For playwright, screenwriter, and Women’s Voices for Change board member Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, a new chapter in the story of post-menopausal reinvention is now unfolding: her transformation into the executive producer of a documentary film about a remarkable woman and her life experiences, starting with World War II. Here, Elizabeth brings us up to speed on the story to date, setting the stage for the blog posts she’ll be sending over the coming week, as she and her colleagues set off on the trail of the indefatigable Baroness Mariuccia.  – Eds.

Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo in 2007. (Photo: Patrick

Tonight, Anne de Mare, Kirsten Kelly and I fly off to film the extraordinary Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo in Monte Carlo and Milan. Born in Milan, the Baroness was a young teenager when Mussolini joined Hitler’s war. Now 85, she transformed herself from a survivor of the terrors of World War II into a true heroine: a philosopher, a humanitarian, a fierce patron of the arts, a proud Italian, a great friend to America and the Holy See, a determined impresario, and an ambassador who continues to set a remarkable example as she graciously campaigns for peace and understanding.

In May 2010, we sat down in New York City with the Baroness Zerilli-Marimo to film an interview about her childhood experiences during the war in Italy. What emerged from that hour and a half were stories that she herself had not spoken in over fifty years. They are stories of a shy, sheltered adolescent suddenly responsible for her pregnant mother as they fled Milan under bombardment, unaware that her father’s extended absences were due to his participation in the Resistenza. They are stories of hiding in the countryside, of a baby brother cared for in bomb shelters and caves, of the harsh realities of war, and the hard-won redemption of peace.

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, home of the Department of Italian Studies at New York University.

The Baroness’s perspective on survival, art, peace and humanity are truly inspiring. She is the founder of New York University’s Casa Italiana and was recently named one of New York City’s Living Landmarks.

And so Anne, Kirsten, and I will visit Mariuccia at her home in Monte Carlo, and then travel to Milan to film her. We will be walking with her through the streets of Milan, traveling to the abbey where she hid, and filming the Baroness as she re-encounters the physical and emotional experiences of her unique journey through a wartime adolescence and married life at the center of the rebirth her country.

As primary documents, the original interview and the Baroness’s filmed return to Milan will provide an invaluable historical record of an aspect of World War II which is often overlooked: that of civilian Italy. It is our hope that they will also spark a more in-depth examination of the themes and issues of innocent people struggling in a country mired in war and politics, providing the raw material for a documentary film.

It’s new territory for each of us. Kirsten Kelly, in her mid-30s, is six months pregnant—for the first time. Anne de Mare, a squosh closer to my age, has never been to Europe. And as for me—well, sporting a new senior citizens’ MTA pass—Anne gave me quite a talking-to some months back. In the kindest, most respectful way, she said that if I wanted to work with them on this particular project, I’d have to own my own abilities, hone my skills, and really become the Executive Producer—which meant I had to raise the money. And two more stipulations: I had to raise enough to pay myself a salary. Anne said if I didn’t (as has been my wont), I would continue to devalue myself and therefore my collaborators. If they were to earn a living, then so must I. And, Anne said, I must see all the money needed for this trip into the bank before we set off.

Interestingly, I’ve hit a snag. Some weeks ago, two women I’ve known for some time promised to top off the budget for this trip. Four days ago, I got an email saying the deal was off, and that their husbands wanted a different sort of deal. That deal was offered yesterday, in an hour-and-a-half, complicated meeting with one of the husbands and his lawyer. But you know what? That’s a story for another day, because I have to make some calls to raise quite a bit of money.

At this point, packing comes first—tricky, since we’ll be outdoors a good deal, and Mariuccia is taking us to the opera twice, the ballet once, and lord knows where else. For a moment, we were going to a Lemon Festival in the hills of Monaco, but then she said that program wouldn’t be interesting enough. So at the moment, all sorts of tops, a little black dress, shoes, a hill of meds and hair products, the round brush and the hairdryer, almonds and Zone Bars and the delicious little Kindle carpet the room. How to stay light enough  to hoist our things off the airport carousels and still have the right accessories… that’s a story for the whole week. Because I just realized I forgot my undies.

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  • drpatallen February 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Dear Elizabeth,

    Your friends and fellow board members at Women’s Voices for Change are thrilled to be part of this new chapter in your life. You have vision and the training to complete this project. Younger women may not understand that many artists do not get salaries. They live in garrets for God’s sake. The passion for this project and your wonderful subject will give you a paycheck that most women over 60 can only dream of.
    Interesting that most women must consult their partners before making a contribution to any cause that they believe in. But, as you say, that is a subject for another blog. We look forward to joining you on your journey and getting to know the Baroness through your camera’s lens. Fortunately, Italian lingerie is beautiful, so don’t worry about packing much!