It never fails to elicit a chuckle.
When Liz decides to take a trip to Milan with her rather overbearing friends, the audience vocally cheers when she escapes to the Alps for the weekend. The fact that the film is not set in a clinical environment takes viewers to a beautiful, peaceful place.
Various comments I’ve received have included how cancer patients find it refreshing that the film shows how they can make their own decisions and stand up for themselves...and that there is a world of great possibility beyond chemo, beyond anxiety, beyond a regimented medical schedule. Throughout the film, my character takes the time to find her space, and she meets people along the way who help her and she, in turn, helps them. One of the film’s most significant lines from Liz is: “I think people look at me and still see the illness. But that’s such a small part of who I really am.”
Gordon: I was privileged to see Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint. As I mentioned to you after seeing the film, there would never be another Catholic leave the church if they would see this film.
Lucia: I believe that our Mother Cabrini film came about through divine intervention. My husband-producer Joe Orlandino and I are congregation members of the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. For the 2017 Lenten season, we showed our first film, In My Brother’s Shoes, at the Shrine. Following the presentation, a volunteer from the Shrine’s Centenary Committee (2017 marked the 100th anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s passing to eternal life) approached us about getting involved with the Centenary activities.
Being filmmakers, Joe and I immediately thought of a documentary on the Saint. The inspiration for the style of the film – a poetic hybrid that combines interviews with actor reenactments and original music celebrating Mother Cabrini’s essence and presence in our world today – happened very quickly.
We immediately set about raising the money and went into production in the Saint’s hometown of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano (just outside Milan), Italy in June 2017. We filmed the rest in Chicago and premiered the work in November 2017 – within the perimeters of her Centenary year.
Essentially, Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint is about rebirth and how Mother Cabrini’s compassionate message is present in individuals from all walks of life living her message today. She is the Patroness of Immigrants and Hospital Administrators and founded 67 institutions – schools, orphanages, hospitals, novitiates – on three continents. In the film, we see Mother Cabrini as a Little Girl with a dream of becoming a missionary; a Young Woman sent by Pope Leo XIII to minister to the newly arrived Italian immigrants in America; and at the end of her earthly life in Chicago. It shows her global reach, her intercession, and thriving present-day immigrant faith communities.
Gordon: The music in the film is extraordinary. Please tell our readers something about the composer.
Lucia: I collaborate on all of my films with the extraordinarily sensitive and intuitive composer Enzo De Rosa. He was born in Naples, Italy, and currently lives in Montreal. His wife, Isabelle Metwalli, is a lovely soprano whose singing is featured in Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint.
How did we meet? My husband Joe is very active with a film production organization/website called Stage 32. In 2014, when we were working on In My Brother’s Shoes, we posted a call for a composer on this site. Enzo responded. We immediately connected to his music. It just moves my heart and soul. Since working together on In My Brother’s Shoes, Enzo has become a main driving force for my films because his music acts as a central narrator for the emotional life of my characters, subjects, and themes.
This is not a common practice in film, but we have collaborated on the music before I’ve even shot the films – he’s that tapped into my aesthetic. Typically, the composer creates the score while the film is being edited. A viewer commented to me that the music in Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint sounds as if the heavens are opening. I couldn’t agree more.
Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your film In My Brother's Shoes, which won Best Short Film at the 2015 Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival in the Vatican, Rome, and was featured in the 2015 Cannes International Film Festival’s Short Film Corner.
Lucia: In My Brother’s Shoes is near and dear to my heart, not only because it’s my first film, but also because it gave me an opportunity to honor the memory of a fallen U.S. Marine. This is an original narrative short film inspired by a young American man I met by chance in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
I was waiting for a friend when he appeared seemingly out of nowhere. This man was wearing shoes that were torn to shreds and didn’t fit him properly. When I asked him, he explained that his brother was a Marine who was killed in Iraq. He always wanted to go backpacking to Italy with his friends but never got the chance. So his brother put on his sibling’s favorite shoes, which were too tight, and visited Italy literally in his brother’s shoes.
This story became the impetus for creating a moving film about processing grief, healing, human connection, and, in the end, a selfless act of generosity with certain Christ-like parallels. I wrote it for actor Danny McCarthy, whom I admired from my many years as a Chicago theater critic. He brought to this role honesty and pathos that gives his character a very relatable and sympathetic “Every Man” quality.
