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Interviews, Rob the Mob
By  [From Cinephiled.com] New York City, 1991. Small-time crooks Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie have two things in common: a crazy-passionate love for each other and — after they’re caught robbing a florist on Valentine’s Day — prison records. Trying to go straight, Rosie lands a job at a debt-collection agency run by Dave Lovell (Griffin Dunne) and persuades Tommy to join her. But he he soon starts skipping shifts to do something much more interesting — attend the trial of Gambino-family boss John Gotti. Tommy’s fascination with the mob is personal: when he was a boy he saw his father suffer a brutal beating at the hands of local gangsters. When he hears about a Mafia-owned social club where no guns are permitted, he has an idea: Why not job the joint? And so begins a series of Bonnie-and-Clyde-style stickups of mob hangouts around the city, with Tommy wielding an Uzi and Rosie driving the beat-up getaway car. The brazen daylight raids infuriate crime-family boss Big Al Fiorello (Andy Garcia) and draw the attention of verteran mob reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano). The only question is who will get to the young couple first. Rob the Mob, based on a true story, also features Michael Rispoli, Frank Whaley, Cathy Moriarty and Burt Young. I recently sat down with Oscar-nominated director Raymond De Felitta. raymonddefelittoDanny Miller: What a fun movie! I was surprised by how much it made me miss the sleaziness of New York in the early 90s! Raymond De Felitta: It’s amazing what you can get nostalgic for, isn’t it? Yeah. And I also find it hard to believe that the 1990s already constitute “period!”   I know! I feel like I’m the same age as I was then! Turns out I’m much older. I’ve definitely noticed that you have to explain what the early 90s was like to so many younger people these days. What a great cast. I’ve always liked Michael Pitt but I was completely won over by Nina Arianda as Rosie. Michael was the very first person we sent the script to. I always loved him — he’s sort of reminiscent of the old Actors Studio types  — there’s an intensity in Michael that I find very charismatic. But for a long time we were stalled trying to find a girl. Our original financiers said that they loved Michael but that we needed a big name for the other lead. So you get the list and go through it — Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, all these people who are just not looking to do a movie like this! At some point, Bill Teitler, the producer, and I just decided we’d cut the budget and re-conceive the movie as one that would cost about half of what we had planned. That loosened up the casting restrictions. I knew Nina from Venus in Fur on Broadway (she won a Tony Award for that performance) and she’d been in a few movies likeMidnight in Paris. I thought she was fantastic on stage and was very happy when she agreed to do it. She loved the script. I have no idea what Arianda sounds like in real life but she seemed so natural in this role — not like she was “doing” an accent!  The thing she did that I think was so interesting is that she didn’t just do a generic “outer-borough girl.” She’s a very detailed actress and did a ton of research. She came in and did this whole monologue on how a girl from Queens talks and uses her hands — compared to a way a woman from the Bronx talks! I went, “My God, you’re right!” She could go from borough to borough. So she’s definitely not just doing an accent here, she really helped to build that character! Ripping Off The MobI had never heard of that real-life couple that the movie is based on — Thomas and Rosemarie Uva. How much did you have to stick to the facts of their story? Pretty much everything you see them going through actually happened. They were both drug addicts, they both got out of jail, they had a fresh start, they worked for that collection agency, all that stuff happened. But the stuff with the mob and the FBI was considerably more complicated and lengthy and in some ways not as interesting. I thought it was very important that all the main important facts of their lives be integrated into the story but we took some liberties. I always wanted the center of the story to be Tommy and Rosie. It’s just crazy all the amazing people you got to play the supporting parts — Ray Romano, Andy Garcia, Burt Young, Frank Whaley, and so on. I was especially delighted to see Cathy Moriarty as Tommy’s mom. She is amazing! She did all of her scenes in just a day and she just completely blew us out of the water. Here’s the thing: These people are all there in New York, that’s where they live, that’s where they want to work, and they want to do good things. It’s just a different attitude out there — they don’t get bogged down in big negotiations through their agents, they’re very open to a few good days of work in the city. That’s how you can get these amazing casts together in New York. And the “baggage” they bring to their roles is really fun. I really wanted iconic New York faces in this movie. I love that you see Michael interacting with his mother and flash to Raging Bull for a second. It’s okay to look at Burt Young and think “There’s Paulie!” These are actors who can’t deliver a false note! Did you have any reticence in making a movie about the mob? Any reticence I had was more about the fact that they’re hard to do well — I didn’t want to make another crap mob movie! Look, I’m Italian-American. I’ve made movies about people like my family members who were certainly not gangsters! I wasn’t necessarily motivated to contribute to the pile of literature out there on the mob — it was  more the Tommy-Rosie story that I was interested in and the fact that the mob guys you see in this movie are different than what we’re used to seeing. They’re these exhausted broken-down guys. I thought that was intriguing. Given some of the violence that surrounds the film, did you have discussions on how much actual gore to show? We never planned to show any murders in the movie except for what happens to Tommy and Rosie at the end. I don’t think I’m giving any big secret away there! But the closer we got to shooting that scene, the stronger I felt that the actual shoot-out on the street was not what I was going to focus on. robthemob2 Right, even the fact that they were called Bonnie and Clyde, I wondered if you were going to evoke the ending of that movie at all. Arthur Penn already did that scene beautifully, I sure wasn’t going to try to repeat it. I decided to go for something that was more emotional than violent. We never see them covered in blood. Does it ever make you nervous to touch on that world in a movie? Do you find yourself checking under your car at some point? (Laughs.) No, not at all! The the vibe I’ve always gotten is that they don’t seem to mind being dramatized. I mean, look how often it’s been done! And some of the guys from that world have actually become actors and have appeared in those movies! I think they find it flattering. I really loved the music throughout the film, from the opening credits on. I know you’re a musician — did you have a hand in choosing all of the songs? Yes, I did that myself, but I have to tell you, the person who picked the opening song was Steven Soderbergh! I showed him a cut of the movie and he liked it but he said he thought the opening could be better. He said, “If you just send me the footage, I’ll give you an idea of what I have in mind!” Because Soderbergh doesn’t have enough to do in his life, right — he also needs to edit my film on his day off! So he sent back the opening with the song “Groove Is in the Heart” and he had cut in some stock footage. I was like, “Oh, this is the movie! He nailed it!” Do you think it’s harder these days to get smaller movies like this off the ground? It was always hard. Every year you hear people talking about how impossible it’s getting but the truth is it’s always been an uphill battle. And yet many films like this still get made. It’s all about trusting that you can do it and getting people who are willing to work for not a lot of money. Unfortunately that usually means there’s just not a lot of money to be had in doing this kind of work anymore, but that’s what tends to happen in the arts. Hell — people used to make a living playing jazz! Or writing — Or writing, for sure! Now you’re supposed to write for free. And be glad someone is giving you the space! What’s next on your docket? I’m doing a comedy I wrote called Married and Cheating. And I’m shooting a documentary about Burt Young! He’s such an interesting cat — an actor, a painter, an ex-boxer. He’s got a lot going on and we’ve just been shooting him as much as we can.  
