STORYVIDEO: An immigrant tale out of the hills of Italy

We realize a 16-minute video is a significant ‘ask’ in the Short Attention Tweetscape in which we now live. But if possible, set aside the time when free from distraction, turn up the volume (for the sound effects!) and  click the screen to play it large on your computer.

By Douglas Imbrogno  

One of the goals, obviously, of a site named is to tell stories. Yet not just with words, but with motion, sound, image and video. Here is an example, a recent collaboration between my multi-talented older brother David, and me.

In 2003, David, and I, along with two Italian aunts, visited the hillside in Calabria in southern Italy where my father was born and left at age three. He and his two young brothers, along with my Italian grandmother, Caterina, had been summoned to America by my Italian grandfather, Eugenio. My grandmother and her boys loaded into the belly of an ocean liner, steaming out of Naples. After an eight-day voyage, they passed through Ellis Island in the late 1920s, to join my grandfather, who’d settled on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio after coming to America years earlier.

The key to my grandfather’s house. | Photo by DAVID IMBROGNO

Therein lies a cross-Atlantic tale told in this 16-minute, Ken Burns-style multimedia essay. (I realize that is a too-bold comparison, but the video uses his path-setting photo panning and sequencing technique). David wrote a gorgeous and powerful photo-essay about our visit, titled “The Key to My Grandfather’s House,” which left me crying when he initially Fed Exed a rough draft to my house. The video above is adapted from that much longer version of The “Key” (as we refer to it). It tracks my father’s birth to his death. And the discovery of a key, literally and figuratively, that opened the door to many significant things.

The “Key” is one family’s tale. But it’s also an emblematic, iconic immigrant experience for millions of families. With the politics of immigration front and center in the world, the video also speaks to the courage, promise, heartbreak and hope entailed in the immigrant experience. My Italian Uncle Bob once said of the trans-oceanic chutzpah it took for the family to shutter its home in Italy, cross the churning ocean to an unknown land and scramble out of a poverty through sheer grit: “Italians are made of nails.” The same could be said of many immigrants, crossing the ocean of a desert, to find hope in an unknown country.

NOTE: David reads and “performs” “The Key to My Grandfather’s House” as a multimedia spoken-word piece. If interested in a public, Italian event-related or festival performance, contact us through this website or through David’s own colorful, creative site,

For those of you who do not have the time to view the video right now (please come back later!), here are some screen-grabs to give you a flavor…

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