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St. Louis' Hill Neighborhood Is Focus Of New Documentary 'America's Last Little Italy'

"America's Last Little Italy: The Hill" is screening July 10-19 as part of the 20th Annual Filmmakers Showcase.
Joseph Puleo
"America's Last Little Italy: The Hill" is screening July 10-19 as part of the 20th annual Filmmakers Showcase.

For a long time, 27-year-old St. Louis native Joseph Puleo mostly associated the city’s iconic Hill neighborhood with a wealth of delicious Italian food and colorful fire hydrants. That changed a couple of years ago when a conversation with a fellow Italian American, Rio Vitale, prompted Puleo to begin what would become his first feature-length film.

“He was concerned we were losing stories that need to be told,” Puleo told St. Louis on the Air. Within five days of Vitale’s suggestion that he dig into the history of the Hill, Puleo was in longtime residents’ homes.

Joseph Puleo, Chris Clark
Credit Joseph Puleo & St. Louis Public Radio
Local filmmaker Joseph Puleo (at left) and Cinema St. Louis' Chris Clark joined Thursday's talk show.

Many dozens of interviews and months of film editing later, “America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill” is making its debut at the 20th annual — and first virtual — Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. The documentary is one of 15 film programs that will be available for streaming July 10-19.

On Thursday’s show, host Sarah Fenske talked with Puleo and with Chris Clark, artistic director for Cinema St. Louis.

Puleo, who graduated from Lindenwood University in 2015, said that for some older Hill residents, his interviews with them marked the first time someone had asked them about their deep knowledge of the community’s past.

“A lot of these people, none of them had ever been asked these questions. … They were all really eager and excited to be able to share this with our crew,” Puleo said. “And I think that comes across in a lot of the interviews.”

Clark shared what impressed him about “America’s Last Little Italy” and also touched on other highlights of this year’s Filmmakers Showcase.

He noted that one positive aspect of the virtual nature of the 2020 festival is that emerging local filmmakers have the opportunity to draw viewers from around the globe.

“We’ve actually sold tickets in Italy, so there’s going to be people watching from all over the world and all over the country,” said Clark, who took the time in recent days to record 55 video interviews with the directors whose work is in the spotlight.

Related Event
What: St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase
When: Friday, July 10, through Sunday, July 19
Where: Online (more information and tickets available via the Cinema St. Louis website)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.