Queer and Italian-Canadian: The Movie
By Christopher DiRaddo
In January 2020, Montreal writer Licia Canton set out to make a feature length documentary about the intersections of LGBTQ identities among the country’s Italian-Canadian writers. Due to the pandemic, she unfortunately had to stop—but not before filming interviews with several Montreal participants (full disclosure: I’m one of them).
Even though Licia wasn’t able to realize her original vision, she was still able to turn lemons into limoncello and produced a short version of the doc called Creative Spaces: Queer and Italian Canadian. And until she’s able to get back out there to continue the project, she’s been keeping herself busy by publishing the anthology Here and Now: An Anthology of Queer Italian-Canadian Writing. I asked her about the project’s origins.
What gave you the idea for this project?
As someone who grew up in Montreal North and raised her children in St. Leonard, I have a certain perception of the Italian-Canadian community. As a creative person, as a freelancer, as an independent researcher, I certainly don’t fit the norm. I had friends, not writers, who left Montreal in the eighties because they were queer. I thought that the Italian-Canadian community had to be more inclusive today. I was inspired to document the experiences of queer Italian-Canadian writers after reading Monica Meneghetti’s essay “I’m Queer and Italian-Canadian – Coming Out Was Twice as Hard,” published in The Globe and Mail in 2018. Monica recounts that she thought the queer content of her memoir What the Mouth Wants would not be well received by an Italian-Canadian audience. I had noticed, at events in Ottawa and Montreal, that she only read passages pertaining to food.
This is quite the undertaking for an ally. As someone who is not a member of the LGBTQ community, why did you want to help tell this story?
The queer experience is not traditionally discussed in Italian-Canadian households. It’s not a topic for Sunday lunch with the whole family. But I was surprised to hear from my children, who are now young adults, that some young Italian-Canadians are still reluctant to speak openly to their parents and friends. I wanted to help improve the situation. I thought I could use my position within the Italian-Canadian literary community to highlight queer writers and artists, whose voices often go unheard. Hopefully these projects, and the press they will generate, will inspire some change in dinner conversation.
Your original plans for the documentary were larger but you had to stop due to COVID-19. What other plans do you have?
Yes, I had initially planned to interview writers across Canada. Of course, I began in Montreal because that’s where I and the cinematographers, Justine Rivard and Béatrice Langlois Bettez, live. Ostrich Bouquet, the amazing indie band that provided the music for the film, also hail from Montreal. Unfortunately, the lockdown prevented us from interviewing writers elsewhere. But in the past year, numerous queer Italian-Canadians have come forward and shown interest in our project, resulting in the volume Here and Now: An Anthology of Queer Italian Canadian Writing. Thirty-five writers have contributed to this groundbreaking book, which will be published in June 2021. I hope to interview all of them for subsequent documentaries.
I am also collaborating with a number of Canadian and international organizations: the Frank Iacobucci Centre for Italian Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto, the University of Calabria; Quebec’s English-Language Arts Networkand Accenti Magazine. The Queer Studies in Quebec Research Group and the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers, which funded the documentary. There are lots of events and activities planned around the existing short documentary, the longer one that I am fundraising for, and the volume.
What did you learn while taking on this project?
So much! I’ve learned much more about queer identity and my own community, and quite a lot about filmmaking. I’m grateful to have received advice and support from experts on queer culture. This project is becoming bigger and bigger every day, and though it’s been a bumpy road mostly due to COVID, I am grateful for all that I’ve been able to learn from the interviewees and the film crew. I’ve also learned that there is still a lot of work to be done in this field.
What do you hope is the result of this project?
Ultimately, I’d like this project to help improve sensibilities towards queer identities and realities. I hope people will be interested in seeing the documentary and in purchasing the volume. Offer it as a gift and change someone’s life or perspective. I’m sure that this project will expand the field of Italian-Canadian studies. I think both the film and the volume are useful tools for educators and researchers. I also hope that media will take an interest in queer Italian-Canadian writers, especially those who are just starting their careers. The documentary should encourage conversations and possibly lead to more inclusivity. Let’s talk, let’s collaborate, let’s make it easier for everyone to be themselves.
Click here to find out more about the film.
Click here to find out more about the anthology.
Readings from the book will take place on Zoom and Facebook on Tuesday, May 18. Click here for more information.