You can’t go downtown Vancouver these days, without bumping into a film crew. 

The PA politely telling you that the sidewalk is closed due to filming and that you will have to take a slight detour.

Curiously, you ask what they are filming.  Most PA’s are happy to chat, and feed you just enough to keep you on the look-out for any celebrities that may be in town.

Local and international productions alike are using the versatile backdrop that is Vancouver for their film locations.  From city scapes, to suburban Vancouver Specials, to the lush green nature of the mountains, Vancouver has it all.

Bella Ciao! a local film from Commercial Drive Productions, is no exception.

This story centres around Commercial Drive, the neighbourhood of the director and co-writer, Carolyn Combs.

The film explores themes of community and connection (to name a few), within several of the vibrant, local cultures that live and thrive in this unique area.

The charismatic Italians with their staunch and humorous ways; the proud but slightly wayward First Nations street kid mixed with the strong, confidant Latin Americans, all of whom Carolyn has skillfully and thoughtfully meshed together.

Interactions that highlight cultural differences while simultaneously showing their similarities; the humanity and the struggles in which we can all relate.

Sitting down with Carolyn at her kitchen table on an overcast, and rainy Sunday morning, we discuss the art of storytelling, the state of being curious and in doing so, how we can validate the voice of others. 

The voice of those who may not have the means to tell their story, but whose story needs to be told, in order so that we may learn from them, so that they can be heard and perhaps more importantly, to be acknowledged.

‘There are so many stories that don’t get told, that we don’t see in the mainstream media.’

Carolyn notes that the characters in her latest feature, are based on people whom she sees around The Drive.  ‘I want to learn about the world, and to use film to discover relationships.’

And relationships and connection are what Bella Ciao! are all about. 

Centred around the dynamics between Constanza (Carmen Aguirre), a Chilean immigrant, and her daughter Soledad (Alexandra Lainfiesta), and the people that they interact with, within the span of one eventful day.

Meet Niki (Taran J. Kootenhayoo), the First Nations street kid who meets Soledad in an unconventional way, whilst walking down Commercial Drive. 

The three Italian men; Arnaldo, Luca and Basilio, (Tony Nardi, Leonardo Tenisci, Frank Ferrucci) who sing over their morning cappuccino (accompanied by the iconic Carnival Band) and talk of life and love. 

Then there’s the young hipster, Italian cafe owner Tony, (Massimo Frau), and Lenny, (sylvi mcCormac), who convinces Niki to steal a yellow tablecloth, to wear as a sari over her tie-dyed t-shirt.

The empathy, the tension, the compassion, the love and the raw reality of their relationships is thoughtfully wound together in this beautifully shot film. 

Familiarity arises from the scenes shot on The Drive, that portray the road as is.  Warts and all. 

‘The film is about communities.  Not just one person.  We don’t exist in isolation.”  Carolyn explains.

She has artfully shown her neighbourhood and a small portion of the people, in a way where the viewer sees and feels the connection. 

It is delivered thoughtfully through everyday interactions, such as the intergenerational conversations between Arnaldo, a middle aged Italian restaurant owner, his nephew Tony, his friends daughter, Soledad and the street kid, Niki. 

As the neutral storyteller, Carolyn allows the stories to be heard without the use special effects, and pulling the best from the actors and crew in order to allow the story to shine through with no distractions.

‘The process has to be as good, if not better than the final product.’ Carolyn notes.  ‘There was so much love and skill put into this film at each phase as different people came on board.  Continual Collaboration.  I wanted to honour their work.’

She also notes that ‘It (end result) wasn’t what I imagined, the story is told differently than the script, but that’s not a bad thing.’

Bella Ciao! is showing at VIFF from April 10th, 2019 as part of Canadian Film Week.

Tickets available

Watch the trailer at

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