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Interviews, Rob the Mob
When it comes to New York City filmmakers, you have your Woody Allens and your Spike Lees and Martin Scorseses, but in recent years, a new breed of filmmakers has emerged trying to tell some of the other 8 million stories set in the city. Granted, filmmaker Raymond De Felitta is not exactly a young new face, having made his first short back in 1990, but with his last movie City Island and his most recent one, Rob the Mob, he has painted two very specific portraits of New York City and its people that makes him a filmmaker that really understands how to translate that onto the big screen. Rob the Mob stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as young married couple Tommy and Marie Uva, who after being released from prison on two-bit crimes get the idea to use the crime family’s problems during the John Gotti trial to rob their local hang-outs. They get away with a number of these robberies until they get their hands on an important list that finally gets the attention of the local mob boss, played by Andy Garcia. ComingSoon.net spoke with De Felitta over the phone a few weeks back about making a movie set in a very specific period of New York City history and adapting a true story into what ends up being a very funny and entertaining film. ComingSoon.net: I’m pretty familiar with your previous films. I first heard about this movie and heard Andy was playing a gangster in it, and all I could think about was that audition he did in “City Island,” though this was a very different type of role for him. What made you want to make a movie about this particular story, especially after “City Island,” which I think was a more personal story than I’d imagined? Raymond De Felitta: It’s funny because this came to me. First of all, it’s someone else’s script, Jonathan Fernandez’s script, and I usually write my own scripts, but when it was sent to me, I’d just made “City Island.” I was sort of looking to get attached to something that I hadn’t written just because writing gets increasingly hard for me and slow the more I do it, somehow. I thought it would be good to find something. There was really nothing out there. I would just get sent these sort of sexy rom-com things, and I was like, “Is that really how far people can see me?” I love true crime and Bill Teitler sent me the script. I really liked it, because it converged on a few different things that I like. It’s a New York story, it is is true crime, which I thought would be an exciting genre to work in. I really felt more at home with the fact that it was about two people and a love story and an offbeat and bizarre one, one that wasn’t clearly normal, rational or understandable, even. It kind of intersected all these different things, and it was an opportunity to work and to develop it further. It wasn’t specifically the script that you saw on screen that I originally read, but Jonathan was very open to working with me on it. I also sort of felt in a way, I would’ve never have said that I was going to sign up to go make a mob movie because you’re not going to win. The best ones have been done. The ones that aren’t the best, the ones that aren’t “Goodfellas” or “Casino” or “The Godfather” are probably some of the worst movies ever made, so it’s kind of a losing game. But I didn’t really see this as a mob movie, because when I read it I thought, “Well, this is so weird. The mob are the victims.” They’re not the mob as you’ve seen them portrayed. They’re like this kind of weird, exhausted, barely functional thing sitting in their little clubs. I thought that there was something sort of sad and even kind of humane about that. Really the approach to the whole movie from the beginning was let’s take material that you potentially could say you’ve seen before, and let’s always turn it on its head. Let’s never be satisfied with doing something that you’ve seen in that genre before. With Andy, I got the idea of asking Andy to be the boss, and he and I sat and started talking about, “Well, who’s a boss we’ve never met?” What we eventually came to was the idea of a character who we didn’t know him as the boss. In fact, you only really know him in one scene as the boss, when he goes to the club finally – you know him as like a grandfather. You know him as this sad, aging man, kind of an Italian-American foodie in his kitchen with his grandson. I loved that idea because again, we don’t even see him as a threatening presence until that one moment when he finally blows with Rispoli and tells him to go get the list. So again, all those things were ways that I guess of saying that I thought this would be great to do only if there was a way it could always be twisted or turned in an interesting and different way. CS: You do have romance in this with the relationship between Tommy and Rosie, which plays a big part in the movie, and there’s also a lot of humor, so there’s more than just a crime story here. In a way “Goodfellas” was also a funny movie even though it’s considered a serious crime movie. De Felitta: It is, because it’s not played sort of funny. I mean, it’s just the truth. It’s who they are. That’s what I always think. Those are my favorite comedies, are the ones that aren’t comedies. That was always the thing with this. I always thought, this will be funny if you’ve seen the tragicomedy of it, like the guys who are going to hold up the club. You’re actually going to root for Tommy, because you can’t believe he’s going to do it, but it can’t be done as a joke. It’s got to be done as a straight scene. Then, what Michael did, which gave it its truth, which is I think what makes it funny, is he went like, “Well, who would this guy be? He’d be a guy who has the brains to think up this bizarre idea and to get an Uzi, and he doesn’t know how to work an Uzi.” So when he did that. He said “What if I do this, like I can’t stop firing it?” it killed me. I was like, “That’ll be funny because of course he wouldn’t know how to do it.” It’s like he doesn’t have the patience to do anything, certainly not learn to use an Uzi. So yeah, but as you can tell this is a funny movie, because they’re playing it for real. CS: It’s interesting to see Michael doing that sort of comedy or any kind of humor, because I think we’ve mainly seen him in darker stuff. De Felitta: I think what happens so quickly is that if somebody’s great at something, people just want them to be great at that. Early on, Michael was just a great, brooding young brooder. It was in the fashion ads, it’s in the Gus Van Sant movie, but he’s got a lot of colors. He was the first person that we ever sent the script to for Tommy, and he got it right away. He always thought that there was some humanity and a goofy charm about Tommy that he got that he wanted to tap into. He also said an interesting thing before we got to Nina, which is partly why we decided to go to someone like Nina. He would say to me, “The girl is as important if not more important than me, because if you don’t buy the two of them, the movie is not going to have any real core.” I think that is really right. You gotta believe their story and the two of them for the movie to have size, so we were always looking for an actress of real chops who was going to bring something really big to it. CS: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Nina in many things over the years, but I think a lot of people when they walk out of the movie are talking about her. De Felitta: Yeah, I’m glad. I do hear that from lots of people and I’m really happy about it, too, because she brought so much and she’s so unusually funny and energized and dark. She’s really a powerful actor. There’s so much research and so much craft that goes into it. Yeah, I think she’s just a major, major actress. CS: Not sure if I mentioned this earlier but when Andy first appeared on screen with the gray beard, I didn’t know it was him, because it’s such a different look for him. De Felitta: You know who he kind of partly used as a model for that whole look? Francis Coppola. He was saying, “Francis used to be the baggy, long hair, Northern Cal overweight film geek. Now, it’s all about tailored vintage suits and classical hats and his beard is really carefully kept.” I loved that. He said, “I kinda want to do a little bit of what Francis looks right now.” I thought that was very cool. CS: Obviously, you’ve lived in New York a long time, and