Woodstock Film Series Film Tells Story of Famous Mona Lisa Heist, March 11

By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent

Filmmakers Justine and Joe Medeiros know all too well that Leonardo DaVinci’s half-length portrait of the Mona Lisa continues to draw millions of visitors to the Louvre in Paris each year but, of those, little realize that the masterpiece was missing from the museum for over two years.

Working on this mystery for 40 years, the husband and wife team discovered that the painting had been stolen by an Italian immigrant day laboring painter, Vincenzo Peruggia, who had hidden it in his one-room Italian ghetto flat right under the eyes of the French police.

Now, the couple will be on hand in Woodstock with their award winning documentary, Mona Lisa Is Missing, this Saturday at the Billings Farm and Museum from 3 -5 p.m. to share their findings.

“Our film is recognized as the definitive source now on this subject as all of our research is grounded in primary source documents that disprove the historical record,” said Justine.

The documentary recounts Joe’s personal journey to know Peruggia and his daughter, Celestina, who requested him to find the truth about why her father slipped the artwork under his cloak on August 21, 1911, and walked out of the museum undetected.

The publicizing of the theft at the time splashed across the world and only added to the familiarity of the piece and queues outside the Louvre to see the empty space where the painting had hung.

“It makes for a compelling mystery as well as a heart-warming story about a woman close to the end of her life needing closure on a story she knew so little about,” said Justine.

What makes the film especially unique is the Medeiros’s comedic approach to the material, both in unexpected moments of real time discoveries and the use of Monty Pythonesque animation to bring to life the history where no photographs or footage exists, Justine related.

The Medeiroses and their crew traveled to Dumenza, Italy, to interview Celestina Peruggia.

“She was a wonderful, charming woman,” said Justine. “The perfect Italian grandmother. She welcomed us into her home and shared what she knew about her father. We just fell in love with her.”

Unfortunately, Celestina didn’t know much about her father because he died when she was a toddler, and the Peruggia family, embarrassed by the theft, rarely spoke of it.

The mugshot of Vincenzo Peruggia was taken in Florence after his arrest for trying to sell the Mona Lisa, December 1913.
(Photo Courtesy of Joe Medeiros, Archives de Paris)
“But Celestina and I shared the same goal,” said Joe. “We both wanted to know the truth about her father.”

With the help of Celestina’s son, Silvio, and daughter, Graziella, the Medeiroses and their team of researchers traveled from Paris where Peruggia had lived and worked, to Florence where he brought the painting, to French and Italian archives to search documents and reveal the reasons for the theft.

“The film has cleared up many of the misconceptions about Peruggia and his crime,” said Justine.

Importantly, she added, she and Joe did not want the documentary to be a dry, fact-filled history lesson but, rather, an enjoyable and fast-paced film that is “fun to watch.”

Joe, who is a Hollywood television comedy writer by trade, but a filmmaker by vocation, spent over twenty years writing and creating comedy segments for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, seventeen of those as the show’s head writer. He has covered four Olympics, six Presidential Conventions, and numerous awards shows from the Emmys to the Oscars.

Justine, who is a producer, has had a 40-year career of diverse professional experiences including elementary and high school teacher, educational consultant, freelance journalist, grants writer and editor.

She and Joe have been married for forty-two years and have two children, Justin and Julie Anne.

Mona Lisa Is Missing was shown on Netflix for 18 months with a 5-star rating and is available by download on the Medeiros’s website www.monalisamissing.com.

For more information regarding the screening of Mona Lisa Is Missing as part of the 7th Annual Woodstock Film Series, contact Darlyne Franzen at 802 457-2355 or dfranzen@billingsfarm.org

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