Italy in Aspen: Filmmaker’s short documentaries focus on his native land | AspenTimes.com

Italy in Aspen: Filmmaker’s short documentaries focus on his native land

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesAspenite Emanuele Tozzi presents a benefit event for Challenge Aspen Tuesday at the Wheeler Opera House. Tozzi will play original compositions on piano and screen a program of documentary films he made with his brother.

ASPEN – With his accent, his coppola hat, and especially the animated way he speaks, almost as much hand movements as words, it’s immediately clear that Emanuele Tozzi is Italian. What he wants to make clear, however, is that, though he has lived in Aspen for most of the last two years, he hasn’t become any less Italian, especially in his art.

“It’s very Italian,” the 33-year-old said of the music he composes. “That’s where I come from. I grew up with Verdi, Puccini. This is my background.”

As a filmmaker, too, Tozzi’s heart remains in his native land. When he appears Tuesday at the Wheeler Opera House, in an event to benefit Challenge Aspen, Tozzi will screen three documentary shorts he has made with his twin brother, Lorenzo. The three films – grouped together under the title, “The Road of Dreams” – tell stories from the Tozzis’ Italian experience.

The event – which is free and open to the public – begins with Tozzi performing a series of his songs. Tozzi, on piano and vocals, will be accompanied by local musicians Chris Bank, on saxophone and guitar, and Lorraine Curry, on cello. Also collaborating on the performance is Dance Progressions, with seven dancers from the local group performing original choreography by Heather Starr-Kallas, director of the group, on four of the songs.

What should be the highlight of the musical portion of the event, however, does not necessarily reflect Tozzi’s Italian heritage. “Shalom la Pace Sia Con Te” addresses the Holocaust. The song, which will feature Tozzi backed by a recorded orchestral track, as well as a video backdrop, is a reaction to the letters and notes dropped out of trains by Jewish prisoners as they were being transported to Nazi death camps. “Shalom” – which was also inspired by an uncle of Tozzi’s, a priest who gave sanctuary to 30 Jews in his church – is intended to shed further light on the Holocaust. Tozzi believes that in the years following World War II, the horrors of Germany’s attempted extermination of the Jews was largely kept under wraps, even by the victims. Only on April 11, 1961 – a date that seems on the tip of Tozzi’s tongue – with the trial in Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann, known as “the architect of the Holocaust,” did the extent of the crime against humanity begin to come fully to light.

“Before, everyone was hiding this fact,” said Tozzi, who studied both law and music in Milan (and who is not Jewish). “The process of Nuremberg did not bring the real story of the Israeli people. Only with the trials of Eichmann did this really happen. In doing the trial of Eichmann, there were maybe 100 witnesses, and for the first time, they had the courage to talk about what happened.”

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“The Road of Dreams” tells stories of a different sort. They are united by the quality of individuals trying to overcome obstacles to achieve something great. One is about Peppino, a longtime friend of the Tozzis, who has Down’s Syndrome, and aspires to be a professional singer. “He buys CDs of this very popular singer, Gianni Morandi,” said Tozzi. “He writes him letters, tells him he wants to sing with him.”

There is the story of an Italian deli worker who wants to become a champion ultra-marathoner, despite a genetic condition that affects his breathing.

The final tale is about the mayor of Viganella, a tiny town in the mountains of northern Italy. The village is in complete shade for nearly three months of the year, and the mayor seeks a way to shed sunlight on Viganella.

“And he’ll find a way to do it,” said Tozzi. “It’s a crazy idea. It’s his challenge. But he wants to bring the smile back to the town.”

Tozzi, too, has made a habit of helping people find a reason to smile. Several years ago, he entered the military, following an Italian law, since changed, that required military service of male citizens. After a month, Tozzi opted to do a different permitted form of community service. He joined an organization dedicated to helping those with multiple sclerosis. Eventually he made a CD, with all proceeds used to create a music program for multiple sclerosis sufferers. Tozzi followed with several other fund-raising events in Italy.

At Tuesday’s event, collections will be made for Challenge Aspen. A cocktail party at the Hotel Jerome Library Bar will follow the event.

stewart@aspentimes.com