Giancarlo Iannotta and Julie D’Agostino’s friendship was destined to happen. As a matter of fact, both of their fathers immigrated to Chicago in the 1950s by way of Castel San Vincenzo, which is in the Molise region of Italy. By the early 1990s, the families settled on South Street in Elmhurst, Ill., and both have been members of the Saint Stephen and Saint Vincent Society.Giancarlo, a filmmaker and 2011 graduate of Columbia College, has known Julie since birth, and both have been inseparable for just as long. But what makes their bond unique is that Julie was born with cystic fibrosis, a potentially life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.
Julie has been in and out of hospitals battling this disease since childhood, but she was determined to not let it slow her down. Throughout that time, she has proven her drive and tenacity by showcasing her beautiful singing voice and even starring in high school musical productions.Julie waited more than five years on the organ transplant list. In the summer of 2011, however, things took a turn for the worst when a routine hospital visit revealed Julie needed a double lung transplant immediately. The love and support she received from her family, friends and the Elmhurst community was immense. But perhaps the most touching tribute came from her neighbor and lifelong friend Giancarlo, who documented her experience with the disease in the documentary film “Miracle on South Street: The Julie D. Story.”
After finishing up his degree in Los Angeles before graduating from Columbia College in the summer of 2011, Giancarlo came home to Elmhurst at a pivotal time for the Iannotta and D’Agostino families. Julie’s loved ones were getting regular updates on her health via e-mail, but Giancarlo felt putting together a documentary highlighting Julie’s experiences would be a powerful production and platform to promote organ donation.
In the 45-minute film, Giancarlo uses home movies from Julie’s father to document her struggles and triumphs following her double lung transplant surgery at Loyola University Hospital on Oct. 24, 2011.
“I really think that this is a movie that many people can get something out of, especially someone that is facing a life-threatening illness, and it underlines the importance of organ donation,” Giancarlo says.
Giancarlo can’t stress the importance of organ donation enough. “When I was putting together this film, I interviewed the surgeon and he told me two things: Too many good organs are getting buried in the ground, and 18 people will die a day waiting to get that second chance,” Giancarlo says.
The tremendous outpouring of support from the Elmhurst community, which included a screening at Visitation Parish in September 2012 and the backing of the Rotary Club, was soon followed by an expansion to a wider audience. The film aired from November through Jan. 15, 2012, on Comcast OnDemand, and it premiered on WTTW Channel 11 on Dec 23, 2012. The documentary can be purchased online at www.JulieDMovie.com, with proceeds supporting the Cystic Fibrosis and Make a Wish foundations. The Comcast availability also supported Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s organ transplant organization, www.LifeGoesOn.com.
Since wrapping production, Julie has made a full recovery and is now taking classes at Elmhurst College. Giancarlo, who works as a freelance TV commercial director and has been featured at acclaimed film fests such as SXSW and Rooftop Films, plans to take things to the next level. That includes one day moving to the West Coast to pursue his filmmaking dreams, but also never forgetting where he came from. “My Italian family has completely influenced my work,” Giancarlo says.
For the time being, both friends plan on tapping into their loyal support systems in Elmhurst to promote organ donation.
“It has been our responsibility to shed light on organ transplantation,” Giancarlo says.
To learn more about Julie D’Agostino’s journey, visit www.JulieDMovie.com. For more information on Giancarlo Iannotta’s films, visit www.GiancarloIannotta.com.