Natalie De Vincentiis, a sophomore studying film at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, has an amazing life story that shaped her academic path here at Syracuse. Born and raised in Grado, an island off of the coast of Italy, De Vincentiis had a hard time fitting in. Her parents met in Italy while her mother was traveling with her sister around Europe. With her mom an American English major and her dad an Italian marine police chief warrant officer, De Vincentiis grew up speaking both Italian and English.
“I was always known as the American kid, even though I never lived in America,” De Vincentiis said. “It was really hard.” As a dual American and Italian citizen, she struggled to find her identity, unsure whether she is Italian or American. She would speak English at home and Italian outside, resulting in never really having a proficient fluency in either language at a young age. De Vincentiis said that she has never really had an Italian accent, so she is perceived as an American.
With a love for reading, writing and vividly depicting stories, Vincentiis began writing at 13. At 16, she published her work into a dystopian fiction novel called “War’s Child.” However, De Vincentiis’ curiosity and appetite for writing didn’t stop here. At 17, she was inspired to write a screenplay for “Casualty,” a short film unpacking issues of war and refugees that she went on to produce and star in with the aid of senior film students from a university near her high school in Grado.
“There really was no way of getting help from anybody other than the film university nearby,” said Vincentiis. “They actually didn’t do hands-on things; my project was the first of these seniors.” The short film was a success; she went on to win an award for best actress and the film got third place in the Ragazzi and Cinema Festival of 2018, an Italian film festival.
De Vincentiis’ life growing up was heavily influenced by the tense political climate and refugee crisis in Italy, which has inspired her to shed light on these issues in her art. Her father was involved in the refugee crisis, going to Rome every few months to send out boats for the refugees. De Vincentiis explained how, similar to the current U.S. government, the Italian government is opposed to accepting refugees and immigrants. She remembered at one point the refugee crisis was so bad that they closed off a basketball court to set up a refugee camp.
“My town specifically denied the refugees; they protested until they were kicked out,” De Vincentiis said.
When asked how she felt about the refugee crisis, De Vincentiis explained that she faced discrimination because her mother is an American immigrant and they spoke English at home.
“I would pronounce stuff differently, so the whole small community of 50,000 people [were] like, ‘you don’t belong here,’” said De Vincentiis.
After writing “War’s Child” and producing the short film “Casualty,” De Vincentiis felt that she had reached her creative limit in the small town of Grado, Italy. Her high school did not have courses geared towards the kind of arts she wanted to pursue and she had to study linguistics and spend five hours per day on Italian, English, German, Spanish and Latin.
“Teachers don’t push you towards the arts either,” De Vincentiis explained, “There [are] no artistic programs.”
Seeking to be a fish in a bigger pond, De Vincentiis decided to come to Syracuse University to study in their film program. The film program at VPA had the kind of resources and community that De Vincentiis needs to grow, and she feels that she’s able to thrive into the community she has built here.
“You can study film anywhere, but the relationships you build here with the teachers and the students ...,” De Vincentiis said, “is what I think leads you more to success.”
She learned more about the craft of film through acting on sets and the practical parts of cameras and equipment when working at the VPA equipment cage.
The production set is where she found her family and true passion. She likens it to an orchestra, where teamwork and mastery yield a beautiful end product. While settling into Syracuse took some getting used to, from witnessing vast consumerism exemplified in huge malls to enduring the cold winters, De Vincentiis knows she’s in the right place at the VPA film program.
She wants to showcase different perspectives. “(When) I can show something and make people feel something through visuals,” De Vincentiis said with passion, “that’s when I know that this is the right decision I made.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s one of the many reasons photography sophomore Marijke Pieters-Kwiers fell in love with the medium of photography. Each week in Eye on ’Cuse, she will use visual narratives creatively to voice the stories and identities of students on campus.