Gordon: Why did you decide to donate a portion of proceeds from film screenings toward PTSD programs for veterans, cancer research, and humanitarian efforts?
Lucia: Joe and I decided that since In My Brother’s Shoes was a short film, it most likely was not going to have a big theatrical release. But we also did not want it to only be shown at film festivals. We felt it needed a wider audience and that it could serve as a beautiful way to invite veterans and their families and to address PTSD and raise funds for this cause.
We founded our not-for-profit organization, called In My Brother’s Shoes, Inc., for this purpose. Then, when I felt it was the right time to make One Year Later, my film about cancer survivorship, I realized that there are many different forms of PTSD. In My Brother’s Shoes premiered in 2014 at Chicago’s Ganz Theater inside Roosevelt University – sponsored by the Auditorium Theatre – and it opened with a U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard and a concert by Enzo De Rosa. We were able to raise funds to increase PTSD resources at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. One Year Later premiered in 2016 at Loyola University Medical Center’s new Center for Translational Research and Education in Maywood, Ill. It raised funds for ovarian cancer research. Since then, we’ve expanded our reach and have teamed up with a number of organizations, including the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
Since premiering in 2017 in Montreal for the dedication of a Chapel to Mother Cabrini at Santa Cabrini Hospital, Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint has had about 30 screenings in the U.S., Canada and Europe, with an emphasis on religious and humanitarian organizations. I can’t stress enough how fulfilling it is to share our films in a warm and uplifting environment with so many people who then have the opportunity to participate in the post-show discussions. We’ve met remarkable individuals who have changed our lives. More information can be found at: https://www.inmybrothersshoes.org/
Gordon: What new films are in the planning stage?
Lucia: We just wrapped filming on a feature, titled Rain Beau’s End, which Joe and I co-produced (based on an original story by Joe), in Chicago. It tells the story of a couple who adopt a boy with a rare chromosomal disorder (that causes him to have violent outbursts) and their journey to help him. Despite this boy’s uncomfortable challenges, the parents never give up on him.
I go into production in May for my original new short film, Voci del diario (Entries), in Italy (Brescia and Trento). I’m very interested in exploring the idea of the life cycle and the legacies we leave. In this film, one man chronicles the milestones in his life in his journal and, even when he’s gone, he leaves a part of himself with his loved ones, most notably his granddaughter who continues his tradition of journal writing. We see the man during four stages: Childhood, Youth, Middle Age, Old Age. My goal is to bring this film to organizations that foster journal/memoir writing and sketchbooks as a way of healing and self-reflection.
In addition, I’m in the process of potentially writing and directing a documentary in Chicago in the Fall, then I have more narrative films that I’m writing. It seems to be my destiny.
Gordon: How do you choose the actors to play specific roles?
Lucia: With In My Brother’s Shoes, I wrote the main role for Danny McCarthy. I also partially approached One Year Later that way. I’m fortunate to have spent so many years as a Chicago theater/dance critic and arts writer that I’ve experienced the exceptional work of many actors first hand. I also have had the great opportunity to collaborate with outstanding actors in Italy.
For Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint, I reunited with two wonderful Italian actors for the roles of Pope Leo XIII and the Priest, and discovered actresses perfectly suited for the roles of Mother Cabrini at various stages of her life. Miriam Giudice, who portrayed Mother Cabrini as a Young Woman, as it turns out, graduated from Mother Cabrini High School in Milan! I did not know that when I invited her to portray the Saint. I enjoy working with, what I call, the same “traveling troupe of players” and love to write different types of roles for the same actors to show their range. I greatly admire the craft and dedication of actors – and of all the artists who collaborate and bring stories to life through the medium of film. We are all, ultimately, at the service of the story.
Gordon: How do you raise money for the films that you make?
Lucia: That’s a bit of a challenging question, as our films reach different audiences. For instance, for One Year Later, we were able to reach out to the medical community, as well as individuals dedicated to cancer survivorship issues. We have received funding from private individuals, organizations and foundations, as well as have managed one GoFundMe campaign. That said, each project requires a fresh, new approach to fundraising and, often, to new potential producing partners. It may be the single most difficult part of being a filmmaker – but it’s the funding that makes it all possible. My approach is: Keep the production costs low, within reason, and the production values high. We find ourselves being resourceful, committed and, most of all, passionate with each new project. A sense of urgency and the right timing tend to propel me forward. Gordon, thank you so much for this opportunity, and for your thoughtful questions.
