When Italian immigrants came to North America they brought with them many traditions they had grown up with – food, culture, music… and in some cases “mal’occhio“.
Loosely translated as “the evil eye,” mal’occhio has supposedly been following Italians all over the world, showering some with bad luck or illnesses just because someone somewhere is jealous or envious.
An expert on the matter is Italian Canadian filmmaker and writer Agata De Santis, who is currently promoting her latest documentary film: “Mal’occhio“. Growing up in an Italian family (her parents are originally from Castelgrande in Basilicata) in Montreal, De Santis knew of “mal’occhio from a very young age.
De Santis will be in Boston October 8 and 9 (see event details below) to promote her film and answer the many questions surrounding this deeply rooted belief.
We at Bostoniano.info also had some questions for Agata, so we went ahead and asked:
You have become somewhat of an expert in “mal’occhio.” Can you give us a brief description of what it is?
What inspired you to make a documentary on “mal’occhio” and how did you find out about this phenomenon?
Growing up in an Italian household in Montreal I had always heard tidbits about “mal’occhio”, but no one ever sat me down to explain it to me. Which is usually the case in an Italian household. So over the years I had a general understanding of what it was, but I wanted to know more.
The year I graduated from university I began to research the topic. There aren’t that many books written on the subject, and I think I read them all. I was really surprised to learn that the belief in the evil eye is not exclusive to Italians – it is actually one of the most widely held superstitions in the world.
I realized then that this would make a great documentary film. It would take me years to actually start working on the film. I started filming in 2005 and completed the film in the summer of 2010.
You traveled to Italy, New York and in your hometown Montreal to research and shoot your documentary. What did you learn from these trips? Did you discover different approaches to “mal’occhio”?
No matter where I went to film I met 3 types of people: those who believed in mal’occhio wholeheartedly, those who thought it was nonsense, and my favorite, those who said “it’s not real, but I believe.”
I had assumed that the believers would be mostly folks over the age of 60. But everywhere I went I found young people who were avid believers, and some of those even knew how to cure it. So mal’occhio is definitely not a dying belief.
In terms of curing rituals, there are probably as many variations as there are Italian dialects. Since it’s something that is passed on orally, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. But the rituals all have the same overall concept. They all include incantations that mix pagan phrases with Catholic prayers. They all first test for the evil eye, and if the person has it, then the ritual is repeated to cure the evil eye.”
The hour-long documentary will be screened in Boston on the following dates:
Saturday, October 8, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
at the Boston Public Library North End Branch
25 Parmenter Street, Boston, MA 02113
Sunday, October 9, 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
at Zumix Firehouse
260 Sumner Street, East Boston, MA 02128
Hosted by Italia Unita
Donation request: $5 general admission. Free for Italia Unita members