you must’ve been around in ’92 when this happened so were you aware of this story? (SPOILER WARNING: The end of this paragraph and the next question/response may spoil the movie if you don’t know the original story on which it’s based.) De Felitta: Strangely enough, I wasn’t, and that was one of the things that I actually really like about the script when I got it. Sometimes, you hear about a true crime story that’s going to be great. Well, the truth is if everyone already knows the story, it’s harder to tell it. Sometimes, when these stories are less known and they’re more like blips on the crime scene, in a way, they become more poignant. The example I always use is “Dog Day Afternoon,” because that crime that was on TV for five minutes, but the movie will be remembered forever because it took something that, like I say, was a blip, but it really showed the scope of “How do people get involved in crime? What’s the extent that people will go to? What are the reasons for it? Why will Sonny rob a bank in Brooklyn to finance his boyfriend’s sex change?” You know, because that’s what humans do. We want to love each other, support each other, and we get into desperate situations. We think of ways we can somehow turn the earth our direction when we can’t otherwise. So in a way, the fact that you don’t really know much about that makes “Dog Day Afternoon” even more impactful. When I got sent this and I didn’t know the story, I thought, “Wow, it’s kind of major because it really wasn’t that major.” (REPEAT! SPOILER WARNING!) It came and went, but it was a huge story for Tommy, Rosie, and for the mob at that moment in their history and it completely f**ked with them. Yet, at the end of the day, it was two guys who did something stupid and they got shot in the end by the mob. CS: What kind of research were you able to do considering that the two main characters on who this was based were already dead? De Felitta: You know, this story was pretty well laid out, because by the time they were killed, there had been enough newspaper articles about it and there was enough coverage. There’s a whole other piece of the story that isn’t in the film, which is after they died, there was all this arguing between families as to who got the credit for the hit. That wound up turning into a war within the families. Originally, that was in the script, but the truth is, the movie is done – it’s Tommy and Rosie’s story, not the mob’s. So I never wanted to go there. I just felt like this is done when they’re killed. But the fact is that there was coverage of it out there. For those who are deeply interested in mafia stuff, you can find it. It was there. CS: I’m sure a lot of the attention was still on the Gotti trial, too. De Felitta: Well, yeah, exactly, which was also part of Tommy’s whole plan, and it’s like, do they need more trouble? They’ve got Gotti on trial. They’re not going to f**k with us. CS: As someone who has lived in New York for 25 years, I was curious about recreating New York in 1992. Were there any particular challenges as far as doing that? It hasn’t changed that much, but I’m sure things must have come up, like having smartphones everywhere. De Felitta: Well, actually, yeah, there’s more than you think largely because of the phones. It’s like if you shoot on the street, it’ll just be the cars. Now it’s like I can clear some cars, I can’t clear others. But now, people are like looking at that thing and using their fingers on their phone, and before you know it, you don’t even notice it anymore. We don’t think of that as non-period behavior. It’s hard just to find phone booths. There aren’t very many. We didn’t have a lot of money to do this, so we were always looking for streets that didn’t look… I mean, we were on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. I mean, that really hasn’t changed since longer than 20 years, but that sai, what we did was carry a whole bunch of trash bags and graffiti paint and we’d dirty anything up that looked too clean, because New York just looked really different then. It was in the texture of it, though. The buildings are the same. They were just ill kept and neighborhoods just didn’t have nearly the amounts of prams and Starbucks and lattes and all that. None of that was there. Subways looked really different because the subways were all old cars and all graffiti. I mean, there’s still a couple of lines that still have old cars, but yeah, they don’t have any graffiti. CS: So when looking at the script, do you have to find ways to avoid the subway? Because you did shoot in the subway for a couple scenes. De Felitta: Yeah, I actually did want to shoot in the subway. There’s subway stuff that’s in there that’s stock footage, but yeah, it’s hard, you know? It’s like, you want to go and do this stuff. You want the scope. You want to be able to do it and it’s all about time and money and that’s the stuff there’s never enough of when you make a film this size, and this isn’t even nearly as cheap as people are making films now. As independent films go, this is a sizeable budget, but it’s still only five, five-and-a-half weeks of time to shoot, and that’s a lot of script for us to get in five-and-a-half weeks. CS: Most of the made guys at the bar are character actors we’ve seen before in other movies and television shows, so was it hard avoiding so many familiar faces while casting those roles? De Felitta: Well, I kind of wanted a mix. It wasn’t so much that you can’t avoid it. I wanted faces that didn’t just look like your standard lineup of, you know, “Here are the mob guys or here are the extras who were in ‘The Sopranos.’” But I also wanted actors who would make you think of other New York crime movies, so that for a second with Michael Rispoli and suddenly, yeah, you’re in “The Sopranos” for a minute or here’s Burt Young and I’m in “Once Upon a Time in America” for a minute. Here’s Cathy (Moriarty) and I’m in “Raging Bull.” I just liked that idea as making a kind of iconography of New York film as well as telling a New York story. CS: By the way, was there an actual list? Was that something that was really part of this story that they found a list of all the members of the family? De Felitta: Yeah, they got something that wound up in the FBI’s hands. The big thing they got, which we couldn’t dramatize, which in a sense the list stood in for was the fact that the mob had on tape argued about who got the hit. That’s what put a bunch of these guys away. One of the things he did was craft the list into standing in for that, because the important thing I felt wasn’t exactly what the information was. It was more did Tommy and Rosie actually do something that went to something much larger than what they thought they were doing, which they did. They had no idea they were going to help the put guys away, and they never found out, either. This is what happens when you adapt nonfiction into fiction. It’s like you want the essence of the story to be there. You don’t want to violate the reality of the main character’s stories. Sometimes, in the story around it, you kind of need to craft and simplify or kind of make shapely something that’s more unwieldy in reality. Look, we’re not making a documentary. We’re not writing a news magazine piece. We’re trying to take reality and a true story and honor its reality while making art out of it that satisfies people who are actually looking at it for two hours of entertainment, not two hours of documentary–not that documentaries aren’t entertaining. CS: So what’s next for you? As someone who usually writes their own material, do you have other scripts you’ve been developing before making “Rob the Mob”? De Felitta: Yeah, I have a movie that I’ve been trying to make since before “Rob the Mob” actually, which I’m hoping we’re going to do this summer called “Married and Cheating,” which is a comedy that I wrote a few years ago, back when I was married and cheating. CS: I think I remember you mentioned that when we talked about “Booker’s Place.” De Felitta: Yeah, so there’s that. I’ve been developing a series for TV. I haven’t had one bought yet, but I’ve been working with Warner Brothers Television on a few different things and I’m very eager to get into that, because I feel like what I do… Listen, movies aren’t going to go away no matter what people say, but it’s getting longer in between and harder and cheaper and I’m getting older. What I do I feel is maybe better served in branching out into storytelling where I can do 12 hours about Tommy and Rosie and their world, because I would love to do that. I’d love to spend a lot more time with people like that and a story like this so that’s also where my interest is turning in the coming year. CS: Have you actually directed for television? De Felitta: No, I’ve created three pilots, but I’ve not ever directed for television. I once trailed a director on a show, because I thought that, all right, it was something I could get into. I didn’t last the first week. I slithered away because I just thought, “This isn’t directing as I know it,” because you’re serving the writer, producers, and I think that’s just how it has to work, and you’re not really free to create much. You’re also working with actors who already have what they’re going to do down. It just didn’t really speak to me, but what I did notice from it was that I was like, “If I do this, I’d really like to be the creator or the producer of it,” because that’s really the person who’s the auteur of making television. I know a lot of guys do that for money, but I’ve usually written for money between films, not directed. (Photo Credit: Johnny Louis / WENN.com)
 
