‘The Savoy Ladies Group’: screening in Melbourne on 29 March

Flyer-Melbourne-V1-01-01This short documentary about women, tobacco farming, family and friendship in the heart of Italian-Australian rural Victoria will be screened at the Museo Italiano, 199 Faraday Street, Carlton on Saturday 29 March at 2.30pm. The event is free (RSVP: ihs@coasit.com.au; 93499021) and will be followed by a Q & A with the audience. The film celebrates the Italian heritage of the women of North-Eastern Victoria and will be introduced by Rosa Volpe, the group’s president, as she tells the story of Italians in the North-East, tobacco farming, women, family and friendship.

The Italian community of Myrtleford, in the picturesque Ovens Valley in alpine North Eastern Victoria, arrived mainly to work in the once thriving tobacco industry. The region now has a distinctive Italian-Australian culture with settled second, third and fourth generation Italian families. The film sheds light on the difficulties faced by Italian women who emigrated, often from rural villages, in the post-war migration boom. “It was a lonely experience for many of the women who came here” says Lucinda Horrocks, one of the film’s producers. “While the men took on a more active role in the community, the women stayed on the farms with their families. They couldn’t drive or speak the language well so they became very isolated, particularly after their children left home.”

The Savoy Ladies Group, which is attached to the Myrtleford Italian community’s ‘Savoy Club’ was formed in 1983 in an effort to combat the social isolation of the Italian women tobacco farmers. Producer Samantha Dinning, who developed the original concept for the film, was inspired by the 30th Anniversary of the group in 2013. “I was looking for a project to develop in the North East and have always been intrigued by its Italian heritage. I met with Jan Mock at the Alpine Shire council who suggested that it would be great to have the story of the Ladies Group documented. Their 30th Anniversary as a group was coming up and it seemed like the perfect time to celebrate the women and their achievements.” To Dinning, the story is about independence and resilience. “The groups experience tell us about the challenges faced by migrant women in rural Australia, something that we often hear little about. It’s a great example of the power of friendship and community.“

The film, which was funded through the Australian Government’s Your Community Heritage Program, focuses on the story of Rosa Volpe, an original founding member of the group and the current group president. Rosa’s story is typical of many women in the community who joined the group with their mothers and enjoyed the companionship and independence it offered, says Dinning. “The Savoy Ladies have endured as a support network for over 30 years, which is a testament to the organisational powers of the women who have been involved and to its strength as a vital community group.”

The film-makers spent a week in Myrtleford filming the present day activities of the group. The film contains footage of the ladies playing “tombola” – Italian for bingo. To the Ballarat-based producer Horrocks, the Italian character of the region came as a surprise. “The history of the area is fascinating,” she says. “The area is dotted with disused tobacco kilns but unless you know what they are, they just look like odd-shaped tin sheds. And it was mainly Italian families who were farming tobacco. I didn’t know anything about it.” To Ms Dinning, who grew up in nearby Wangaratta, and whose grandparents were tobacco share-farmers in Dandongadale, the Italian heritage of the area is worth celebrating. “ I loved growing up among many different Italian families eating wonderful food, learning the language and culture. I don’t think that many people outside the region know about its cultural uniqueness and its something I have always valued.”

The producers hope viewers see the film as a celebration of friendship. “The companionship offered by the group is such a strong aspect of the story” says Horrocks. “We really tried to capture the essence of the power of friendship.” The film will be shown at select screenings in Melbourne and regional Victoria throughout 2014 and will be released online in April 2014.

The film is produced by Wind & Sky Productions, an independent film production company specialising in short documentaries. Working mainly in digital video, they produce stories for smaller screens, web and digital formats. They are based in Ballarat in regional Victoria. They take on commissions and also produce self-driven projects where they develop story concepts, source funding, and bring together project partners and collaborators. Their remit is to produce stories which promote positive change and social responsibility. More information about Wind & Sky Productions is available at http://www.windsky.com.au

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