A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home
Director at Rosalia Films
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Years lived in Charlottesville: Over 30
Favorite small business: The Chili Shop (now closed, but featured in West Main Street)
Favorite place in Charlottesville: The Corner parking lot (not the lot, but the people)
Films mentioned over the course of this interview:
Route 40 (1986)
West Main Street (1995)
Holistic Life Foundation (2015)
Seats at the Table (2018)
Pep Banned (coming soon)
Death Becomes You (coming soon)
What is your educational and professional background?
I came to school here at UVA and I ended up majoring in American Government. I came here with an interest in government and also creative writing. There was this one adjunct professor who taught film in the English Department, before we had a Media Studies department, who I had for three different classes on film. It was more about film criticism, which is what really led to my first film. For the last class I had with her, I actually started a documentary film instead of writing a thesis paper. Even after I graduated, I worked on an election in Baltimore and even at City Hall, but the film kind of took over.
The first film I did (Route 40) was with Reid Oechslin, who was the long time manager of Vinegar Hill Theater, about a five mile stretch of an urban highway in Baltimore. There was a more famous documentary filmmaker in town at the time, Ross Spears, who would charge very little for the editing, as long as we were working after 11pm and before 7am. This was all back in the 16mm film days. So I was traveling back and forth to Charlottesville because of editing, and was working at the Corner Parking Lot at the same time because it was one of the few jobs where you could sleep through it during the day, when it was slow, and then work through the night. Right when Route 40 was finished, I was going to move back to Baltimore, but the parking lot business fell into my hands. It wasn’t really part of the plan but it just happened, back in 1986. The parking lot has allowed me to continue to make films because I’ve never been great at the fundraising aspect.
Where does the name Rosalia come from?
My grandmother, Rosalia, was a poor immigrant from Sicily back in the 1920’s and I was looking into making a film about a bocce festival in Little Italy in Baltimore. That’s when I started the company. The film didn’t happen, I wasn’t able to raise the money, but the name stuck.
What makes you passionate about your work?
I’ve always had this approach of looking at a microlevel. West Main Street was technically about Charlottesville, and the stories and memories of individuals of the 20th century here. It’s also kind of universal though, when you focus on individuals. There’s real relevance that could go anywhere, not just for Charlottesville. The same thing is true when you focus on one class in the education system. I’d much rather be in a particular classroom and watch the dynamics of the individuals, than doing a big documentary on education in the country. When I’m inspired by what I see, I want to share that emotional feeling with an audience.
How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community?
There’s such inspiration in the everyday people who contribute to their community. In many ways, we need to recognize that as individuals when we walk down the street. That doesn’t just mean somebody who’s out there advocating for social change. It could be as simple as a guy who has been running a business, who has created real relationships in this community, and is a really positive force. Educators in many ways are not given the recognition that they deserve. They’re almost like parents in that they’re teaching the next generation and passing on the ability to adapt to the world, as these younger people are becoming adults. To me, honoring that and inspiring an audience, gives me a lot of hope.
What's been a favorite recent project of yours?
There are two new films in particular, that are a little different from my previous films. One is pretty funny – the old UVA Pep Band was hilarious – I remember watching UVA get beat by 40 at halftime, when everyone would hang out and watch the halftime show and then leave. One person who was a former field conductor of the band approached me, and we’re actually just starting our pitch for funding. When Covid ends, we’re going to immediately hit the ground and do a film of that band, and talk to a lot of the past members, and maybe even host a reunion performance. I’m really looking forward to it as a fun project. I see it as laughs from the start to the end.
I’d already started filming the other one, and then because of Seats at the Table and dealing with the logistics of working with the prison bureaucracy, I had to put it to the side. When we finally got permission to film Seats at the Table, I felt like I had to do it right away. If there had been a change in administration, they could have easily pulled me right back out. Now, it’s more about preparing for the end of Covid and then hitting the ground running. Death Becomes You is a film I’ve been wanting to make for about 20 years. The idea is how to get people to be less afraid of the subject of death. It’s isn’t about dying, it’s more about our perspectives on death. The approach that I’m taking is: if you can imagine a body right after death, imagine the journey that body goes through over a few days, from the death to the grave, and the people whose daily work is part of that journey. We’ve already filmed the UVA Hospital, a hospice house, a guy who cuts the lawn at graveyards, a gravestone carver, and a gospel singer who sings at funerals. People who deal with death on an everyday basis demystify it a bit. I don’t see it as a somber film. For example, we asked the gravestone carver: “What’s the funniest gravestone you’ve ever carved?” (It had two beer steins on the sides.) I want to demystify it and get people laughing as well, so they recognize the reality that death is the same as birth: it’s part of life.
Who is inspiring you right now?
I’ve been inspired by a number of the people and the work that I’ve portrayed in my films. For me as an individual, it gives you a boost to see the great things that everyday people do for their community, even if they don’t normally get much attention. For me as a filmmaker, I ask myself: How do I shine a light on these people’s good work? I see myself as a listener, and in that sense, the film doesn’t necessarily come from me with an agenda. Instead, it’s asking: How can I be an observer and see what’s in front of me? And then the film comes from the subject.
What is something you're looking forward to?
I’m hoping when we hear the good news about potential vaccines… I’m thinking 2021 will be the year I get two films out there. Covid has almost got me pumped for when it’s over and I can get back to work, as opposed to just sitting in the Corner parking lot. Usually my projects take 4-6 years, because of funding and everything else. I’m hoping I might change that timeline a bit.
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