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Rob the Mob
[From The New Yorker] Do you remember “Babette’s Feast” in Denmark and “Like Water for Chocolate” in Mexico and that “Big Night” on the Jersey Shore? Of course you do. Who could forget the caille en sarcophage avec sauce périgourdine that melts the resolve of all those God-besotted, pleasure-abjuring Jutland villagers, or the kitchen magic with which Tita makes a hundred compadres weep for lost love at the wedding that should have been hers, or the big, beautiful timballo that Primo serves on the night before his Paradise restaurant has to close. Movies have been making metaphors of food since Charlie Chaplin ate his shoe in “The Gold Rush.” But how do you make a metaphor like that for a Mafia don? Forget the party that Vito Corleone threw for his daughter’s wedding, in “The Godfather,” or, for that matter, Carmela’s kitchen lessons for her infatuated parish priest, in “The Sopranos.” Those were arrivista fantasies. For meaning like Chaplin’s—meaning in a few bites—the movie to see is the wonderful indie “Rob the Mob,” now playing at the Angelika, and the bites to watch for are the ragu-stuffed, bread-crumb-coated, and deep-fried balls of saffron risotto known to Sicilians as arancini (as in “little oranges,” which is what they look like if you stick an orange twig with a leaf on it in them). “Rob the Mob” is a crime caper based on an arguably less amusing, and, until now, mainly forgotten true story from the early nineties. A young crook named Tommy Uva, fresh from jail for robbing a flower shop in the Bronx, starts slipping into the back benches at the John Gotti trial, and hears a weary hit man testify about the “social clubs” where the Mafia’s aging lieutenants hang out, like Chelsea pensioners, drinking and playing cards. When the mobster mentions their honor-among-thieves agreement—no one will enter any of those clubs armed—Tommy’s small but actually quite genial brain starts working. In no time, he acquires an Uzi, starts holding up those clubs, and makes a bundle. His girlfriend, Rosie, drives the getaway car. You have to love Tommy and Rosie, at least the celluloid pair—Michael Pitt, of “Boardwalk Empire,” and Nina Arianda, the Venus of “Venus in Fur.” They’ve had rum lives, but they’re lovebirds now, working for a debt collector—not the Mob kind—building a nest, and saving to get married. Rosie buys bed-linen sets, and Tommy uses the pillowcases to carry away fancy watches and fat wallets, which pile up on the floor of every social club the minute he fires a warning salvo at the ceiling and the Uzi (not the easiest weapon to control) starts jumping in his hand. For a year, it seems like a pretty good way to earn a living. The crooks robbed by Tommy and Rosie are unlikely to dial 911, and the press treats the pair like a latter-day Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Then, emptying a pillowcase one night, Tommy discovers a curious list in one of the wallets. It turns out to be a chart of the hierarchy within the Mafia family they have spent their time humiliating—from the extortionists and enforcers to the hit men and neighborhood bosses to the heretofore unassailable don himself. The don in this case is Big Al—a man, as Andy Garcia plays him, of decorous menace, who rules his turf under the cover of a gleaming Brooklyn deli, and whose particular passion is making arancini. “What we did was eat and observe,” Raymond De Felitta, who directed the movie, said. “We shot it in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. We did a lot of scouting. We were in the van all day, and we saw that every neighborhood we used, or even drove through, had an Italian deli. I said to Bill”—Bill Teitler, the producer—“ ‘That’s the sense of neighborhood I want.’ We all gained weight!” “Rob the Mob” is De Felitta’s first Mafia movie; the movies he made before had names like “Two Family House” and “City Island” and “Bronx Cheers.” (The last, a short, was his film-school thesis and an Oscar nominee.) But he had worked with actors from “The Sopranos.” Two of them, Michael Rispoli and Joseph R. Gannascoli, are in “Rob the Mob,” along with a few he describes as “guys who were once ‘the neighbors’—who’d grown up in Mob neighborhoods, and shopped at delis like Big Al’s, and ‘reinvented’ themselves when the acting bug bit.” De Felitta himself lives on the Upper East Side, and gets his Italy fixes around the corner from his apartment, at Salumeria Rosi. But his grandfather, Pasquale de Felitta, came from Naples, where everyone is a kitchen connoisseur, and his father, Frank, in Los Angeles—he wrote the famous thriller “Audrey Rose”—is a home cook of such local renown that the Los Angeles Times called one of his parties a culinary “event.” “My father was cooking pasta when it wasn’t yet pasta, it was spaghetti,” De Felitta said. You can see why he gained weight, scouting Italian delis. “We knew that most Mafia dons are hidden behind other kinds of businesses—look at Tony Soprano—but a deli seemed right for Andy Garcia,” he said. “We developed Big Al for him, and we wanted something, well, delicate–something different, a kind of gravitas and measure that set him apart from his men, hanging out in those dark, dusty clubs. We found a mansion on the water in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, for him to live in. We gave him a beautiful home kitchen, with a big table for putting together his arancini. We made him the guy who had gone from a food truck to that table.” Garcia uses his arancini to riveting effect, crafting a character as rich and complicated as the recipe. His rice balls can be menacing—arancini deployed to enforce respect, obedience, and more than a little fear and trembling—or tender. Consider this scene: Big Al is in the kitchen with his grandson, who has come to visit him. The boy is a quiet, serious kid, and he watches intently as Big Al demonstrates the artistry, diligence, and perseverance involved in making those intricate little balls, all the while delivering a monologue on a different kind of respect: the self-respect that comes from a job well done. This time, it’s rice balls deployed to turn Big Al into Exemplary Al, for his grandson and for himself. De Felitta doesn’t really like arancini. “We made arancini on the set, and I wasn’t mad for them,” he said. “I’m more of a mortadella man. I don’t know why people are terrified of mortadella. It’s the ‘real bologna,’ the caviar of bologna.” Still, you couldn’t turn mortadella into a metaphor for Big Al. The recipe may be just as long and just as complicated as arancini’s, but mortadella comes from Emilia-Romagna, while arancini are as Sicilian as the Mafia family that, in fact, produced Big Al. (It’s worth noting that when old Neapolitan families like De Felitta’s made rice balls, they called them palle di riso, as if to say, nothing special.) De Felitta himself is pitching a new movie he hopes to make—“Married and Cheating”—and he doesn’t have much time for cooking. “When I do cook, I make a Sunday sauce, and it’s an all-day affair,” he said. “I begin in the morning with the ribs and sausages. I add carrots, onions, and red wine, and watch it percolate for hours.” Not a metaphor. Not a movie. Dinner.
