Jim Elderton’s successful documentary feature Sveva, Prisoner of Vernon has been officially selected for screening at the Women’s International Film and Arts Festival in Miami.
After a lengthy lawsuit regarding copyright issues, Elderton, an award-winning filmmaker and former BBC editor who lives in Armstrong, says the Miami festival is the film’s first international exposure to a critical audience outside the Okanagan.
In the making the past seven years, the film has already played to several sold-out screenings in Vernon, and has recently undergone an extensive re-editing to incorporate a new digital transfer of the Caetani archive footage held at the Vernon Museum and Archives.
“The title has also been changed to Sveva, Imprisoned on the advice of Gerry Sellars, of the Towne Cinema, who pointed out that the word Vernon in the title carries no weight to anyone outside the Okanagan,” said Elderton. “But it was essential to maintain the prisoner concept. She truly was trapped, not once, but several times.”
The film is told using 75-year-old archive film, interviews with friends and experts, and dramatic examples of Sveva’s work, and discusses not only the Italian-born artist’s genius, but the factors surrounding her “imprisonment.”
After her father, Leone, a descendant of Italian aristocracy, moved the family to Vernon in 1921, Sveva was later removed from school to her home on Pleasant Valley Road to an atmosphere best described as claustrophobic, where visitors were unwelcome, said Elderton.
Her mother Ofelia’s constant restrictions on her artistic output, despite her father Leone’s encouragement, added to Sveva’s isolation.
“In his dying letter even he referred to (Sveva) as a prisoner,” said Elderton.
After Leone died, Ofelia insisted that Sveva couldn’t go into town unless chaperoned. This restriction was applied until Ofelia died when Sveva was 43.
“Sveva herself later said (about not leaving the property for 15 years), ‘even the Count of Monte Cristo wasn’t there this long,’” said Elderton.
After emerging from her home, Sveva started painting and teaching again. She eventually produced her masterpiece, a series of 56 watercolours entitled Recapitulation, which Elderton said were initially rejected by the local and Vancouver arts communities.
“It wasn’t till the Alberta Foundation for the Arts saw her work that its quality was recognized,” he said. “Peter Blundell (a Vernon fine arts appraiser) is on record as saying that her paintings rank alongside those of the Group of Seven.”
Submitted by the film’s producer Cathie Stewart, Sveva Imprisoned is one of only six feature-length documentaries, out of the 50 films selected, screening at the Miami festival. And if it wins, it will be Stewart who goes up on stage to collect the award.
“She has lived through the trials and tribulations of the film for seven years, and has constantly provided essential feedback and support throughout the production process,” said Elderton, adding he hopes the film will eventually be obtained for TV distribution.
Those wishing to support Sveva can visit the festival website at wiff.slated.com/2011, select buzz, then click on the photo of the Caetani house. The total number of hits determines its position on the buzz page.