Philanthropic filmmaker Lucia Mauro

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Lucia Mauro passion for Italy and humanitarian causes shines through in her award-winning films.

Some people make a life in film; others lead lives worthy of a film. Lucia Mauro is one of those rare individuals to whom both sides of the cinematic coin apply. Mauro was an established Chicago-area writer when she made her first foray into moviemaking with a 2007 screenplay. It led her to a major crossroads professionally and personally, for as that project ramped up, Mauro was stricken with ovarian cancer.

Despite two recurrences, Mauro forged onward and upward with courage and confidence. She transitioned to full-time filmmaking as a writer-director along with husband-producer Joe Orlandino in 2014, the same year they founded a nonprofit film production company. They dedicated In My Brother’s Shoes Inc. to creating original narrative and documentary films about healing, resilience and human connection. The corporation bears the name of a Mauro movie that won Best Short Film at the 2015 Vatican Film Festival in Rome and was featured in the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner.

Lou&A spoke with Mauro about her artistry, charity, creativity, and love for Italy that has imbued her life and work.

Lou&A: Tell us about your Italian roots.

Lucia Mauro: My family ancestry is Sicilian — Palermo and Ragusa — on my father’s side and Polish on my mother’s side. Both were born in Chicago, as I was. My father’s parents were born in Italy, immigrated to Chicago, and met and married here. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago. My husband, Joe Orlandino, grew up in Melrose Park. His grandparents emigrated from Calabria. Joe and I met in 1993 while I was covering a story for Fra Noi. I wrote for Fra Noi from 1992 until 2005.

Lou&A: What about your upbringing stands out as pivotal regarding your careers as a writer and filmmaker?

Mauro: My father, Frank Mauro, and my great-uncle Frank Puccio were very influential in my life. Though born here, my father still peppered his conversations with Sicilian and Italian phrases whenever we visited my great-uncle. My father, who worked at Uniroyal Tires, drove me to all of my dance lessons without ever complaining, and even though he was not a theater fan, he would often join me in the audience at many theater performances.

As a child, I enjoyed writing poems and short stories. I studied ballet, piano, and was always interested in theater, film, visual art, literature and travel. My parents encouraged me to pursue these interests. I went on to become a theater/dance critic, arts writer, author and photographer — disciplines that led me to filmmaking. Uncle Frank inspired me to study Italian, which I did in high school and at Loyola University Chicago.

Lou&A: Loyola opened the door to a whole new world, didn’t it?

Mauro: One of the most pivotal moments in my life was attending Loyola’s Rome Center during my junior year, 1985. I immersed myself in the Italian language, culture, history and food with the country as my campus. Since then, I’ve been able to work and travel to all the regions of Italy. In 2014, I shot a scene for my first film, “In My Brother’s Shoes,” at the entrance to the Rome Center. I feel like part of my soul is in Italy.

Lou&A: How did you segue from writer and journalist to filmmaker?

Mauro with husband-producer Joe Orlandino

Mauro: The catalyst came in 2007 when my husband, Joe, encouraged me to write a screenplay on Brazilian revolutionary Anita Garibaldi, the wife of Italy’s “Hero of the Two Worlds,” Giuseppe Garibaldi. I wrote the first draft in Palermo, where friends allowed me to stay at one of their family’s apartments. By 2010, we were working with local theaters doing staged readings and starting to fundraise. But in 2012, we halted the Garibaldi project because I hit a major turning point in my life: I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was during my recovery from surgery and chemo treatments that I decided to make the film “In My Brother’s Shoes.”

Lou&A: What inspired that film?

Mauro: I was in Rome in 2009 at the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square and encountered a young American man who was wearing shoes practically torn to shreds. He told me that those were his brother’s favorite shoes and that his brother had always wanted to backpack with his friends in Italy. Sadly, his brother was a U.S. Marine who was killed in action in Iraq, so this man decided to literally walk in his brother’s shoes to the places he would’ve visited. This story so moved me that, five years later, I finally turned it into a narrative short film with actor Danny McCarthy as a man taking a healing pilgrimage to Rome in his brother’s Marine desert boots.

“In My Brother’s Shoes” is being shown to veterans and their families at colleges and military museums, with funds raised going toward PTSD resources. Joe and I also decided to create a nonprofit film company, as our goal from the beginning was to share our films with communities and raise funds for great causes.

Lou&A: You’ve been very busy over the last two years. Tell us what you’ve been up to on the cinematic front.

Mauro: “Voci del diario” (Entries) is an original narrative short film that I wrote and directed. Inspired by Joe’s lifelong keeping of journals, it follows one man and his journal entries through four phases of his life: childhood, youth, middle age and senior years. It’s in Italian with English subtitles. “I Have a Name” is a documentary that aims to put a respectful face on those experiencing homelessness and need in Chicago. We went into production by October 2019 and completed the film over the summer.

I’m currently focused on a new documentary, “The Loneliest Road,” inspired by Silvio Manno’s book, “Charcoal and Blood: Italian Immigrants in Eureka, Nevada, and the Fish Creek Massacre.” It chronicles a practically unknown massacre of striking Italian immigrant charcoal burners in 1879, during the early days of mining in the American West.

Lou&A: You’ve traveled all over Italy, and your passion for the culture and country shows in your work. Why do you think that is?

Mauro: I believe we’re all on our own path in life. We meet people, and they meet us at different points in our lives — and even if we’re no longer in each other’s lives, we’ve somehow moved each other forward along our individual paths.

We didn’t travel much when I was a child, except for Disneyland. Once I got older, and especially spurred on by my experiences at Loyola’s Rome Center, I had a great desire to see the world and meet people from different cultures — and most definitely from all parts of Italy. I credit Fra Noi with allowing me to explore Italy and write about my experiences.

To learn more about the films of Lucia Mauro, visit inmybrothersshoes.org.

The above appears in the January 2021 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.

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