Italian Studies Professor Evelyn Ferraro: A Coppola story
Teaching a course on the Italian-American experience at SCU has been such a fulfilling and enriching experience. By exploring the cultural history of Italian Americans, students reflect on complex issues such as diversity, belonging, racism, and assimilation. They usually enjoy discussing representations of Italian Americans on TV and in movies, but this year we had a special surprise. Not only did we get to watch The Godfather in class, but we also got to meet its director, Francis Ford Coppola, in person! Coppola was the featured guest of the January 2019 Vari Symposium “Film, Family, and Italian Culture,” part of the College of Arts and Sciences Vari Italian Studies Initiative co-hosted by Mike Whalen (Communication) and me.
It was an unusually gloomy and rainy January morning and Coppola arrived at the De Saisset museum early with his young assistant. When I stepped in, Mike graciously introduced me to the legendary film director. I was instantly fascinated by the deep inquisitive gaze of this aging paternal figure. With some hesitation, I asked him, “How shall I call you? Maestro?” He looked at me, paused and then said, “You can call me Don Francis… or how would you say that in Italian? Don Ciccio! That’s it, call me Don Ciccio!” I grinned and said, “I promise I won’t call you that on stage!” Coppola smiled back as we immediately understood each other. He knew that as a native Sicilian, I would capture the sense of respect toward an elderly figure that the title “Don” encapsulates when people use it in Southern Italy.
I was a bit nervous preparing for the event, but Coppola made it easy for me. He mesmerized the students with his advice, urging aspiring filmmakers in the audience to tell their unique stories through their unique voices. I found this message incredibly powerful for our students. A student wrote to me afterward, “As an aspiring filmmaker and Italian minor, Coppola’s thoughts and words of encouragement had a profound effect on me. It was a truly special esperienza!”
You can read more on this story here.