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Booker's Place, Interviews
“BOOKER’S PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY”: Director Reports a ‘Chilly Silence’ About Film From Some Greenwood Residents [From Channelnonfiction.com] In 1965, Frank De Felitta traveled to Greenwood, Miss., to shoot the NBC documentary “MISSISSIPPI: A SELF PORTRAIT.” The murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 just outside Philadelphia, Miss., as well as other race-related crimes led to the film project. De Felitta’s plan was to talk to the white community looking for potential for self-examination and progress. De Felitta interviewed the mayor and other prominent whites in the community, all of whom spoke kindly of “coloreds.” “Every Mississippian talked about how much they loved their blacks,” said De Felitta years later reflecting on the making of the documentary. “That’d be the first thing they’d say. Black people raised me. I had a white mother but I had a black mother too. She raised me. They were always trying to put that across, how they treated them like family, beloved people. But then they didn’t act that way to them.” No blacks were to appear in the film, but one of De Felitta’s associates heard about a waiter and black business owner named Booker Wright. Wright was willing to be in the film reciting a spoken-word menu, just like he did every night at the popular Greenwood restaurant, Lusco’s. His recitation had a melodic ring to it. De Felitta didn’t know how he’d use the footage, but he decided to go ahead and film it. But Wright kept talking. He revealed that some whites he served were vicious to him because he was black and this was very painful and humiliating for him. After shooting the interview, De Felitta cautioned Wright about it, making sure he wanted to be recorded saying these things. Wright assured him to go ahead with it. “The time has come, don’t you understand?” Wright told De Felitta. Not long after the film was broadcast in the South on NBC, Wright was badly beaten (a policeman committed the crime), and the restaurant he owned was destroyed and lit on fire. De Felitta tried to visit him in the hospital but Wright didn’t want him to come. A still of Booker Wright pulled from the 1966 NBC documentary film "Mississippi: A Self Portrait." That wasn’t the end of the story. Six years later, Wright was murdered while working at his place of business, Booker’s Place. De Felitta didn’t learn of the crime until more than 40 years later when his son, Raymond, also a filmmaker, told him in 2011. Raymond heard about the murder not long after he posted his father’s footage of Wright on YouTube. Wright’s granddaughter, Yvette Johnson, who had never met her grandfather, but thought of him as a kind of “accidental activist,” found it and watched it. Johnson and Raymond De Felitta soon got in touch with each other and she revealed that her grandfather had died in the hospital after being blasted in the stomach with a shotgun. At the suggestion of De Felitta’s producing partner David Zellerford, Johnson and De Felitta took a trip to Greenwood, Miss., to find out if residents remember Wright and his infamous interview for NBC, and to see if they can learn anything about the circumstances of his murder. Raymond said at first he expected to make a short documentary about the trip, but it became feature-length project once they started to learn more about the case. (Watch a trailer for the film. The story continues below, followed by an interview with Raymond De Felitta). “BOOKER’S PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY” is a rich, fascinating, black-and-white film, artfully crafted and coupled with a poignant soundtrack by David Cieri. It creates a vivid sense of history on screen, one that shows what life was like for blacks and whites in Greenwood, Miss., circa the 1960s. The film also tells the story of a proud granddaughter learning about her grandfather’s truly heroic act. And the documentary demonstrates how the De Felittas as filmmakers are skilled at facing troubling and potentially dangerous situations, which has resulted in significant light being shed on some of the darkest recesses of American history. Channel Nonfiction interviewed Raymond De Felitta about “BOOKER’S PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY.” De Felitta said he found residents of Greenwood open and cooperative while making the film, but since its release he felt there has been a somewhat “chilly silence” type of a response to it, in addition to a few angry editorials in the local newspaper. “BOOKER’S PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY” is available streaming on Netflix. It’s also available to rent or download here. An interview with Raymond De Felitta, director of “BOOKER’s PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY.” Channel Nonfiction: I went to school at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) so I’m familiar with Greenwood. You captured it. You really did. And it’s not easy to capture Mississippi. So congratulations. Raymond De Felitta: Thank you. It’s a fascinating place, it was quite a journey being there on and off so much that year. Yeah, I didn’t know the South really at all until I went to do that. Channel Nonfiction: What was your goal in making “BOOKER’S PLACE?” Raymond De Felitta: Well, the way the film came together was really unusual so it didn’t actually start out with a goal. I posted a bunch of documentaries that my father made for NBC in the 60s on my blog and one of them was his film “Mississippi: A Self Portrait.” And that attracted the attention of Boker’s granddaughter Yvette who is in the movie. She got in touch with my producing partner David Zellerford, who saw that this could be an interesting opportunity. She had never seen any of the film. I mean I guess we explain all of this in the movie. But the general feeling at the beginning was I thought ‘Well this might make a really interesting short documentary of me going to Mississippi with her and trying to find out a little bit about her grandfather,’ because it was just so unusual that my father and her grandfather had this thing in common, this moment. So it was really … and I’ve made two documentaries and I’m making a third now, I’ve tended to begin these things without a really clear goal as to where I’m going. And for me that’s what’s exciting because I also make dramas, non-documentary films, to me what’s exciting about documentaries is that you’re filming and you’re exploring at the same time and the journey becomes the film. So I didn’t have a specific goal. I was hoping to go there and learn along with her and gradually the story not just Booker but of that part of the world, and how it is now, and how it is then, becomes the focus. Channel Nonfiction: You had never been to Mississippi even though you’d had seen you’re Dad’s film “Mississippi: A Self Portrait”? Raymond De Felitta: Yeah, no I had never been. All I knew about the South was Florida and Texas and that’s not a nuanced version of the South, you have to go to Alabama, Mississippi and places like that to really understand the heart and soul of the place. Channel Nonficiton: So you were down in Mississippi for a full year? Raymond De Felitta: No, within a year we came and went four or five times. It was always with a couple months in between, so it began to feel like a base I kept returning to and understanding better. It was almost like another community had entered my life two years ago when we did it. Channel Nonfiction: Did you experience any resistance from the residents, white or black, when you went to talk to them about Booker? Raymond De Felitta: No, not really. They were very open and cordial. Those who knew the story thought it was very interesting we had crossed paths, vis-à-vis my father many years ago. It’s a strange place and a strange story, because on the one hand it’s evolved in a lot of ways that are obvious and they really do want to talk about their history and who they are and who they were. And yet on the other hand, there is still the essential division. It’s very bifurcated. The blacks still don’t believe really anything has changed on some level and people want things to change but they’re also wary of being characterized by outsiders. So there was a dissonance I would say ultimately. