My Eyes As a Stranger

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The above is a 3 mins. clip from My Eyes As A Stranger. To see the complete film go to:

My Eyes As a Stranger was shot in Florence  between 1992 and 1994. I spend over a year filming in Borgo Allegri, a street of ‘ill repute’, and I worked with criminals who used the local bars - some petty and others not so petty, some Florentine but most Sicilian. The film shows how difficult it was for them to break their pattern of prison and criminality.

Borgo Allegri, which is situated in the low-lying area of Santa Croce, was badly affected by the 1967 flood and the Arno waters as well as the contents of the cesspits reached the first floor of the houses.  As a result the local florentine artisans and workers, whose families had lived there for generations, were rehoused outside the ancient city centre, in new blocks of flats in the suburbs. Sicilians now moved into the old flats, uninhabitable, still damp and smelling bad, but the rents were cheap.  It was a time of Sicilian migration, they spread across central and northern Italy in search of work, mostly in the building trade.

Borgo Allegri had always been a street with a reputation for low life, even before the Sicilians moved in, because Santa Croce had long housed Florence’s three main prisons. The prisoners’ families moved into the quartiere so as to be nearby, and so able to bring their family members bedding, clothes and food. The prison system depended upon the families for this contribution. Alongside these often small time criminals there were also local Florentine prostitutes working the narrow streets.

When I first filmed in S. Croce in 1989, these local prostitutes had largely been replaced by colourful Brazilian and Napolitan transgender sex workers. I filmed some of them, but it was a only a brief scene in a film made for the Mediateca Toscana about the future of Santa Croce. Two of the prisons had been closed and the question was what to do with this valuable space? A few years later I returned to the area with the idea of making a film about these sex-workers, only to find that they had left the area, and the bar they mostly had frequented was now taken over by Sicilians criminals - or boys of the streets as they would describe themselves to me. It was here that I met my main characters, Nicola and Stefano, and where I set about filming this group of men.

I shot more than seventy hours of non-digital tape over a period of eighteen month which, as well as enabling to cut a film that was broadcast by ARTE,  also provided the source material for my Ph.D  on Masculinity Among a Group of Petty Criminals in a Florentine Street. However, despite the title, the majority of the criminals that I studied were Sicilian, and it is likely that both directly and indirectly and one way and another, most of them will have had some connection with their local Mafia in Sicily. Theirs was a constant competition for masculine status: outside this milieu no one had any interest in them at all, but within the group they used their masculinity to achieve status in a situation where they had nothing else to play with.   For further information on this study please refer to my PhD thesis, held both in Senate House and the Royal Anthropological Institute. I also write about my reseach, my filmed material, and my film My Eyes As a Stranger in my book A Filmmakers Odyssey, published by Intervention Press in 2014.


© Toni de Bromhead 2017