Three Edinburgh graduates create award-winning documentary, Dolce Caledonia, focusing on Edinburgh’s Italian Scottish community.
By Fiona Murray
Dolce Caledonia gives us a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Italian immigrant community living in Edinburgh and explores their rich contribution to Scottish cuisine. At the heart of the ten-minute mini documentary lies the themes of identity and belonging. It follows three third-generation Italians, Philip Contini, Olivia D’Annunzio and Gloria Rossi Bee, as they give thought-provoking accounts on what it means to be of immigrant descent living in Scotland today.
Kezia Sheard, Director of Dolce Caledonia, teamed up with fellow Edinburgh graduates Calum Mowatt and Caitlin Deery at Neon Eye Productions, an independent production company in Edinburgh, to embark on this project. We spoke with Kezia to find out more about their award-winning film.
Tell us about how this project came about?
The idea came to me, after completing my dissertation as part of my MA Italian at Edinburgh last year. My dissertation focused on how food can create a sense of belonging in immigrant communities, with a particular focus on the Italian Scottish community in Edinburgh. I read so much on the topic, and I got the sense that some of this history had been untold or forgotten, including some really tragic wartime experiences.
I knew I wanted to get into the TV industry after graduating, but it’s really competitive. I thought, what can I do that will stand me out from the crowd? So I decided to combine my dissertation research and my love for all things Italian, with my interest in documentary filmmaking to produce a short film on Italian Scottish history. Luckily, I had two Edinburgh graduate friends who recently founded a production company here. I went to them with my idea and they were really excited about it too, so we began working on the project collaboratively. Of course, I wouldn’t have made the film if it wasn’t for my professor in Italian, Dr Carlo Pirozzi, who initially sparked my interest in the topic and helped with my dissertation research – he was also brilliant at connecting me with some of the people we interviewed for the film so I’m really thankful to Dr Pirozzi and the Italian department. I have my year spent on Erasmus exchange at the University of Bologna, in Italy’s food capital, to thank for my interest in Italian food!
Gloria Rossi Bee
Filming of Dolce Caledonia
It’s such a wide and varied topic to cover, what story were you aiming to tell?
I think we were very optimistic because we kind of covered over 100 years of history in ten minutes. I wanted to shine a light on the Italian immigrant community living in Edinburgh, and some of its history, in particular the sinking of the Arandora Star, which was a really tragic event that not many people outside of the community know about and I didn’t know about until I researched it
However, as filming went on, I think it became much more sociological and anthropological than I expected, and themes of identity, belonging and otherness were really highlighted. I think this is important because since releasing the documentary, we’ve had a lot of really warm reactions from people, not just in the Italian Scots community, but from other communities who might not have experienced the same history, but who resonated with that in-between feeling of not knowing quite where you belong.
Is there more still to tell?
For Dolce Caledonia, I wanted to interview people particularly related to the catering industry, whose grandparents had opened ice cream and fish and chip shops. But it is such a big community with a huge amount of history and so there were so many of different Italian Scot routes we could have gone down. As Dolce Caledonia was filmed with no budget, it was kept relatively simple, but I know there is so much more to be told, particularly regarding wartime experiences, so if we were to receive funding, it would absolutely be our intention to film a longer documentary. The topic definitely deserves it.
Since Dolce Caledonia’s release, what has the reception of the film been like?
We won ‘Best Documentary’ at the Scottish Short Film Festival, which was really exciting! Amongst others, screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Nigella Lawson, Janey Godley and various journalists, writers and food editors have all tweeted positively about it, which has been great as it’s picked up views.
However, what was particularly important to us was how it would resonate with the Italian Scots community – which has been the warmest reception. We’ve had members of the community get in touch saying it’s captured for them “what it feels like to have two hearts” and that “in-between feeling of not knowing where you belong”. It is important to note that, although we asked similar questions, Philip, Olivia and Gloria had quite different views on how they belonged, which has meant that everyone who has gotten in touch has been able to resonate with at least one of our characters. That was really important for me. When you make a documentary on a community, you want the community to connect with the film, and I feel we achieved that.
Lastly, Philip, Olivia and Gloria loved the outcome of the film. It was important to us that they liked it and it represented their history. They are as warm and genuine in person as they are in the film and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them. I think that is what is quite unique about documentary filmmaking; you get to know people and communities you wouldn’t necessarily have gotten to know otherwise.