Director Sergio Navarretta planned to tell Canadian heroine Angelina Napolitano’s life story in a documentary.
However, by the time the crew began shooting, the documentary had become a feature film.
“We expanded the story into a feature film once we realized how dramatic the facts were,” Navarretta says.
The film, Looking For Angelina, has received positive reviews.
“The feedback has been quite incredible,”Navarretta says. “In general, audiences have responded to the film on an emotional level, empathizing with the journey of [the characters].”
The film is based on the real-life story of Napolitano, who was tried for murdering her husband, Pietro in 1911. Prior to his murder, Pietro had threatened to kill the couple’s unborn child if Angelina did not prostitute herself.
The film depicts Angelina’s trial, which took place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
“When we [first] saw the court transcripts, the case seemed so black and white,” Navaretta says. “The more we read between the lines, though, the more complex the case became. For example, Angelina didn’t understand the language and didn’t have proper representation for the case.”
When the film crew began researching in 2003, it was surprised to learn how little attention the case received in Canada.
“We went on a year and a half journey re-discovering our history and history of immigrants in this country,” Navarretta says. “In Sault Ste. Marie, there is virtually no representation of the trial today.
“The case was an international sensation, and yet as Canadians we are unaware of it. It was very much the Americans who broke out the story.”
Despite having only a $250,000 budget, Navarretta shot the film in two weeks while ensuring it retained the story’s authenticity.
“I decided to shoot the film on location in Sault Ste. Marie,” he says. “We also re created the street in Little Italy.
“Half the film is also in Italian [with English subtext]. Both the lead actors had to learn the language phonetically for the film. The credit for the success of the film is that it’s close to the truth.”
In the next few months, Looking for Angelina will screen in 25 cities across Canada. In November, the film’s distributors will seek potential U.S. buyers in Los Angeles.
In conjunction with the film, Platinum Image Film is supporting a social action campaign focused on curbing domestic violence.
Organizations involved in the campaign include the Women Abuse Council of Toronto, COSTI Immigrant Services, and Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children.
“The same issues Angelina dealt with 100 years ago are still present today,” Navarretta says.
Searching for Angelina plays at the Rainbow Galleria tomorrow at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is $7.50.