Gianfranco Stara flying over Amatrice shortly after earthquake. Photo by AP photographer Gregorio Borgia, August 24, 2016


Adventures with AP cameraman Gianfranco Stara

This week my colleague Gianfranco Stara is retiring after 30 years working for the Associated Press. Gianfranco Stara and I were hired together in October of 1994 to open the AP Television office in Rome.  He was the cameraman, and in case I might have been deluding myself about being a journalist, I quickly learned from him that I was his tripod carrier.

Gianfranco had more experience than I did.  He had covered wars in Iraq and the Balkans.  A sniper had shot a bullet between him and his driver as they drove in Sarajevo.  But he never spoke about any of that stuff, I learned it later from others who had been there.  They also made fun of him because he always wore a cravat at his neck and elegant tweed coats or a dapper leather jacket back in those days.  The Italian man in the war zone, they would say.

Gianfranco Stara, AP cameraman, in his dapper early years.

Working for a news agency doing television means being in the field covering something different almost every day.  One day it is the Pope, the next day politics, the next day a protest, the next migrants arriving on Italian shores. It never stops and Gianfranco was born for it.  He could not possibly sit behind his desk in the office, he would get itchy for action.  Even if there was nothing going on, he would grab the camera and go out and shoot something.

Although he was always in the field or on the move, somehow he had his ways of getting refreshed (sleeping) and re-fueled (eating and drinking).

One way was sleeping on the move.  Over the years, Gianfranco did a lot of traveling on military aircraft.  He travelled to NATO ships in the Mediterranean to film operations, and on helicopters and military flights. We all marvelled at his ability to fall asleep as soon as he got on any military plane or helicopter.  The one time I took a flight onto an aircraft carrier, I was quaking in my boots.  For Gianfranco it was nap time.

Gianfranco Stara, cameraman, Associated Press Rome Bureau

Most of the trips we did together were Papal trips.  We travelled with Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis to Poland, Egypt, Israel, Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, to name a few places.

AP Photographer Andrew Medichini, AP Producer Trisha Thomas, AP Cameraman Gianfranco Stara, AP Correspondent Nicole Winfield getting ready to board the Papal Plane to Colombia. Photo by Alessandro Di Meo. Rome, September 6, 2017

I could be really bossy with him when we travelled together, always telling him what shots to get or where we needed to go.  Once when traveling with my husband  I yelled, “Gianfranco, that’s not the right gate!”  My husband turned around and said, “I am your husband, Gustavo, not Gianfranco.”  Whoops.

When Gianfranco got really fed up with my bossiness he would sigh and say condescendingly “Trisha-Mia.”  The tone made it sound like “you poor little thing.” That usually shut me up.

Gianfranco Stara and Trisha Thomas interviewing the faithful at a stadium in Kinshasa during the Pope’s visit. February 2023

Gianfranco could also be a bit demanding.  I usually don’t hold back when it comes to asking questions, but there were occasions when I remained silent at a press conference, and sometimes I would hear him at the back of the room in a loud stage whisper “Trisha, fai una domanda!!” (Ask a question.) I would have to come up with something quickly.

He did not use a stage whisper if someone got in the middle of an important shot.  For example, if a Swiss Guard dared to step in front of the Pope at a key moment during an event, Gianfranco would bellow “DAVANTI!!!” (in front) meaning, you are in front of the person we are filming and get out of the way.

Maria Grazia Murru and Gianfranco Stara in the early years of AP Television (note his cravat)_

Rome Senior Producer, Maria Grazia Murru, always said that when Gianfranco covered a demonstration he was in “brodo di giuggiole” (Jujube Broth?), which is an Italian expression for being totally happy.  And she was right.  Gianfranco loved covering any sort of demonstration. He was always in the thick of it, with smoke bombs exploding, pushing and shoving between police and protesters, and cobblestones flying.  No matter what the demonstrations was, the protesters all seemed to know him, the police knew him, and he always managed to deliver the video, miraculously never getting hit by a cobblestone.

In the mountains of Albania for an AP story on feuding families.

When driving from Trieste to Zagreb, Croatia, in June 2011 to cover a visit of Pope Benedict XVI, he wanted all the windows open and had the radio blaring on a 24-hour news channel.  He drove along, smoking his Marlboros, clearly content.  Why did we need to listen to the news blasting in Croatian for hours when we didn’t understand it? Gianfranco explained that is what they did in the war because it is the best way to find out when there is breaking news.  I was not convinced but we all have our quirks.

