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Beyond Tortellini – Igniting Change With Film in Italy

By | blog, Choosing Children, It's STILL Elementary, LGBT, One Wedding and A Revolution, Screenings

When I received an invitation to “Some Prefer Cake” the lesbian film festival in Bologna, Italy, of course I said “Si si si!” Tagliatelle, tortellini en brodo, miles of archway-covered streets and a sea of Italian lesbians. I cleared my calendar immediately.

I’m happy to report that I was able to enjoy all those delights last week. But the most important thing that happened on this trip is that, once again, I saw GroundSpark’s mission come alive. We “create visionary films and dynamic educational campaigns that move individuals and communities to take action for a more just world.” This time, the “world” was Italy.

The festival had programmed a selective retrospective of the films I have directed. Watching them again through Italian lesbian eyes provided a remarkable opportunity to take in how much social change these films have helped create and how much more work there is to be done all over the world.

When the lights went up after Choosing Children, the documentary Kim Klausner and I made 28 years ago, the audience was pensive and somewhat stunned. They couldn’t believe the courage of the women in the film who had found ways to have children as out lesbians. I learned that lesbians are not yet opting to become parents in Italy. “We don’t even talk about it,” one woman explained. “It’s just impossible with the way that the Catholic Church controls everything.” “I know one couple that wanted to have children,” another offered. “But they had to move to Spain. You can’t do it here.”

In the discussion of this film and then later of It’s STILL Elementary (made with Johnny Symons), I had an opportunity to share GroundSpark’s perspective on the importance of fighting the taboo and stigma the LGBT community historically has faced when it comes to anything connected to children.

We will never have full civil rights—in the United States, or anywhere in the world—as long as a perception remains that LGBT people should be kept away from children. That belief is the basis for so much of the animosity, and the rationalization for why our relationships are less important, less deserving of full legal rights, than heterosexual ones are.

When the festivalgoers watched One Wedding and a Revolution (made with Kate Stilley Steiner) they were equally transfixed. Former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s courage in deciding to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples was unbelievable to them. “And he’s Catholic!” one woman exclaimed.

At the end of the last screening, a woman stood up and said, “Thank you so much for coming here to be with us. You have shown us that we must stop just talking to ourselves. We must have the courage to interact with the rest of the society and talk about children and marriage, that those are key to a new future.”

Marta, one of the festival producers, was effusive. “You got them talking to each other, about things we never discuss. I see these same women at many events, but we never have a conversation like that.”

She started waving goodbye as women began heading back home, not just to their apartments in Bologna, but back to Sardinia, Milan, and other regions of the country. I could see the ripple effects of the screenings go with them into the night.

I went outside and met with a journalist who was covering my visit. “So, you are an activist, not just a filmmaker?” I smiled, thinking of everyone back home who has made this work possible and whom I know stands with me. “Si – that’s right.”


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  • many thanks debra!… an inspiring update… we are getting ready to travel to italy and hope to make similar connections with activists and media folks!!

    Comment by Lynn Wilson — October 2, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

  • Thank you for sharing your experience. I was moved to tears and will share this with my mother, Phyllis Lyon. It reminds me of how she and my mom, Del Martin, started with a social group and then decided they wanted to do more to expand the conversation and change the culture. You are doing this with film that reaches the heart and expands the possibilities.

    Comment by Kendra Mon — October 3, 2012 @ 6:44 am

  • As an activist mom, I thoroughly agree that we have to stop talking just among ourselves but to reach out to the rest of society — and your films are a wonderful tool for that work. I hope to get them more widely used in Hawaii.
    Aloha, Jo Chang of Da Moms and the LGBT Youth Safety-Net Project

    Comment by Josephine Chang — October 4, 2012 @ 9:22 am

  • Magnificent! Thank you so much for all your work. thank you for helping protect our children. You are an inspiration to me and many, many more!

    Comment by Mary Morgan — October 4, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  • Thank you, Chas. You are always an inspiration!

    Comment by Noam — October 4, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

  • Sounds like a great experience. Thanks for continuing to trailblazer.

    Comment by Lu Chaikin — October 4, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

  • Dear Chas,
    Tears came to my eyes as I read your piece on your trip to Italy – a place that is very special to me. It was very moving to hear how your work touched and ignited the women there and helped them to imagine what is possible. What you have done and are doing is truly groundbreaking and amazing. Thank you!
    arrivederci and amore,

    Linda L-A

    Comment by Linda Luz-Alterman — October 4, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  • Groundspark Goes Global! Such an eye-opener that even in the E.U. there is much work to be done. And then there are other continents, far more conservative than Italy. Thank you for sharing and thanks for your activism.

    Comment by Audrey Koh — October 4, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  • Wow; Debra. Your piece reminds me how much we now take for granted here. That Lesbians in Italy haven’t felt able to plan to have children is quite distressing. How great that they showed your films and got people energized.


    Comment by Loraine Obler — October 5, 2012 @ 3:29 am

  • Wonderful to read. The journalist asks, “You are an activist, not just a film maker?” Makes me think: those of us in the GLBT community are all film makers, not just activists – since each time we interact with others and can be truly who we are, we leave the movie/story of ourselves, playing in their minds and hearts. We are real. We are here. That’s what all those Italians also took back to Milan and Rome. The movie of the person of Debra. Thanks for your films and also the story of you – which moves just as many mountains.

    Comment by Pat Badger — October 5, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  • We were blown away to hear that lesbians in Italy are still not able to openly parent. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we tend to take it for granted that our lesbian and gay friends who choose to have children will be able to do so openly and with the support of much of our community and that our own daughters will be able to experience the joys of parenting with whomever they choose to partner. This is just another reminder of how important and ground-breaking the work of Debra Chasnoff has been for the past three decades. It is wonderful to see the continuing ripples of your courage and creativity. Thank you.

    Comment by Shelley Coppock — October 28, 2012 @ 10:24 am

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