Teaching Guide with excerpt
The Men Who Dance the Giglio
Filmmaker Jeff Porter. Copyright 1995.
Not in distribution.
Excerpt Running Time 9 minutes
This documentary of the Brooklyn St. Paulinus Festival explores ethnicity, cultural traditions, and religious devotion as participants and community members explain the significance of the festival and the 2.5-ton giglio (pronounced jill-yo), which means lily in Italian, carried by 125 men through the streets of the Williamsburg neighborhood.
Festivals, urban life, Italian American culture, sacred and secular celebrations, community, neighborhoods, family, foodways, music
Use one of these quotations to spark discussion.
The feast is in my blood.
I look at the faces of the guys and I understand, it's very deep. It's rooted right into them since the time they were little kids.
You can't get a sausage, they're gone.
All of a sudden you hear the crowd. . .all the oohs and the aahs and the applause that starts because the people now realize that this structure is actually moving. . . .They realize that this is such an extraordinary event they're witnessing.
1. Brainstorm a list of community festivals and celebrations in your region with students. Choose one to discuss in depth and compare with the giglio festival in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. You may use a Venn diagram. Elements to consider include season, place, history, sacred and secular aspects, organizers, participants, audience, clothing or regalia, music, dance, foodways, customs, layout, admission fee, preparations, beginning, ending, beliefs, oral narratives, advertisement, and so on.
2. As the film begins, viewers hear a male voice singing a cappella in Italian. Later we hear Brooklyn accents, Italian, brass bands, crowds. How would students represent the sounds and sights of a festival or celebration? Divide students into teams to research and design the storyboard for a documentary about different local events such as festivals, homecoming, parades, or fairs. Team roles can include historical research, location research, interviewing, finding artifacts and images, video and audio recording, photography, sound, storyboarding. Teams should present their storyboards to the class.
3. "This feast holds the neighborhood together," says a man in the film. Viewers see only the procession, not the elaborate preparation of the platform and tower that weigh over two tons, band rehearsal, vendor set-up. Hundreds of families in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg are involved in this festival. Why do students think community festivals are important? How do they start, who organizes them, who attends, how do they change over time? What are roles for men, women, and children? Ask them to design a T-shirt for a favorite community event that tells the story of the celebration.
4. Legend has it that the feast of the giglio began Nola, near Naples, Italy, in the 5th century when the local Roman Catholic bishop, Paulinus, offered himself to North African conquerors in exchange for a widow's only son. Assign teams of students to research aspects of the St. Paulinus festival in New York and Italy: history, music, construction of the tower, the lily symbol, the dancers who carry the tower. Some may also research festivals around the world.
Trudeau, Stephanie. "Born to Giglio," Journal of New York Folklore, Vol. 31, Spring-Summer 2005. Find at www.nyfolklore.org/pubs/voic31-1-2/giglio.html
Louisiana Voices www.louisianavoices.org Unit IX features resources for documenting festivals and other community events.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings www.folkways.si.edu includes Italian folk songs recorded in New York and New Jersey.