Andrea Doria Survivor Speaks at Italian Film Festival St Louis

Written by: Michael J. Cross

Pierette Domenica Simpson with Honorary Vice Consul Joseph Colagiovanni and Mrs. Colagiovanni

A tale of courage and survival was on the big screen April 8 as part of the Italian Film Festival USA of St. Louis. Pierette Domenica Simpson, a survivor of the 1956 sinking of the Italian luxury liner the Andrea Doria, shared her story during the  screening of her documentary, “Andrea Doria: Are the Passengers Saved?” Ms. Simpson was introduced to the audience by the Italian Honorary Vice Consul in St Louis, Comm. Joseph Colagiovanni.

On July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria was broadsided by the ship Stockholm in heavy fog near Nantucket Island. Simpson, then a 9-year-old immigrant traveling with her grandparents, recounts the harrowing experience and the truth surrounding the tragedy in the 77-minute docudrama directed by Luca Guardabascio.

Thanks to improvements in communications and rapid responses by other ships, most of those aboard were saved. “They sent out an SOS and ships of all kinds came to our aid,” Simpson said. One in particular — the French ship Ile de France — rescued 750 people, including Simpson and her grandparents who were three of the 1,660 survivors. The Andrea Doria capsized and sank the following morning and now rests about 250 feet below the Atlantic Ocean.

Simpson returned to her native village of Pranzalito, just north of Torino, to film the truth surrounding the tragedy by interviewing fellow survivors and naval experts from both Italy and the U.S. Archival footage from the Ansaldo shipyard accompanies the narration by survivors and naval experts, as well as re-enactments of Simpson’s departure from her village, to her harrowing experiences aboard the Andrea Doria, and her arrival in the U.S.

The film was written and produced by Simpson, a Michigan resident, and is based on her book, “Alive on the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescue in History,” released in 2006 — the 50th anniversary of the liner’s sinking. The ship’s manifest, listed in the book, includes the names of three area residents who were among the survivors: Sister Angelita Myerscough of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, Ruma, Illinois; Caterina Cusumano and John Viviano, both of St. Louis

After the screening, moviegoers took part in a question-and-answer session with Simpson. Having the screenwriter – who was at the actual event more than 60 years ago – present to answer questions made for a special evening.

Simpson’s documentary is one of twelve films and a short film program that is part of the 2017 Italian Film Festival USA of St. Louis, which runs from April 1 to 29 at Washington University, St. Louis Community College and Southwestern Illinois College. The Festival, which is celebrating its 13th edition, takes place in 12 cities across the United States. All films are shown in original language with English subtitles. Admission is free. For further information, go to www.italianfilmfests.org.