Home / Entertainment / Mal’Occhio – The Evil Eye. Filmmaker Agata De Santis Presents Documentary in Boston

Mal’Occhio – The Evil Eye. Filmmaker Agata De Santis Presents Documentary in Boston

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?

Filmmaker Agata De Santis

“Mal’occhio – the evil eye – is based on envy. The belief is that someone will unintentionally – never on purpose – cause you physical illness because they’re envious of you or something you have. You’ll suddenly feel ill – a headache, an upset stomach. You’ll call on a relative or family friend to cure it, and after their curing ritual you’ll feel better again.”

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
Free admission

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

About Nicola Orichuia

Nicola is an Italian journalist and media enthusiast living in the United States. He keeps an eye on the Italian-American communities across the country and is always looking for positive stories to highlight.

One comment

  1. Nancy Mangino Feldman

    I went to see the documenary about Mal’occho last night. The film was facinating! I loved every minute of it- the photography, the music, the content and the text. Agata did a professional yet heart felt exploration of a tradition many of us hold dear to our hearts – even if our scientific minds tells us otherwise! Watching this film jarred many of my memories…. And brought tears to mu eyes. Mi familia, the women of my family who spent hours in the cucina, cooking, brewing, stewing, praying, and yes, performing mal’occhio on any one seeking the evil eye to be lifted. Thank you Agata for a beautiful evening… It made me feel close to all my family who have died… But their memories and our traditions linger on! Well done! Bravo!