The young Italian soldiers were able to help out on farms on weekends, work in churches, and receive visitors. Those visitors included Italians living in Jersey City who were recruited by the U.S. State Department to help the Italian soldiers write letters back to Italy to inform their families and fellow Italians that the U.S. forces in Italy were friendly and needed their help in the war effort.
But it was considered a friendly camp as the Italian soldiers, many of whom were teenagers, who did not want to fight under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. They were allowed privileges that prisoners of other war camps (including German and Japanese prisoners in a camp at what is now Liberty State Park) were not.
Some of the visitors were teenage girls who found that they were falling in love with the some of the Italian soldiers, who reciprocated those feelings.
The story of their romance and the lives of the soldiers in the camp is now being told through the efforts of the Jersey City-based Kennedy Dancers, a repertory dance company that has been in existence since 1977 under the guidance of founder and artistic director Diane Dragone.
"Caven Point" is a dance documentary film that chronicles the lives of these Italian prisoners of war. Production started April 4 on the film, with shooting to take place on several Sundays during the months of April and May. Locations in Jersey City and throughout Hudson County are being used for the shoot, including the Caven Point Army Reserve Base.
Dragone, a native of Jersey City, came up with the idea of committing this story to dance rhythms from her mother's recollections of the war and especially of the camp.
"My mother was 16 or 17 years old, and she went to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church," Dragone said. "The State Department sent letters to all the churches and groups, anyone who could speak Italian."
The church is located in the Journal Square area.
Dragone said that "Caven Point" is about three POWs and three women who came to volunteer at the camp. The production on which Dragone serves as both choreographer and assistant director has been in development by the Kennedy Dancers for the past three years, with some of the dance sequences specific to this film already incorporated into other Kennedy Dancers' performances.
"We do it in concert, as part of our repertory," said Dragone, "but the film is a good way to reach docu-buffs."
Dragone said that it was actually a grant from the A. Louis Scarmolin Trust (named for Italian-American composer Anthony Louis Scarmolin) that enabled her to start creating the dance routines and researching the story. She did research at the Army Museum in Philadelphia and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to find more information about the camp, which was actually top-secret even though it had an open policy.
Pulling it together
Now Dragone is almost a one-woman production crew, pulling the production together that is being directed by Tom Horan, TV instructor at Snyder High School and Dragone's husband.
"It's crazy here. Costumes also need to be done. I have to talk to the crew about choreography. Worrying about budget woes," said Dragone. "But it's a labor of love and you try to imbue that enthusiasm you have to everyone else working with you."
The cast of the film will consist of professional dancers in the Kennedy Dancers company such as Yuri Yoshida, Victoria Martin, Manny Cristobal, Emily McKinnon, Cara Robino and new additions Genaro Martinez, Kenneth Ziegler and Colin Roberts, along with junior members of the dance troupe.
Other actors include Jersey City resident Guy Catrillo as Caven Point camp director Captain Giordano, and Alfonso Albunia as Monsignor Walter Artoli. The music being used in the film will be from the compositions of A. Louis Scarmolin.
Dragone hopes to debut the film at various film festivals and dance festivals in the United States and abroad before the end of the year.