New Kensington woman, others film interviews to tell seniors' stories
Like wise parents, the creators of the Collective Legacy Project refuse to pick a favorite among their interview subjects.
“Every person has a story,” said Cara Livorio, 31, a painter from New Kensington. “Every story could be a movie.”
The nonprofit Collective Legacy Project is creating a type of movie — filming interviews and presenting them online with photographs and written observations of Western Pennsylvania's senior citizens.
The website offers compelling tales of those who came from the Greatest Generation: Italian immigrants like Gene Montemurro and Guido Bartolacci, iconic New Kensington businessmen; James Justice, who left his native England for Murrysville to work for Westinghouse; and first generation Americans like Fosca Palamidessi Painter and Elvira Longo Ginocchi, who recalled childhoods in East Deer and Arnold, respectively.
“An immersive experience” is how videographer Nate Mirizio, 27, of Pittsburgh describes the website: “You get the story of this life. A real sense of what they're like.”
Livorio said the project grew from her love of the stories told by her grandparents and their peers.
“I love the way my grandparents tell stories. The sparkle in their eye. The laughs,” Livorio said. “So many of that generation have a story to tell.”
Livorio found kindred spirits in Mirizio, architect Tony Pagliaroli, 30, and photographers Kristi Jan Hoover, 28, and Jared Marsh, 27, all of Pittsburgh.
The group began the project about 2½ years ago and has posted more than a dozen profiles, with more to come.
Livorio conducts the interviews in the subjects' homes while Mirizio and Marsh film them. Hoover then photographs people with artifacts that help to tell their stories. Mirizio handles most of the editing and website design, while Pagliaroli takes care of the behind-scenes and administrative work.
“I think we've gotten it down to an art,” said Livorio. “Everyone has their role.”
“I hope to make them feel important — because they are,” said Hoover. “There's something that will light their face up (during an interview). It's a beautiful, intimate little moment.”
While they wouldn't pick favorite subjects, the artists could recall special moments.
They said talking to Justice, who was living with a terminal cancer diagnosis when they interviewed him, was an emotional experience.
“All five of us had tears,” Hoover said. “We all cried.”
Justice, who died about a month after the video aired, spoke of living through the German bombing of London and joining the Royal Air Force as a navigator during World War II before he came to America.
Although he fought tears as he recalled his father's near-miss with a bomb, a friend's death during a freak accident at a military base in Egypt and his love for his late wife, Pauline, Justice's humor pervades the video, which is the group's longest at just over an hour. Most of the interviews are 20 minutes or less.
“You know, people adapted to it. ... There was a spirit about the people,” Justice said of living through The Blitz on London. “Cockney humor kept everyone going.”
Mirizio used the word “gumption” to describe Ginocchi, who spoke of helping her family run Longo's Market in Arnold during the Great Depression and surviving the death of her husband, Tony, in 2011.
“I've lived longer than my mother, my father and my sister. So what can be so bad?” Ginocchi asked. “I'm almost double my mother's age when she died. And I count every day as a blessing. Every day is a nice day, as far as I'm concerned.”
Overall, the interviewers said they are impressed by the positive attitude of their subjects, despite the hardships they've lived through.
“They almost never talk about regretting things,” Pagliaroli said.
Living through hardships
Livorio said she's struck by the change in technology and circumstances their subjects have experienced during their lifetimes.
For example, her own grandmother, Fosca Painter, one of their first interviews, spoke of growing up in the Creighton section of East Deer without an indoor bathroom or heat in her second-floor bedroom.
By the end of her video — which Painter watched from her own computer — she is speaking fondly of the central heat and air in her New Kensington home.
Although her family lived through hard times — including a mining accident that paralyzed and ultimately killed her father — Painter said she had a happy childhood and recalls a helpful, involved community.
“I was very happy. When you don't really have anything, you don't miss anything,” she said. “We were a very content family.”
Painter told a reporter that she was nervous during the interview and is much more interested in watching the other videos than her own.
Livorio said they aired her grandmother's video during a holiday gathering, which led to a family discussion and prompted more of the stories Livorio enjoys.
“It made me think of why I didn't ask more questions of my mother about coming to America,” Painter said. “They were very, very brave.”
Painter's parents couldn't speak English when they arrived in America, and she wishes she'd taught her own children Italian.
Livorio made up for that, learning Italian and living in Italy for several years.
She put her language skills to use in the Collective Legacy Project's two most recent interviews, with Bartolacci and Antonietta LoPardo Costa, which were conducted largely in Italian and have English subtitles.
Although the interviews currently on the site include mostly Italian Americans, Livorio said that's because they started with her family and people she knew.
They find their subjects through referrals and word of mouth, and have more planned that go beyond the Italian immigrant experience.
“For younger people, it's important to hear that testimony,” Livorio said.
“One of the most powerful things we do is listen,” Hoover said. “They're thanking us (for listening), and we feel like we were given a gift.”
Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.