Italian filmmakers honor county man
A film crew from Rome, Italy, who has been documenting the life and times of those who suffer from a rare skin disease known as XP, decided to keep a promise they made to the late Kevin Charles Swinney, stopping in and visiting his family and friends in his hometown of Phil Campbell.
Swinney, along with his older sister Tammy, who passed away from a brain tumor at age 31, suffered from a rare genetic disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), which causes a defect in mechanisms to repair DNA mutations as caused by ultraviolet rays. It is characterized by the development of pigment abnormalities and skin cancers in areas exposed to the sun.
Swinney passed away on Jan. 12, at the age of 35, after a three-month bout with Leukemia.
Before his passing, Swinney served as a counselor at Camp Sundown, a camp made for XP patients in New York, and met with the Italian film crew and became great friends with director Carlo Hintermann, producer Daniele Villa, director of photography Giancarlo Leggeri, soundman Federico Tummolo and editor/colorist Gabriele Gianni.
“Kevin was the first person we met when we went to the camp to film our documentary,” Hintermann said. “He actually served as our spokesperson and helped us build relationships with others that were suffering from XP inside the camp.”
The crew and Swinney exchanged contact information and made plans for the five guys to come enjoy fishing and eating catfish and capture Swinney’s home life in Alabama on film, which was said to be a totally different environment from the camp lifestyle.
“He talked a lot to us about his home life he had here and how he loved his family and loved growing up here,” Hintermann said. “And that intrigued us so we made plans to visit with him this summer and do some filming.”
Once the crew received word that Kevin had passed away, they made the decision to go ahead and keep their promise they made to their beloved friend and visit with his family, paying homage to Swinney’s life.
“Not too long after Kevin passed away, I received an email from the guys saying they still wanted to come visit,” said Kevin’s father Charles Swinney.
“Words can’t express the way it makes me feel to see anyone from Rome, Italy, taking the time out to want to come and pay tribute to my son’s memory. It’s very emotional and these guys are very professional and top-of-the-line in my book.”
Villa said it was very important to the whole crew to come and paint a portrait of Swinney’s life and show how much he touched the hearts of people and gave to others.
“For me Kevin was like an explosion of life,” Villa said. “He was a person that felt near to me. He was spontaneous and good with the children at camp. We laughed a lot and it was like meeting a brother. So we are so happy to be here, including his friends and family in our work.”
Hintermann said the Swinney family is different from any other family that the crew has dealt with.
“They have shown us tremendous hospitality here,” he said. “They let us stay in their own house while they stayed in Kevin’s apartment they had set up for him in the back yard. I couldn’t believe they did that but we are truly happy they showed us so much kindness.”
Monday and Tuesday the filmmakers shot video of Swinney’s friends and family and plan to include this in their film entitled “The Dark Side of the Sun” by their production company named Citrullo Films International available this fall.
Villa said the “rhythm of life” here compared to Rome, Italy, is completely different because of the more relaxed lifestyle and freedoms enjoyed here.
Hitermann said the entire crew has enjoyed getting to know Swinney’s closest friends and family and hopes that everyone will enjoy the documentary when it is completed.
“Our experience here has been really interesting. We like to eat catfish and in a way it has been as if Kevin was still here with us.” Hitermann said. “We have been working on this project for two years and it has been a long process but our aim is that of portraying the universe of patients suffering from XP.”
Camp Sundown and the XP Society plan to also honor Swinney’s memory by sponsoring one child to go to New York and enjoy Camp Sundown.
The filmmakers departed from Alabama and headed to Missouri late Tuesday night to document an 8-year–old girl who suffers from the same XP symptoms that Swinney suffered from and who Kevin had helped out because it was her first time to attend Camp Sundown and helped build the bridge of conversation between her and the crew.
The Italian film crew will make another stop in British Columbia, Canada, before making their final stop back at Camp Sundown, where it all began, in early July to end their documentary escapade.