Durham County

Fading ways of life in North Dakota and an Italian village

Lorenzo Giordano's "Life in Riva" ("Tra ponente e levante") chronicles the history of a small Italian seaside town.
Lorenzo Giordano's "Life in Riva" ("Tra ponente e levante") chronicles the history of a small Italian seaside town. Submitted

When Melvin Wisdahl’s ancestors first moved to North Dakota, the federal government told the homesteaders that if they broke ground, the rain would follow. Wisdahl, who is in his 90s, now lives in a home near his farm in Corinth, North Dakota.

In director Eugene Richards’ short film “The Rain Will Follow,” Wisdahl shares stories of his experiences in World War II, and his family’s long history of stewardship of the land in North Dakota.

Richards’ film screened Friday during the second day of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The film was paired with Lorenzo Giordano’s film “Life in Riva” (”Tra ponente e levante”), about a village in Italy where shipbuilding and fishing were once the backbone of life. (The film is in Italian with English subtitles.) Both documentaries examine the passage of traditional ways of life in these different countries. Both films are among 71 new documentaries that are being screened at the festival that are eligible for awards.

Wisdahl tells how he was born in his farmhouse. There was no doctor at the time, and because of the lack of medical care, his mother died of pneumonia. He served in the 106th Infantry Regiment in World War II. Despite the hardship and hard work of running a farm, Wisdahl misses the land, and thinks about it often. Wisdahl imitates the sound of the North Dakota winter wind, as Richards’ images of the desolate and run-down Wisdahl farm during a winter storm roll past. Richards makes extensive use of impressionistic pictures of the land, and the weathered farm buildings, to give viewers a bittersweet view of a noble way of life that is receding.

Giordano’s film looks at the history of Riva’s shipbuilding largely through the eyes of Lazzaro Ghio, who comes from a long line of shipbuilders and people who made their living on boats. The shipyards in Riva once built large ocean liners and war vessels. The village also specialized in construction of leudi, small boats that were designed to tack into the wind and sail to Mediterranean villages, where they brought back items like wine, cheese, and almonds. A fish net factory also was built to support the fishing industry. Women worked in the factory that made the nets, and a villager who worked in the factory remembers how women as laborers in the factory offended many men. But when the fishermen were able to pull in loads of anchovies and other fish with their sturdy nets, their views changed.

Ghio gave filmmaker Giordano access to his extensive archive of photos and documents. Ghio’s pride in his family’s maritime history is apparent. He shows the filmmaker the fine detail of a ship model he built. He explains the significance of riggings and other features of the many paintings of ships that are in his bedroom.

The sea is still central to life in Riva, but in a different way. Because of pollution, fishing is not as extensive, and shipbuilding, Giordano tells viewers, is alive chiefly in the memories of the residents. Without comment, Giordano contrasts images of modern tourists bathing on the beach with archival footage of factories that made the big ships, and another modern image of an old factory being torn down.

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday, April 8-9. For information, visit www.fullframefest.org.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1