Covering Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem in May 2009

Another time we spent a day covering the anti-mafia journalist Peppino Maniaci in Sicily.  Maniaci has a police escort and we had to race to keep up with them in our rental car as Maniaci dashed from one place to another.  Gianfranco filmed while I drove. Despite the police escort enjoying the opportunity to  challenge my driving skills, I managed to keep up.  At the end of the day, Gianfranco gave me one of his rare compliments , “you are a good driver, you reminded me of some of the drivers I had in war zones.”

AP team of cameraman Gianfranco Stara and photographer Gregorio Borgia shooting destroyed home of British family in Sommati. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 26, 2016

Over the years we have covered many major events and stories together.  The opening of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti’s trial on Mafia charges in Palermo, earthquakes in central Italy and the colorful career of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  We spent several days on a water taxi in Venice covering George Clooney’s wedding and we chased former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan through Rome’s Villa Borghese park until he stopped and gave us an interview.

Associated Press Cameraman Gianfranco Stara Digging into a plate of Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Photo by Paolo Santalucia

Whatever the story was, when we were traveling for work, Gianfranco took charge of finding the restaurant and making sure we had a good meal and a glass (or two) of wine.  Once back in the 90s after filing a story on Berlusconi in Naples, we headed to a seafood restaurant near Castel Dell’Ovo on the bay.  A group of colleagues joined us.  It was a hot day and he ordered a white wine (from the Campania region, always local wines when possible) that I had never tried before: a crisp, cold Greco di Tufo. Ah, I thought, now this is the way to cover the news.  To this day Greco di Tufo remains one of my favorite wines.

That is not the only thing about wine I learned from Gianfranco.  Another time with a group of colleagues at a trattoria in Rome he ordered a bottle of red.  When the waiter brought it over, Gianfranco took one sip and said authoritatively, “sa di tappo,” (it tastes of cork).   The waiter immediately removed the bottle and brought another.  I was astonished. If I had said that the waiter would have said, “you are drinking it anyway.”

Gianfranco Stara, Srdjan Nedeljkovic and Hakan Kaplan blowing a kiss to AP Television Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru at a restaurant in Giardini Naxos. May 25, 2017 – Photo by Trisha Thomas

In addition to a taste for wine, being of Sardinian origin, Gianfranco loves eating fish.  Once on assignment in Tunisia in 2005 for a conference we managed to get a sit-down interview with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.  That night we celebrated at a fish restaurant on the sea and, as always, Gianfranco ordered some big bony fish.  As an American, I really do not like getting served whole bony fish that needs to be cleaned, but he insisted on teaching me how to de-bone a fish by sliding off the skin and carefully removing the whole vertebral column.  I learned and grudgingly agreed to accept the whole bony fish experience.

Associated Press Television VJs and Cameramen in Taormina- Nic Dumitrache, Pietro De Cristofaro, Gianfranco Stara and Paolo Santalucia. Selfie by Paolo Santalucia, May 28, 2017

A few years later we spent time on the Italian island of Lampedusa covering boatloads of migrants arriving from North Africa. The arrivals often came overnight so in the day, much to Gianfranco’s pleasure, we had time for a sit-down lunch and dinner in the port.  Every night it was more bony fish. Then one night I got a fishbone stuck in my throat. Gianfranco, always Mr. Calm Cool and Collected, got agitated.  He pushed the breadbasket at me and told me to eat all of it.  He called the waiter and had him bring a banana and made me eat that.  Eventually, the bone went down my throat.  As I walked out of the restaurant, my stomach bloated with bread and banana, I turned to Gianfranco and said, “Basta pesci con ossa, da ora in poi solo pasta alle vongole per me!!”

It has been a great 30 years, Gianfranco, and wherever you go and whatever you do, I am sure you will have plenty more adventures accompanied by good food and wine.


  1. What an amazing and wonderful career. How fortunate that he was your cameraman. Thoroughly enjoyed your summary.
    Buona fortuna.

  2. That’s a wonderful summary of decades spent working with one of the truly great tv newshounds I also had the pleasure of calling a colleague.

  3. It is a pleasure to open my email and see one from you.
    This was an enjoyable read as always. Best of luck to your friend Gianfranco on his retirement.
    Your missives are missed.

  4. Trish,
    Love this great tale of time well spent with colleagues who become your family.
    Sharing moments no one else can touch.
    It is bittersweet when something like this ends.

  5. Great story Trisha — it really brings out a unique character! I enjoyed the photos too. You have a wonderful way of capturing people and experiences. So glad to have read this….

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