Credit Tony Soprano and the other bad boys on HBO. Anything Italian-American is hot these days.
"Right now, there's a tremendous interest in Italian-American culture," acknowledges Braddock filmmaker Tony Buba. But his idea for a PBS miniseries, tentatively called "L'America: Five Hundred Years of Italians in America," was inspired by a cemetery, not a cult crime show.
"It started around Memorial Day at the cemetery. I was looking at all these relatives I had, going through all these Italian names on headstones and I started thinking about all the things they contributed. It does get sort of washed away," says Buba, who thought about "honoring these people who helped to make my life so much easier."
Buba, who is raising money for research, envisions profiling such diverse subjects as: Mother Cabrini, "saint of the immigrants" and the first American to be canonized; Harry Warren, the Americanized name of an Oscar-winning songwriter; and Carlo Tresca, an Italian-born U.S. labor and political leader who frequently landed in jail for strike activities and advocating such radical ideas as birth control. He was assassinated in New York in 1943.
In other words, "not the usual fare," Buba says.
"Also, we really want to mix in stories of Italians who fought in World War II," including brothers who found themselves on opposite sides of battle. And he hopes to examine the forces behind migration, such as economic conditions and natural disasters, plus such little-reported topics as Italians in the South and West and during the Gold Rush.
Buba and Penn State University instructor Heather Hartley, who worked on "Struggles in Steel: A Story of African-American Steelworkers," "No Pets" and "Small Differences," have raised a small amount of money from Penn State and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. They are looking for $10,000, which will garner an additional $6,000 from the humanities council.
Buba, who is splitting his time between Pittsburgh and Edinboro University, where he is teaching film classes, has no tentative airdate for "L'America." As with most projects, it all depends on the funding -- and Buba estimates the three- or four-hour miniseries could cost $1 million. "If we don't raise the money all at one time, we want to do stuff in 15-minute pieces on the individuals and weave it all in later," he says.
For information on the project, including how to make tax-deductible donations, contact Buba at Braddock Films, Box 426, Braddock PA 15104. You can also e-mail him through the "Contact Us" section of www.braddockfilms.com.