It was 3:32 in the morning when the ground shook on April 6, 2009. Buildings swayed and the deafening roar of the earthquake was heard by thousands in Abruzzo. The epicenter was L'Aquila, the capital, and the devastation was catastrophic. To say it was life-changing for tens of thousands of people would be an understatement. To film producer Robert Corna, it was an event that moved him to action. "When I heard about it, the first thing that concerned me was if my family was ok," says Corna. He had relatives in nearby Avezzano, Italy (itself, the center of a quake in 1915). It was his grandfather's home town. "I called them and they said they were fine. Then I thought, 'what can I do? How can I help?' I figured the best way was to use my skills and talents to tell people about what was happening. So I went straight there with a crew and began filming."
Robert Corna is a native Clevelander, raised in Bay Village and a graduate of St. Ignatius High School. In his relatively short career in the film business, Corna has had production roles in feature films like Mel Gibson's "Passion of Christ", Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York", "The Devil's Advocate" with Al Pacino, "Angels and Demons" with Tom Hanks and HBO's Mini-Series "Rome" as well as the current series, "Nurse Jackie". And while he is understandably proud of his work on those projects, Robert is drawn to telling stories of impact through his own documentary work. In 2009 his film, "Tiny Tears", a story of children living throughout the world with HIV and AIDS, played to sold out crowds at the Cleveland International Film Festival. He has also previously produced a film on the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand.
But the L'Aquila earthquake is a story that hits close to home for Corna and he was drawn to record the event and bring the message to the world. His timing has been critical. Shortly after the quake in L'Aquila, the people of Haiti were struck by their own disaster less than 9 months later - and that was followed by story after story of other tragedies that captured the world's attention... and diverted it from Italy. Therein lies the theme and title of his documentary on the earthquake in the Abruzzo region - "Italy's Forgotten Earthquake".
Initially, the L'Aquila earthquake was a top news story. The world rallied to help. The government of Italy went to work pretty quickly to aid the stricken area. Temporary housing was set up, volunteers from everywhere swarmed to assist. Money began to flow in, at least for a while, from all over the world. But the job of recovery has been a long, arduous task - and it still continues, today, albeit quietly. "You have to remember, this isn't just houses that are demolished, there are tens of thousands of lives that are on hold, in limbo. The corner coffee shop is shut down. The local restaurant owner has no restaurant. People have been uprooted, some of them having to move hours away from their homes, trying to start over with virtually nothing", says Corna.
His film depicts not only the damage and loss suffered by this disaster, but also the fortitude and determination of the people of the Abruzzo region. "The resolve of the people is what strikes me most. On the one year anniversary of the earthquake, the people of L'Aquila got together not to mourn, but to celebrate... celebrate their lives and their new beginning. It's amazing. These people lost everything, but they cling to their families and their hopes that L'Aquila will rise again. And they truly believe it - and so do I."
Robert's passion for the project was contagious and he was able to enlist the services of an incredible team of production and post-production professionals who donated their time and talent to the project. Actor Danny Aiello provided the narration for the movie at no charge. Corna also called upon other Clevelanders to pitch in to help. They included Andrew and Jared DePolo, Italian American brothers from Olmsted Falls who composed all the music in the film. Media 2 Aidem, a non-profit film production company based in Cleveland that produced the film. John Murtha (Bay Village) co-wrote the film, Jordan Greytak (Parma) and Tri-C provided the sound mix, Danielle Shellito DiBenedetto (Bay Village) produced the poster art and Jake Grace created original artwork.
Early on in the production process, Robert turned to the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation for help. The NOIA Board of Directors was quick to provide financial assistance to get the project underway. It was literally 2 years in the making and ultimately premiered on the anniversary of the earthquake, April 6, 2011 at the Capital Theater in the Gordon Square Arts Center of Cleveland to a crowd of about 300 people.
"I thought it was fitting to not only premier in Cleveland, but also on the anniversary," says Corna. "I know the Italian American people from Northeast Ohio invested their time and energy to raise money for the victims and I wanted to show them, first, what is happening there." More than 20 Italian and Italian-American organizations in Northeast Ohio rallied to form the Abruzzo Earthquake Fund of Northeast Ohio and set out to raise money through the sale of t-shirts, wristbands and various fundraising events from May 2009 through June 2010.
Among those in attendance at the premier was Dr. Santa Casciani, director of the Bishop Pilla Italian American Studies program at John Carroll University. Dr. Casciani was in her hometown of Castelnuovo on April 6, 2009 and experienced the quake, first hand. Her home was destroyed in the earthquake and her accounts of the events of that day and the months that followed were documented in the film. "She was an incredible help with this project," said Robert. "She not only shared her story, she helped during production and also post-production."
As far as Robert Corna is concerned, the work has only just begun. His hope is to remind the world that Italy still suffers from the effects of this disaster. His plan is to use his film as a means to spread the word that the suffering continues but so does the rebuilding. "The message needs to get out there. Italians around the world - especially in America need to understand what is happening and find a way to support their homeland. The work has just begun."