After so much focus on the national election, a spotlight on community stories comes this weekend in the Community Stories Film Festival, organized by Docs in Progress and sponsored by the city of Takoma Park, Maryland. I’m excited that it will feature my short documentary, Enemy Alien: Italian-American in Baltimore. In the film, Frank tells about growing up in East Baltimore’s Italian-American community. His parents came to Baltimore from Sicily in the early 1900s and made a life together in the Highlandtown neighborhood.
Life changed for them after Pearl Harbor, when America entered World War II against the Axis powers. That meant war on Italy. Frank tells how his community faced suspicion and harassment at school and work. Factory workers from his neighborhood were charged with sabotage. Citizens were dogged by government surveillance. Italian-Americans across the country were detained or forced to relocate.
Government agents hauled away the family’s Philco radio, which Frank’s father tuned to boxing bouts on Saturday nights. They claimed that it could be used to communicate with Mussolini’s forces.
Amid the hardships, threats, and hard work, Frank’s family held close to each other and re-affirmed values that stayed with him all his life.
The festival’s short films block holds many treasures. If you missed the livestream Q&A with the filmmakers in that section, you’re in luck: you can catch up and watch the panel discussion on Youtube here.
Enemy Alien grew out of a long-running conversation I had with Frank about his youth. See my essay for The Millions, I Know He Enjoyed Your Calls, about the occasionally intertwining threads between interviews and friendship. See Cork Wars for more of the story of families and entanglements in World War II.