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Stonebreakers: Documentary Screening and Q&A with Valerio Ciriaci and Isaak J. Liptzin (Nov. 30, 2023)

Stonebreakers: Documentary Screening and Q&A with Director Valerio Ciriaci and Cinematographer Isaak J. Liptzin, moderated by Teresa Fiore (Italian/WLC Dept., Inserra Chair) and Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia (History Dept.)

Thur. Nov. 30, 2023  6pm
Presentation Hall 1040 (School of Communication and Media)

Stonebreakers (2022) chronicles the conflicts around monuments that arose in the United States during the George Floyd protests and the 2020 presidential election. As statues of Columbus, Confederates and Founding Fathers fall from their pedestals, the nation’s triumphalist myths are called into question. By exploring the shifting landscapes of American monumentality, this film interrogates the link between history and political action in a nation that must confront its past now more urgently than ever.

Stonebreakers has been included in the official selection of several festivals in the U.S and Italy (IFF Boston, Nastri d’Argento) and has received a number of recognition: Winner of the Imperdibili Award, Audience Award, Special Mention, and Best Italian documentary at the prestigious Festival dei Popoli in 2022, as well as Winner for Best Independent Production Documentary and Best Film Editing at the 2023 History Film Festival, Rijeka, Croatia.

Guest speakers: Director Valerio Ciriaci and Cinematographer Isaak J. Liptzin, co-founders of Awen Films

Valerio Ciriaci is an Italian documentary filmmaker living in the United States. Born in Rome, Valerio graduated from “La Sapienza” university in 2011 with a degree in Communication and a thesis on Jean Rouch’s ethno-fiction. That same year, he moved to New York City to attend the documentary program at New York Film Academy. In 2012, he co-founded the production company Awen Films, with which he has directed independent documentaries, editorial videos, and other non-fiction projects.

His short documentaries, Melodico (2012), Treasure – The Story of Marcus Hook (2013), and Iom Romì (2017), have been selected by numerous international festivals, including Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Bari International Film Festival, and the New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center. In 2015, he released his first feature, If Only I Were That Warrior, winner of the ‘Imperdibili’ award at Festival dei Popoli and of the 2016 Globo d’Oro for best documentary. Mister Wonderland, his second feature, received the ‘Il Cinemino’ prize at Festival dei Popoli in 2019 and was broadcast on Rai in Italy and on PBS in the U.S.

Isaak J. Liptzin was born in San Francisco and grew up in Italy until graduating high school, when he moved to New York to attend photography classes at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Interested from a young age in visual journalism, his work has touched on topics in breaking news, history, education and the environment. As a photographer, he has worked with WNYC Radio, Centro Primo Levi, Peace Child India, and Transition Magazine. As a producer, he covered the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns for Italian national broadcaster Rai and worked for Endeavor Content on the Netflix Originals series First Team: Juventus. With Awen Films, which he co-founded in 2012, Isaak has worked extensively as producer and cinematographer on commissioned projects and collaborated closely with director Valerio Ciriaci on independent documentary features including If Only I Were That Warrior, Mister Wonderland, and Stonebreakers. 

Teresa Fiore is Professor of Italian (World Language and Cultures Dept.) and the Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State University. The recipient of several fellowships (De Bosis, Rockefeller and Fulbright), she has been Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard University, Yale, NYU and Rutgers University. She is the author of the award-winning book Pre-Occupied Spaces: Remapping Italy’s Transnational Migrations and Colonial Legacies (Fordham University Press, 2017, and Mondadori/Le Monnier, 2021 in Italian); the editor of a journal issue on John Fante (Quaderni del ‘900), and the co-editor of the section “Italy and the Euro-Mediterranean ‘Migrant Crisis’” (Journal of Modern Italian Studies ). Her numerous articles on migration to/from Italy and (post-)colonialism linked to 20th- and 21st-century Italian literature, theater, music and cinema have appeared in Italian, English, and Spanish both in journals and edited collections.

Recent publications include essays about the relevance of Transnational Studies (Transnational Italian Studies, Liverpool UP, 2022 and Forum Italicum 2023), teaching Italian to Spanish-speaking students (InVerbis 2022), and the representation of Italian colonialism in the artwork of photographer Dawit L. Petros (Mousse 2022). She is currently working on a research project about food practices at the time of the Allied Landing in Sicily during WWII, and on an initiative called Memoria presente: The Common Spanish Legacy in Italian and Latin American Cultures,” initially supported by an NEH Award.


Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia is Associate Professor of History at Montclair State University. Born in Mexico City, she received a BA in History (Licenciatura en Historia) from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and completed an MA in Area Studies (Africa) and a PhD in African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK. Her research interests include historiography, intellectual history and the philosophy of history. She teaches courses on African history, historiography, intellectual history and the history of science, historical methodology and historical theory. She is the co-author of African Histories. New Sources and Techniques for Studying African Pasts (Pearson, 2012). Currently, she is a faculty participant in the Inclusive Public History Project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (2023).

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Organized and sponsored by the Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies 
in collaboration with the Italian Program (World Languages and Cultures Department) and the History Department at Montclair State University.

Official website for Stonebreakers