ALBANY – After years of stops and starts, the story of Laurina Ecobelli is finally coming to the big screen on Monday in Albany.
Called “Laurina,” the short film is part of a longtime effort by Ecobelli’s grandchildren, Tom, an actor and screenwriter, and his sister Lora Lee, a writer and actress, to bring her heartbreaking and inspiring story to film.
Longtime Capital Region residents may remember Laurina from the former Ballston Spa restaurant, Ecobelli’s Tam O’Shanter Inn, which she ran with her family. She was well-known in town as someone who’d help just about anybody who needed it.
However, despite her caring nature, she had a challenging childhood. Born in 1906 in New Jersey as Laurita Inzine, she was a young child when her father died and her mother was left destitute. Laurina and her sister, Elizabeth, were sent to an orphanage in Hoboken. However, their mother soon remarried and was able to reclaim her children from the orphanage.
Their new stepfather moved them to Fonda with the intent to start a farm. Instead, he spent much of his time drinking and gambling, leaving Laurina and her sister to work in a textile mill in Amsterdam to support the family. He was also abusive and started sexually abusing her when she was 12 and eventually raped her, which resulted in a pregnancy.
In 1921, at 15 years old, she took her stepfather to court in Montgomery County. The case was covered by local newspapers at the time, including The Gazette, which noted the selection of the jury on Aug. 4, 1921. Later on, The Gazette also reported that the stepfather tried to flee the area when he learned that his stepdaughter was bringing charges against him. He was arrested in another state and brought back to Montgomery County. He was eventually found guilty of criminal assault and sentenced to several years in Dannemora.
Before she died in 1982, Laurina gave Tom and Lora Lee a journal telling her story. Wanting to bring her story of strength to others, Lora Lee turned the entries into a stage play in 1995, which was produced by the Guild of Italian American Actors and performed off-Broadway, as well as in the Bronx and Westchester County.
Then she and Tom developed a screenplay in 2011. They planned to turn it into a feature-length film and brought on Emmy-winning director Sylvia Caminer, producer Michalina Scorzelli and actor Christopher Gaunt in 2020.
However, an opportunity to produce a short film came up and they took it.
“We decided to go for that to at least get part of her story on the screen,” Tom said.
It was filmed over the course of one week in Amsterdam, Ballston Spa and other locations around the Capital Region in 2021.
“We were able to secure these incredible locations in the Capital District area. Some of them were the actual locations where the events happened, which was just haunting and was so thrilling,” Lora Lee said.
That included a former mill in Amsterdam where Laurina worked. They also used photos and other memorabilia from their grandmother on set.
“There’s a moment in the film where the actress playing Laurina, she’s going through an old trunk and she’s pulling out some old photos and the photos we have her pull out are of the real Laurina as a young girl at the time of this incident,” Caminer said. “We just thought that might be powerful.”
The filming style also lends to the authenticity of the film.
“The way we chose to tell the story was to make it almost as though it was filmed at the time,” said Caminer. “We really wanted it to have an authentic old-world feel to it. We shot everything knowing that we were going to either do it in black and white or add a sepia tone to it, which we did. So it has that real old world [aesthetic] of 1921. It’s not one of those fast-paced, high-action films of today. It definitely feels like something you might have watched back in the day.”
While they were up against a tight time schedule and frigid weather, the team, from the actors to the producers, was dedicated to telling the story.
“Everyone was doing it for the right reason, which we thought was really important. We shared the script with everybody up front. We wanted everybody to read it and know what they were working on. Because we wanted a very comfortable and caring set, especially working with kids. It felt very much like a family,” Caminer said.
For both Tom and Lora Lee, filming it was an emotional experience.
“We really felt like her spirit was everywhere on the set. It was incredibly emotional seeing it come to fruition after all of these years. We want to tell the whole story, but I really feel satisfied right now that we’ve honored the promise we made to her,” Tom said.
The film tells only a portion of Laurina’s story, though there is an epilogue that helps to fill in some of the later details.
It premiered at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival last year and will be shown at Madison Theatre in Albany. The filmmakers teamed up with Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center to present it, with screenings at 5 and 7 p.m. Monday and a discussion after the latter showing.
“When I first heard about the movie at a silent auction fundraiser at BoHo Chic in Ballston Spa, I was intrigued and knew I had to host a screening once the film was finished,” said JoLynn Backes, coordinator of community education. “After connecting with the filmmakers and viewing the movie, I know more than ever that it deserves to be seen! It is poignant, powerful, and provides a great opportunity for awareness and discussion. I am so excited to be part of this event, and even more thrilled that those involved with the film will be giving their perspectives and will help lead the discussion after the screening.”
“We hope we can do more things like that, because, again, one of the hopes of making the film was to inspire people who’ve maybe suffered through similar circumstances. And if a 13-year-old in that time period had the strength and the fortitude to take her story forward and not just let it happen without consequence for her stepfather that maybe that would give others the strength too to move forward and do the same, or at least reach out and get help,” Caminer said.
For more information on the screenings, visit Laurina Screening on eventbrite.com.
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