Monday, 4 December 2023, starting at 18:30 hours at the Toronto Premiere at the Royal Theatre.
The cost of individual tickets is $20; the Royal Theatre can accommodate 400 viewers.
Background courtesy of M0050 Tony Battista CMR Class of 1980
In early June 1944, following a deadly battle between Canadian and German Armoured units in the town of Torrice, near Frosinone, Paul Hagen and Ike Klessen, two soldiers of a Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Unit from the 5th Canadian Armoured Division were conducting re-supply tasks at night. They found an almost naked little Italian boy close to the battle ruins. He was obviously malnourished with a badly bloated stomach. His name, he said, was ‘Gino’.
After caring for his wounds and giving him food, the Canadian soldiers tried to locate relatives but eventually determined that this little boy was now an orphan and there was no one to feed or look after him; he was homeless. Most people from the surrounding villages were destitute: it was far better for him to stay with ‘i Canadesi’.
Four Canadian soldiers – Lloyd ‘Red’ Oliver, Paul Hagen, Mert Massey, and Doug Walker took little Gino under their collective wing and became his mentors and tutors. He was given a uniform and became the mascot of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Company. Red taught Gino the English alphabet, numbers, and the Bible. Gino went North with his Canadian ‘guardian angels’, as he would call them, and spent Christmas 1944 in Ravenna with them!
In February 1945 the Canadian soldiers left Italy to join the rest of the Canadian Army in Western Europe. Gino could not accompany his Canadian ‘guardian angels’ and was left near Ravenna with a US Army friend (Tony Monti) and was later adopted by a young local couple (Antonio and Rina Farneti). The Canadian soldiers had collected enough money to send Gino to school and stayed in touch with him and the Farneti family for many years. With the passage of time, they lost contact with each other until ‘Red’ Oliver managed to reconnect with Gino in the 1970s.
Gino did not have a birth certificate or other documents. He went to school but could not be officially enrolled because no one knew his real name or date or place of birth. He was a real person but, in legal terms, he did not exist. In 1954 the local court in Ravenna gave him the name of Gino Farnetti (with a double t, instead of his adoptive family name, Farneti). Ten years after he was rescued, Gino finally did legally exist, albeit with an adopted name!
It would be many more years and much research before his identity would be uncovered. Gino was presented with his baptism certificate on 16 Dec 2012, at the age of 74 – proving his true birth date, 26 April 1938!
Following the event in Torrice on 16 December 2012, Gino and Tony became best friends and continued to meet many times, both in Italy and in Canada. Captivated by this compelling story, Tony suggested they work together to produce a film about Gino’s story. Humbled, Gino vowed to support Tony’s dream on condition the film honour his Canadian guardian angels by showcasing – to their families, to future generations of Canadians, to Italians and, indeed, to the world – their amazing human kindness.