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‘Stonebreakers’ chronicles toppling of controversial monuments against backdrop of BLM protests

Documentary will premiere at IFFBoston

Olivia Grant
‘Stonebreakers’ chronicles toppling of controversial monuments against backdrop of BLM protests
A scene from "Stonebreakers." PHOTO: Courtesy Awen Films

“Stonebreakers” by Italian director Valerio Ciriaci is a documentary chronicling the toppling of statues and monuments during the George Floyd protests and the 2020 presidential election. It will premiere in the United States at the Independent Film Festival Boston on April 29 at 4 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre.

The statues and monuments in the film were originally built to honor controversial individuals like Christopher Columbus and to memorialize ideals of the past like the Confederacy. These monuments fail to address the harsh reality of the harm inflicted on people of color by the commemorated. In response, activists and protesters around the country are dismantling these statues and calling for a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of history. Critics, however, suggest activists are vandalizing these structures and trying to destroy history.

A closeup of a destroyed statue in “Stonebreakers.” PHOTO: Courtesy Awen Films

Over Zoom last week, Ciriaci spoke about the film, along with his producers Isaak Liptzin and Curtis Caesar John. Ciriaci said activists weren’t trying to erase history, which he confirmed when he met them on his cross-country travels while filming with Liptzin. “For us it was this realization that these monuments are there to be confronted, they want to be actualized and this is the case of history,” he said

The film visits several states across the country including Massachusetts – Plymouth Rock specifically — where these historic locales became battlegrounds to determine who has the right to be forever etched in stone. Plymouth Rock is the site of a disappointingly small stone with 1620 carved into it, the year the English Puritans stepped on American soil. The tour of Plymouth Rock in the film is juxtaposed with a speech at the National Day of Mourning calling for more recognition of the Wampanoags, who were massacred by Puritans and settler colonialism.

Additional locations in the film include but are not limited to the borderlands in Arizona, the Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial in South Dakota and the African American Burial Ground in Virginia. In the documentary, activist Earl Lewis Jr. ponders the existence of the numerous Confederate statues in the country. He says, “We’re where we’re at today because we never talked about no monuments, Confederate flags or the statues. It’s like football. If you lose you don’t get a trophy. So why are all these trophies everywhere? Why?”

Ciriaci said the film came at an extraordinary time in history. “It was really a moment where we can see an explosion of the past into the present. It was really a window looking into those dark chapters of US history and understanding it,” he said.