Nicola Moruzzi didn’t know what to expect when he set out to make a documentary about his great-grandfather Angelo Conte.
Conte immigrated to Canada from Valstagna, Italy, in 1913, one of millions of Italians that left their homeland in search of opportunity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
He arrived in B.C. and went from job to job until he ended up working for CP Rail on the Connaught Tunnel through Rogers Pass.
Tragically, he died in a work accident on Oct. 15, 1915, without ever meeting his daughter — Moruzzi’s grandmother.
Almost 100 years later, Moruzzi found a box of Conte’s letters at his grandmother’s house. He decided to find out what happened to him.
“When we started, we were not hoping to do so much. It was a symbolic journey,” Moruzzi said. “We were not thinking we would find actual documents and actual connections because after 100 years we were not expecting so much.”
In fact, Moruzzi was able to trace his great-grandfather’s journey in Canada from Vancouver to the exact spot he died in the Connaught Tunnel.
The resulting documentary, Revelstoke: A Kiss in the Wind, will be shown at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre this Friday, May 12. Moruzzi will be on hand to talk about the film and answer questions.
The documentary, which has been screened on TVO, opens with Moruzzi contacting various archives in Canada looking for information about Conte.
Finally, a familiar voice answers — Cathy English of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives tells Moruzzi she might be able to help. That led to Moruzzi and his girlfriend Irene Vecchio making several trips to Canada to uncover the journey of his great-grandfather. Moruzzi visits the homes he lived in, the places he worked, and the ancestors of people who knew Conte.
“I think it was a long series of lucky moments,” said Moruzzi. “We made this documentary thanks to the people we met along the way and we contacted.”
I last spoke to Moruzzi in June 2014, when he had just returned from his final trip to Canada and had launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the documentary. He was able to raise $30,000 and hired an editor to assemble the footage.
The finished product is 74 minutes long and it premiered in December 2015 at the Milan Film Festival, where it won the award for best documentary. In 2016, it was nominated for best documentary at the Italian equivalent of the Oscars.
I asked Moruzzi why he though the film was so well received. “I think the theme of Italian immigration, it’s very important for the way Italy is shaped now,” he replied. “We’re talking about 29 million people emigrating in 150 years. People have ancestors that have been all over the world.”
The documentary has been shown throughout Italy and abroad and has brought out other personal stories of Italian immigration. At a screening in London, one woman in attendance was a relative of a a person featured in the film.
“In Vancouver, we meet the great-grandson of the man that stayed in the same house of my great grandfather,” explained Moruzzi. “This girl was connected with the same family, but from the Brazilian branch of the family. She saw her relative in the documentary and she started crying.”
Revelstoke plays a key role in the film and several locals appear. English provides information about Conte’s life and death in Revelstoke, Doug Mayer is interviewed about the historical significance of the Connaught Tunnel, and Claire Sieber leads Moruzzi to the site of a CP Rail work camp that has since been reclaimed by the forest.
Moruzzi made special mention of Ron Lind, a former CP Rail employee who guided Moruzzi into the Connaught Tunnel. Lind died in May 2015.
“Thanks to Ron, we were able to reach the exact point where my great-grandfather got into an accident and died,” said Moruzzi. “That is a very painful and strong thing in the documentary, and it was very tough to shoot it because we were in the dark, in a closed space where someone else died 100 years ago. You can feel in the scene what we were feeling in that moment.”
Angelo Conte’s journey in Canada was a fairly typical one for immigrants at the time. Moruzzi hopes to hear more stories when he shows the movie in Revelstoke He also screening it in Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops.
“I hope to get the reaction of the people because every time we screen it in different locations we have different reactions,” he said. “Every time I watch it, it’s like a different movie for me. I want to be close to the people to see what they think about it and what stories they share.”
Revelstoke: A Kiss in the Wind will be shown at the Revelstoke Peforming Arts Centre on Friday, May 12, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives and revelstokeartscouncil.com. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Nicola Moruzzi.