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure that too many of the people in Greenwood, the white people who participated, really liked the film. So it made me feel like, because I didn’t think it was an unfair look them at all, they may not really be as progressive or open to self-examination as they hoped to be. Channel Nonfiction: You’re saying once they saw the finished film they didn’t necessarily like it? Raymond De Felitta: Well I know several people who definitely didn’t like it. But I also sort of felt I’d get more response from the participants just in terms of how much time I spent with them and how important I thought their story was and it was kind of a chilly silence I would say. Especially after the Dateline NBC airing the documentary. Channel Nonfiction: Did they air entire documentary or did they just do a story on it? Raymond De Felitta: Dateline did a one-hour story on it. They didn’t air my film. They did a story of me and Yvette going there and a story of Booker. They kind of made their own documentary. Channel Nonfiction: My impression, I was there from 1997 to 2000, and it’s a tough … Mississippi it’s like history has frozen itself in a lot of places there and that’s what makes it so interesting. Channel Nonfiction: So it was sort of a chilly silence, you didn’t hear that much from people that you worked with in the film. Did you hear from the judge with the gold teeth (Judge Gray Evans)? Raymond De Felitta: You know he passed away. So I’m not sure he saw the film. But I did get a really nice communication from I believe his granddaughter. And it felt to me that she wouldn’t have bothered to communicate if they hadn’t like it or believed in what we did with the film. That Gray Evans, that judge, he was a notable progressive and very outspoken, and a guy really from Alabama, so he really came from the heart of that whole time and place and era. So he was a fascinating guy and gave a pretty amazing interview. He, and this is to me the essence of documentary making, he turned the key on the story when he let it, on camera suddenly, let it out that the cop had beaten up Booker, because that was not planned and we didn’t know that. But in the middle of his interview he talked about the beating that my father had heard Booker took. And you know Judge Evans named him, he said “Curtis Underwood, Curtis” beat him up and they didn’t press charges. I mean I remember that night after the interview I turned to my producer and I was like, ‘Let’s look at that interview again.’ You’re sitting for hours interviewing people sometimes you’re not really hearing everything they are saying. But it occurred to me later that I think he said something crazy that’s like really important that we should watch. And we re-watched the interview and that led us to start scratching the surface of what the police were about in Greenwood at that time. And that led to the whole portion of the film where we started talking to people who remembered the most terrifying white policeman, how they treated black people, so the film started to grow then in that direction. So this is really a police state well through the 1960s by no means … brotherhood didn’t descend on Mississippi all because of some marches, it’s still a police state. Those guys like Curtis Underwood, and there were some others, I don’t mean to keep naming him alone. There is still fear. Those names are still known down there. That’s the thing that I really came away from knowing the community, yeah know I would mention those names to black people and they would kind of just roll their eyes. And be like ‘Yeah I remember him really well.’ They lived in fear of him. So that was really the turning point of the film as we were doing it was when the judge did go there with us and we said ‘Oh, that’s a place we have to follow.’ Channel Nonfiction: You obviously ended up investigating sort of a civil rights possibly related murder, and that’s not an easy thing to do. One of the key moments was that information. Did you then take a number of steps and put a lot of work into investigating the case? Raymond De Felitta: Yes, we tried, unfortunately there’s really not much left to investigate. Booker’s death in the hospital was just ruled natural because of the gunshot because infection set in. There was no investigation, no coroner’s report. The follow up of the trial – that trial, in which (Lloyd Cork) was put away for murder – lasted two days. I mean a murder trial that lasts two days, that’s astonishing. There’s no paper trail. It was open and shut. It was done very quickly and they locked that guy up for life. As I point out in the movie they didn’t plead it out, which would have typically been the way to do it and he’s not come up for parole so you know they shut that guy away. Now, one of the things, and I’m happy to discuss this, because I’ve been criticized for it too, because we didn’t have really our own case to make some people have said, ‘Well it’s unfair for us to have even inferred any of this stuff.’ Because if you’re going to do that, I guess some people feel that is bordering on stories that shouldn’t be told by innuendo and I you know there is a lot innuendo in the last part of that film. But that doesn’t feel to me that that’s off limits when you’re dealing with a subject like this. I felt that it was important to raise the questions. I can’t answer them. I don’t believe anybody is going to be able to answer them ever. But there’s certainly enough questions to be raised and in so doing it wasn’t that I was looking to solve a crime. I was basically kind of looking at that part of the film as to say look at how this place functions. Look at what the impact was on this man and look at the history wrapped inside of an enigma that the Civil Rights Era truly was. So for some people that works and they got it. For some other people, there was a couple angry editorials in the Greenwood paper saying I crossed a line. You see this goes to what you’re doing making a documentary film. I don’t think you’re making a piece of journalism. I think that a documentary film exists on a slightly different and perhaps more ambivalent plane of nonfiction. If I were a journalist, I would be writing it or I’d be making a magazine piece, a news magazine piece. But a documentary to me is as much about fact as it’s also about the impressions of the filmmaker exploring that fact, at least the best documentaries are to me. The ones that I am interested in are not strictly factual. They are also about the filmmaker and the filmmaker’s interest in the subject and the filmmaker’s journey. So to me that is not only valid but actually a really important piece of the documentary and was certainly my interest as we we’re exploring it because we stumbled across a very mysterious murder and that’s not what we thought we were going to investigate when we started the whole process. Channel Nonfiction: Well I was sort of surprised by it at first, but on second watch I noticed that you really had investigated … really you found the offender’s mother … there was quite a bit of evidence in there as well as implication. And also you were honest about not knowing. But I think to not have addressed it would be to do what people always do. Raymond De Felitta: Well exactly, that’s a very good way to think of it. I mean yeah then it’s just yet another silenced part of that history. In a similar way, when my father, when we interviewed him, and he was struggling with, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I have shown this clip of Booker on national TV that got him into so much trouble?’ Yvette, the granddaughter’s opinion was, if your father hadn’t done it he would have been to doing what everybody did to Booker for his whole life. He would have been silenced again. So yeah I agree. This tale was shut down the minute it happened and the guy was locked up and everybody said ‘Poor Booker he was just the victim of a random shooting,’ but they didn’t really know the story of harassment and tension and the level of dislike that the white authority had for the outspoken black. Channel Nonfiction: One thing I wasn’t clear about was when Booker was shot versus when your father made his film? Raymond De Felitta: He was shot about six year later. Channel Nonfiction: And then also you had to think that Booker pistol whipped this guy and you put that in there too, so there was still a real conflict to chew on, no? Raymond De Felitta: Oh yeah. Like I say, there is no definitive story we’re ever going to really get out of it. Channel Nonfiction: To switch gears, obviously there is a mood about the film, and its shot in black and white, and the music is awesome and you’re a jazz composer. Why did you chose black and white? Raymond De Felitta: The music is all by David Cieri, whose a really talented jazz and I would actually classify him as more third-stream composer. And that was a wonderful accident. He was friend of the editor (George Gross) and the editor just brought me this CD and said, ‘I don’t know why this music feels like our movie.’ It’s always for me like a really magical moment in filmmaking where you put a piece of music against the film and when it works suddenly the movie just takes off to another place. So David’s music became kind of integrated from the minute we were editing. In terms of black and white, I just found when we got down there, the DP (director of photographer) Joe Victorine and I were talking about how do we look at this in an interesting way. Because Mississippi you can’t make a bad shot there, even the ugly stuff is beautiful, it’s just so atmospheric and so what it is, and the beautiful stuff is very beautiful. We just sort of started feeling let’s not make this just … again it’s not just documentary, it’s impressions and the time period that we were talking about. And also the fact that my father’s film is in black-and-white led us to just one day turn off the color on the camera. We were technically shooting in color but once we did we just had that kind of moment of going, ‘Oh this is a real noir look,’ and this becomes a kind of film noir documentary. And then you know once you kind of felt the style with the wide angle lenses and driving around the roads and the movie developed a visual attitude if you will while we were shooting it. Channel Nonfiction: It’s beautiful. The roads are something that I feel is key to understanding the flavor down there. I really enjoyed your shots of the roads. Raymond De Felitta: Yeah I know. Mississippi is just evocative of so much of its own life and history, like I said, I would look in certain directions and go this is exactly what it looked like in 18 whatever or earlier. It is truly a place of ghosts. Channel Nonfiction: Have you been back since, do you have any plans to visit in the future? Raymond De Felitta: I wanted to do a screening at that bridge group, you know that group that I filmed and we discussed race. And I’m not sure what happened. Again I feel like it may have fallen into the sort of ambivalent response that the film got from the residents. They were a lot more interested in the film before they saw it, if you know what I mean. I feel like there must have been some divisiveness in the group about it. Because you can interpret certain things, like, for instance, the woman at the end, the white lady, who in sense defends the white Citizen Council in my father’s film and she says they were good people and we’re stuck in a certain time. A lot of people have seen the film and said, ‘Oh my god, that woman it’s so horrible what she said.’ And I always think, ‘Well no I like her for saying that, because she’s putting a human face on the whole tragedy.’ Whatever you think of what their attitudes were, they were humans. They grew up a certain way, and had a certain life, and as she said they were doing the best that they could. It’s possible that some of the Southerners who have seen the film thought that I was trying to show them as backwards and I really wasn’t. I felt they were honest … again it’s hard to paint a subtle portrait of the subject. And to me things like that were subtle and interesting. But sometimes people just don’t even want to hear it. They just want to know one simple thing: are you racist or not? And it’s more complicated than that because the truth was everybody was racist. That’s how they grew up. That wonderful old governor William Winter, to me he was so brave because I asked him, ‘You ran as a segregationist,’ and he said, ‘Well we were all segregationists, that’s what we thought everyone wanted. That’s what we thought black people wanted to.’ And he had that great line: ‘We finally realized we were defending the indefensible.’ To me he was really the most articulate purveyor of the fact that the tragedy was a lot of them didn’t know it was wrong. They just grew up knowing how their world worked. And the rest of white America was suddenly descending upon them saying, ‘You better change right now this is not OK.’ And they were naturally defensive. Channel Nonfiction: (William Winter) is a hero in the state. At least he was when I was in school there. Raymond De Felitta: He’s spoken of with real reverence. People really admire him a great deal. He’s lovely man, it was a great interview. Channel Nonfiction: You made a documentary about a documentary. How did you choose what parts of your father’s film to include? Raymond De Felitta: There were certain parts of the film I used that are very rich and to me really stand alone dramatically like the piece of that Klan rally and the story of the spy who was hidden in the grandstand, and certainly Booker’s story. The film also had sections of it that are slightly more, according to my father, they were more network imposed. There’s a long section about the church that white people have built to help foster community etc. etc. and they are perfectly fine and they are fair but they don’t really tell much of a story. So what I was trying to do, as we honed in on what our story was, was say what did he go down there and get? And what were the things that I think are really of lasting historical value? Certainly the Citizens Council lunch was an obvious get because, again, I don’t think my father felt that that was simply showing villainy, that was just how the town leaders felt. That had to be their position and he was able to get them to be very frank on camera. So you know it was a little bit of hunting and pecking for what still was relevant as opposed to what felt a little more like a p.r. film at the time. Channel Nonfiction: Right. That makes sense. Your father seems very regretful in the film, truly regretful, about having (NBC) broadcast that interview (with Booker). Has that always been his attitude? Raymond De Felitta: I think he’s always been ambivalent about it. He always thought it was an amazing piece of film. And I think what he was asking himself is the eternal questions of most documentarians. You know how invasive are you allowed to be with a subject? They do willingly put themselves in your hands, but does that mean necessarily that it’s all for free? Cause it’s not. You’re dealing with people’s lives when you make a documentary. And then, of course, he didn’t know Booker was murdered until we started making the film. So that was another kind of thing for him to digest and it was many years later that he had to. I hope I convinced him and certainly Yvette more than me because you know he got to meet Booker’s granddaughter and saw how much she appreciated what my father did. I hope he got over it. He’s pretty old, so I don’t want him wandering around with a heavy heart because he certainly did have to ask himself the hard question, ‘Do I show this or not?’ Channel Nonfiction: Well, maybe it was the fact that he was freshly dealing with Booker’s murder? Raymond De Felitta: Yeah, that’s true. I mean I had this problem too. I don’t know if you know my other documentary “’TIS AUTUMN.” I had a similar moral dilemma with that because we were faced with the subject covering up the fact that he had abandoned a son. And we found the son. The subject was dying as we were making the film. And so I was trying to always figure out, ‘Do I tell the truth about this, do I make that part of the film? Is it too bruising and difficult about a man who is ill and who has opened his door to me to film him?’ And at the end of the day my choice was not to bring it up. And it was a hard one, because I kept saying to myself ,’But this is a film and a documentary and this is what you owe to the story, but they are also human beings and they are also people going through life.’ Now I did wind up using it in the film. I used the fact that we did uncover it. So it’s not like I left it out of the movie. But I didn’t address the subject with Jackie, the person the film’s about. Channel Nonfiction: Interesting. That’s powerful stuff for sure. Raymond De Felitta: You’re making “ROB THE MOB” right now. We finished it. It’s going to come out in the spring. Channel Nonfiction: So you’re working on a documentary right now then? Raymond De Felitta: Well I think so. I worked with the actor Burt Young who most people know as Pauly in the Rocky movies. He was in “ROB THE MOB” and he’s a very fascinating man. And I said to him just recently, ‘I’d love to film some interview with you and see if it goes anywhere.’ And he’s a very private guy with a very interesting and complicated past. And he thought about it for a while and then he said, ‘Come out let’s try it.’ So literally just a few days ago, I went out and shot a long interview with him. Again it’s how these things start for me. Jackie Paris “‘TIS AUTUMN” started the same way. I didn’t know if there was a film there, but a man who I found really interesting opened his door and said, ‘Fine let’s just try interviewing me and see where it goes.’ So am I making a documentary, I’m not sure. But I did film a really interesting interview and it’s, certainly I hope, that might evolve over the next year into something. He’s really an actor’s actor, but he also has this very bizarre life that preceded his acting career. And also he’s a fascinating man. He’s a painter, a writer; he’s got very far beyond ideas, very avant-garde thinking about theater. He’s not a simple guy and I think he’d be a really interesting subject for and portrait.  
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Booker's Place
By Amy Taubin [From ArtForum.com]
Raymond De Felitta, Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story, 2012, black-and-white film in HD, 91 minutes. Production still. Vera Douglas, Katherine Jones, and Yvette Johnson. Photo: Danielle Anderson.
SOME STORIES need to be told and told again. Raymond De Felitta’s Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story(2012) is the sequel to his father Frank De Felitta’s NBC News documentary Mississippi: A Self Portrait(1966). Both films explore racism and a still unresolved struggle for desegregation in Greenwood, Mississippi, the town that was the home of Byron De La Beckwith, finally convicted in 1994 of assassinating Medgar Evers in 1963. At the time of the NBC film, De La Beckwith belonged to the statewide White Citizens’ Council, headquartered in Greenwood and virtually synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan. The elder De Felitta, aware that he was putting his life in danger by filming in Greenwood, was given the telephone numbers of undercover FBI agents living in the area, and on one occasion had to call for protection. It’s a small measure of how far we have come (still not nearly far enough) that no such protection was necessary for the son when he visited Greenwood a year or two ago to show the 1966 film to current residents and to interview them, in particular, about Booker Wright, whose two-minute monologue—delivered straight to the NBC cameras in the original film—is still riveting today. Wright seized the moment to tell an entire nation the truth about racism and black servitude, speaking through lips set wide in a minstrel smile. It was an act of extraordinary courage and transformation. As the camera rolled, Wright metamorphosed from a man who played the clown for those who treated him like dirt into a confrontational civil rights activist, so that, he explained, “my children can get an education and not suffer what I suffered.” The younger De Felitta is an undervalued American independent film treasure. His fiction movies, among them Two Family House (2000) and City Island (2009), are that rare thing—popular culture entertainments that are uplifting but unsentimental, and deeply humanist in the manner of Jean Renoir. De Felitta’s characters discover that they cannot live by the rules of their working-class conservative communities. In liberating their sense of justice and creativity, they experience, however tenuously, real joy. Since those characters are not black and not living in Mississippi in the 1960s, they do not pay with their lives, as did Booker Wright, for doing the right thing. After Mississippi: A Self Portrait aired, Wright was fired from the job he had held since he was fourteen as a waiter in a white restaurant; his own restaurant, Booker’s Place, was trashed; he was beaten nearly to death by the cops. In 1973, he was murdered. Many people, the elder De Felitta among them, believed that his appearance in the NBC documentary factored in his death. A few years ago, while trying to archive his father’s films, De Felitta found Mississippi: A Self Portrait and put it on YouTube. Wright’s granddaughter Yvette Johnson saw it and contacted De Felitta. She had heard about the film but never seen it. In watching Booker’s monologue, she realized that he was not an “accidental activist” as she had believed but rather a courageous man who took charge of his life by performing an existential act, knowing fully its possible consequences. De Felitta and Johnson traveled together to Greenwood to show the original film and to put together the interviews and background material that would make up Booker’s Place. The backstory I’ve related here figures in the actual film, a “two-family house” that fluidly weaves two intergenerational narratives, that of Booker, his mother, his children, and his granddaughter and that of the De Felittas. The father is now in his nineties, and his guilt about Booker was perhaps alleviated by seeing Booker’s monologue through the eyes of his granddaughter, who understood that the film gave Booker the opportunity to “become a man.” To a certain extent, the new film gives us a chance to compare Greenwood then and now. Certainly there is improvement. Booker’s Place, however, remains unoccupied.  
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