Gordon: Congratulations on winning Best Documentary at the 2020 Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival at the Vatican and the Silver Award at Atlanta's Spotlight Documentary Film Festival for your film, I Have a Name. Please share with our readers an overview of the film.
Lucia: Thank you, Gordon. I Have a Name is a one-hour documentary co-produced by Jacqueline C. Hayes – founder and president emerita of The Chicago HELP Initiative (CHI) – and In My Brother’s Shoes, Inc., the non-profit film organization founded by myself and my husband-producer Joe Orlandino. The film gives voice to individuals experiencing homelessness and presents CHI’s all-encompassing programs that nourish the whole person.
It puts a face on homelessness through the sensitive work of CHI and its partners, who empower those in need through access to meals, health services, shelter, adult education, job training and the arts. Those who have experienced job loss, homelessness and other challenges tell their compelling stories. The documentary also takes a wider look at the many factors contributing to homelessness for individuals from all walks of life. And it addresses how CHI is adapting to a world changed by Covid-19.
This film puts the CHI guests front and center and thoughtfully presents their personal journeys, together with how they, the volunteers, CHI partnering organizations – Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago; Assumption Catholic Church; Old St. Patrick’s Church; Harmony, Hope & Healing -- and other groups – including Chicago Street Medicine – lift each other up. I Have a Name is a testament to how compassion and commitment can lead to unity, acceptance and self-empowerment. In addition to the film festival circuit, we plan to present I Have a Name to schools of social work, law schools, police departments and at housing conferences. During Covid-19, we will focus on virtual showings.
CHI and In My Brother’s Shoes collaborated with Flightless Bird Creative and Heather Eidson Photography & Media LLC. Original instrumental music is composed by Enzo De Rosa, with live vocal music performed by Harmony, Hope & Healing – a CHI non-profit partner that assists those in need through the restorative power of music. The Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival, under the High Patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican, centers on compassionate humanitarian films. The honor was especially meaningful, as my short film, In My Brother's Shoes -- also the name of our non-profit -- won Best Short Film at the 2015 Mirabile Dictu festival.
Gordon: What inspired you to create this film?
Lucia: I must say that Mother Cabrini was instrumental in inspiring this film, and you were actually at the event where the project was born! In Spring 2019 during a screening of my documentary, Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint, at Assumption Catholic Church , I met Jacqueline Hayes who proposed we collaborate on a documentary that would show the many dimensions of homelessness and need, together with the Chicago HELP Initiative's programs and its committed partners.
A main theme was putting a respectful face on those experiencing homelessness and to show how the guests and volunteers enrich and nourish each other. I witnessed firsthand how CHI and its partners assist those experiencing homelessness with extensive initiatives. But I was most struck by the dynamic communal environment of their meal program and how each guest is treated with dignity and humanity.
By Fall 2019, I Have a Name was in production in Chicago, with an Epilogue on Covid-19 shot in June 2020. It premiered online in Fall 2020.
Gordon: To introduce your readers to some of your other talents, we will be featuring reviews of your books in addition to your films which are indexed in our Reviews section in both English and Italian of our website, including Prof. Anna Clara Ionta’s review of Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint.
In closing, I am asking our readers to say this prayer to St Peregrine for you and all people facing cancer.
Lucia: O great St. Peregrine, you have been called "The Mighty," "The Wonder-Worker," because of the numerous miracles which you have obtained from God for those who have had recourse to you. For so many years you bore in your own flesh this cancerous disease that destroys the very fiber of our being, and who had recourse to the source of all grace when the power of man could do no more. You were favored with the vision of Jesus coming down from His Cross to heal your affliction. Ask of God and Our Lady, the cure of the sick whom we entrust to you. (Pause here and silently recall the names of the sick for whom you are praying) Aided in this way by your powerful intercession, we shall sing to God, now and for all eternity, a song of gratitude for His great goodness and mercy. Amen.