Film Summary

During World War II more than 51,000 Italian soldiers were brought to the United States as Prisoners of War. The charming and poignant documentary special, "Prisoners in Paradise," traces the previously untold story of these young men, their romances and friendships with American women, and their significant--but unrecognized--contribution to the Allied war effort.

Featuring rare period footage of POW camps, "Prisoners in Paradise" follows six Italian POWs (and the women they met in America) on their extraordinary journey—full of challenges, love, perseverance, and good luck. Captured primarily in Northern Africa--where they had been surviving on hard biscuits and water--the Italian POW’s were uniformly amazed at the abundance of food in the USA and the generosity of their captors. Ironically, for many, capture had turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.


Shortly after the bulk of the Italian POW’s arrived, Italy officially switched sides in the war, and over ninety percent of the POWs agreed to collaborate with the Allied war effort. Suddenly, men who had been so badly defeated in the conflict, who spoke little or no English, and whose exposure to the United States had come only through movies and books, now found themselves living out the contradictory roles of prisoner and ally to the US—at the same time.

Though still restricted and kept under guard, collaborating POWs worked in 26 states under the direction of American soldiers and were permitted both to receive visitors and to visit the homes of U.S. citizens on weekends. Local Italian-American communities extended hearty welcomes to the POWs and meaningful, lasting relationships flourished. Romances between Italian POWs and American women were common, and many ended in long lasting marriages.

In its moving final act, "Prisoners of Paradise" follows four such couples, all of whom married after the war, and investigates the unique challenges of the years since. As the former POWs have become citizens and raised families, all the while loving America and missing Italy. Through these touching and sometime humorous stories, "Prisoners of Paradise" illuminates the profound cultural affinity between Italians and Americans, and offers a provocative meditation on the meaning of national identity in times of peace and war.

 

director / producer Camilla Calamandrei
editor Nancy Kennedy

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