The Italian Almanac

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Ellis Island

Italian Movies - August 28

New York's Ellis Island, the door to America for millions of immigrants last century, has inspired a major Italian film competing at this year's Venice Film Festival. Nuovomondo (The Golden Door), written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Emanuele Crialese, tells the tale of a Sicilian family who made the epic journey from their homeland to America in search of a better life.

Set in 1910, the film recounts the family's voyage and their eventual arrival at the Golden Door, namely the immigrant processing centre on Ellis Island. The movie, which cost $11 million to make and couples French star Charlotte Gainsbourg with little-known Sicilian actor Vincenzo Amato, is not about immigration as such, its author say.

Crialese said the film, his third, was instead about the "will to change one's life, to abandon what one knows for the unknown. That's a great act of courage, a leap in the dark, and that's why those who undertook the voyage to America were heroes in my eyes".

By 1900, Ellis Island was admitting up to 5,000 people a day and more than 40% of the US population is descended from those who passed through the centre. The immigrants were detained for up to a day on the island, where they faced an often-humiliating inspection process, which included physical and psychological examinations, as well as literacy tests and questions about their political views.