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Homage to Millbrook

New documentary film
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Nov 19th, 2017

Barbara Hanson Pierce, Robert Hanson, Jonathan Galassi 

This past Sunday morning The Moviehouse in Millerton offered a free screening of Il Villaggio di Millbrook (The Village of Millbrook), a 35 minute documentary film on Millbrook’s Italian roots. Robert Hanson’s new documentary was inspired by Barbara Hanson Pierce’s work with Millbrook’s Museum in the Streets© project, a permanent, bi-lingual, historical walking tour of the village, which Pierce, as co-chair, shepherded to its opening in 2014. The historical photos in the film were culled from a wide variety of places, including the Millbrook Historical Society, the Library of Congress, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Jonathan Robertson composed an original score. Robert Hanson studied documentary film at Yale University, studying under cinema verité doyen "D. A." Pennebaker, whose 1967 documentary of Bob Dylan put him on the map. In 1969 I showed that little noticed documentary at the University of Dayton and flew him out to speak.

Town historian David Greenwood provides much historical background. The village Millbrook grew from the introduction of the railroad. Many Irish immigrants came in 1870 to work on the railroad. Some stayed, but most moved on following the job market. Italian immigrants arrived in waves from 1893. This was organized by Thomas Fiore who was from Fondi (pronounced Fundi, located on the western Italian coast, halfway between Naples and Rome). When immigrant ships arrived in Manhattan from Ellis Island Fiore stood on the dock and asked men if they were stone masons (often repeatedly to the same person until they agreed to say yes). If they replied in the affirmative, he said to them “You’re hired” in the Fondi dialect. A majority of these recruits were from Fondi and a couple of other nearby towns.

This short, nostalgic film, adroitly edited from 18 hours of shooting, consists of interviews with Millbrook residents:  Noreen Bartolomucci, Skip Ciferri, Al De Bonis, Dora Ialongo, Gino Ianucci, Sara Krauss, Buddy Marona, Rosemary Sepe Neilson, Marguerite Rotunno, Theresa Rotunno, Doreen Sepe, and Vic Sepe.  Reverend Monsignor Gerardo Colacicco, of Saint Joseph’s Church in Millbrook, and John Dyson, proprietor of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, recall the context of the times. Most of the Italian families in Millbrook have over the years married and remain related.

One road for social ascension for Italians was the Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club. An early 1940 a picture of the club’s caddies showed that 42 of the 44 caddies were of Italian descent. Some rose to be champion golf players and some made life-long friendships that aided their social advancement. There is also much nostalgia displayed for Bennet College when it played an important role in the town’s social life and economy.

Barbara Hanson Pierce delivered an eloquent introduction to the film, so eloquent that I failed to snap the photo of her that I had intended. She, Hanson, and Jonathan Galassi, editor at Farrar and the best translator of the poet Montale, spoke together on stage. Genial Galassi's grandfather, born at a town near Fondi, observed that the story of Millbrook was “the universal story of immigrants and assimilation.”

The introductory epigram for the film reads: “What the son wishes to forget the grandson wishes to remember.”—Marcus Lee Hansen (not a relative). 

Executive producers are Skip Ciferri, Kathe and John Dyson, David and Nan Greenwood, and Barbara Hanson Pierce. Beartooth Productions plans to enter the film in several documentary film festivals. When the documentary festival season concludes (in about 8 months), they will make the film freely available on the internet. At the moment they are exploring the possibility of releasing a DVD version.