"Freeing Silvia Baraldini" to be shown at Community Theater Saturday
By Colin DeVries
November 18, 2009
CATSKILL In today's world, the arrest and imprisonment of American
political activists are rare but during Silvia Baraldini's heyday,
times were much different and a local film company hopes to illustrate that.
"Freeing Silvia Baraldini," an award-winning documentary produced by
Catskill-based Thin Edge Films, will be screened at the Catskill
Community Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. and will spotlight
the story an empowered Italian immigrant who fought for equality
during an intense period of instability in the U.S., only to be
jailed for raising her voice against injustice.
In the 1960s political unrest was commonplace across the nation
what with an immensely unpopular war, a sexual revolution and a civil
rights movement in their midst and many chose to rise up about the
fray to speak their minds.
Silvia Baraldini, an Italian citizen who emigrated to the U.S. with
her parents in 1961 at the age of 14, was labeled as a domestic
terrorist after aligning with leftist liberation organizations during
the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, subsequently leading to a 43-year
prison sentence for conspiracy, attempted armed robbery, criminal
contempt and breaking well-known activist Joanne Chesimard, aka
Assata Shakur, out of prison. Chesimard was leader of the Black
Liberation Army and was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction.
The film opens with a re-enactment of the Nov. 9, 1982 arrest of
Baraldini, which filmmaker Margo Pelletier can personally testify to
"I was helping Silvia build a nursery in her apartment," said
Pelletier, recalling that fateful day in Brooklyn, "and she left…
then I heard loud knocks on the door. I looked through the keyhole
and it was the FBI."
Pelletier tried to prevent the authorities from entering, demanding
to see a warrant before she could let them in, but to no avail. Once
inside, the FBI agents confiscated boxes upon boxes full of bound
notebooks containing sensitive information about an organization
Baraldini had risen to the top of: the May 19 Communist Organization.
Those notebooks would later be used to convict Baraldini under the
Though never officially a member, Pelletier discovered May 19 after
moving to the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn during the 1970s.
She was deeply moved by their message and started participating in
various facets of the organization, including the Madame Binh
Graphics Collective where she used her skills as an artist to create
May 19 propaganda. Pelletier also occasionally joined in protests and
endured a six-month prison sentence at Riker's Island for stink
bombing a plane carrying the apartheid-touting South African rugby team.
The name "May 19" was derived from the common day of Ho Chi Minh's
and Malcolm X's birthdates and the death of Cuban national Jose Marti.
At the time of her arrest, Baraldini was president of May 19 and
presided over their goals to dismantle the capitalist system and
establish cooperative socialist nations within the United States,
providing equality amongst the diverse melting pot of people
throughout the country. But, unlike other organizations, the May 19
Communist Organization did not use violence to further their cause.
Some May 19 members, however, did independently engage in unfavorable
activities with other groups. For example, in 1981 a group of
activists attempted to expropriate money from a Brink's armored car,
one of them being identified as a May 19 member. From that point on,
Pelletier said, May 19 members and their affiliates were considered
May 19 also worked with the Black Power and Puerto Rican independence
movements in an effort to further their causes for liberation. This
relationship was emphasized in the film, featuring interviews with
leaders from each of those movements.
One of them, Ahmed Obafemi, director of the Malcom X Grassroots
Organization, discussed the Republic of New Afrika and their effort
to create an independent socialist nation solely for
African-Americans in the American Southeast. The RNA, as it became
known, was something that Baraldini whole-heartedly supported,
believing it would be an appropriate step toward a peaceful existence
on American soil.
As someone who was captivated by Baraldini and her ideals, Pelletier
said the film complete with interviews from Rome, Italy where
Baraldini was under house arrest was difficult to make at times.
"Making this movie was a great relief," she said, "but also very painful."
The film having been produced over eight years intends to not
only show the personal struggle of an individual trying to impart a
positive change on society but also to illuminate aspects of society
that many have forgotten or never known.
Co-producer-director Lisa Thomas was not an active participant in the
liberation movements of the 1960s, as was her counterpart, but she
did learn to appreciate Baraldini's journey during filmmaking.
"When I first heard about Silvia's story," Thomas wrote in an e-mail,
"it really seemed so radical and frankly unbelievable, but now I can
totally identify with her and the choices she made."
The intent of "Freeing Silvia Baraldini," whether viewers agree or
disagree with the content, is to inspire a dialogue, Thomas said.
"It is important not to paint the history of our country just from
what is printed in the textbooks," Thomas said. "It would be really
great if people began to question why we have political prisoners in
this country and ask who these people are and why they have been imprisoned."
"Freeing Silvia Baraldini" was awarded best documentary at the 2009
Tacoma Film Festival and most principled at Seattle's True
Independent Film Festival 2009.
Pelletier also wanted to express her gratitude toward Philip J.
Maisano, Catskill Community Theatre owner, for screening the film for
the community and supporting local filmmakers.
"He's always trying to push the envelope with what the Community
Theatre can really be," she said, "and I love that and I think that's great."
A trailer of the film can be seen online at
Check out the Community Theatre's lineup at www.thecommunitytheatre.com.
To reach reporter Colin DeVries please call 518-943-2100 ext. 3325,
or e-mail email@example.com