Resurrection of Tony Gitone

New film set in Little Italy opens at the Royal Cinema

There's no homecoming like an Italian homecoming. The food, the wine, the stories...the secrets. Jerry Ciccoritti's latest film, The Resurrection of Tony Gitone which premiered at the Royal Cinema last night, is a character-led family drama in the tradition of Diner or Goodfellas - but with a focus here on the lives, loves and stories found in the Italian-Canadian community.

The story, set in Little Italy, centers on the return of Nino, a local boy done good played by Fab Filippo. Nino is the neighbourhood golden boy, having left for Hollywood to try his luck in the city of dreams, and now he's returned clutching the biggest one - a leading role in a major feature opposite the Hollywood It-Girl of the moment, Vanessa Luna (Paula Rivera). The bonus? She's also currently his girlfriend.

The whole family is there to meet them - successful contractor Leo (John Cassini), esteemed novelist Frankie (Ron Lea), Italian-community media mogul Alberto (Alvaro D'Antonio), Eddie the restauranteur (Louis Di Bianco), mobster-turned-chef Bruno (Tony Nappo) and aging film director Nick Mancuso. But beneath the glistening surface of these immigrant success stories and celebration, each person hides a lurking secret that threatens to rock the emotional foundations of the family, and even Nino himself is not being completely honest about his sudden Hollywood success story.

Here's my interview with director Jerry Ciccoritti about the unexpected way the film came into existence.

Where did the story come from?

It comes from a very serious place in my heart. The circumstances of where this film came from emotionally, and where this film came from physically are actually one and the same. I was literally having lunch at Il Gatto Nero with a friend of mine, a film distributor who's since retired. And we were just having a completely casual lunch. I had no agenda of any kind and I had no idea of a movie of any kind.

He's Italian and I'm Italian. We were both just riffing on how it's too bad that there's this generation of Italian-Canadians, men and women who are in their 30s, 40s, approaching 50...there's a particular creative and life crisis they have as they're sliding into middle age, and the issues are, you know, what do we do with the second halves of our lives? Have we accomplished anything? Canada is supposed to be a place where the immigrant story is one of success but at a price. How do we fit in?

I was like...literally rambling. I had no intention of making a movie at all. And as I was going on and being all upset, like, "Gosh darnit, somebody should make this movie because these are important personal issues!" he reached over and grabbed my hand, the distributor, and he said, listen to me, if you make that movie, I promise you I'll get it out to theatres. And that stopped me, I was like, Oh my God, am I talking about a movie? Am I talking about something for real? I know these issues are really important to me, but am I ready to do this movie about these people and these issues? Fuck it, I am.

I looked over and there was Carmen, who owns Il Gatto Nero...a good friend of mine, and I marched right over to the table and right out of my ass I said, "Carmen I'm going to come back here at the end of August. I need your place for six nights. I'm going to shoot a movie with Nick Mancuso, Fab Filippo, Tony Nardi, blah blah blah, and I need your place. How's that?" And he says, "Ok, sure."

And then I realized I had a location, so I ran home and phoned all the actors and said, "We're going to shoot something at the end of August, are you guys available? And they all said yeah, so then I realized I had the location, I got the cast, I need a script...and it kind of went from there.

Did you know who you wanted right away?

Well, I knew that practicality had to mean creativity, so auditioning actors and stuff was out of the question, and I knew I wanted to make it about a bunch of Italian men, and there was this group of actors who are Italian, and they are really, really, really amazing actors, and they're also friends of mine. I've worked with them a lot.

So it makes more sense that I just sort of write something for these guys, and it will give us all a chance to fire on all thrusters. I know what these guys do really well. I know what their weaknesses are. I also know what they've always wanted to do and no one has ever let them. So I'm going to write that for them, so everyone finally gets a chance to really, really shine.

So I guess it's good that you wrote the script after you got your location and everything?

Oh, yeah, exactly. Everything has a certain impact - I got a cafe for free, but Carmen says I can only use it from midnight to 6 am when the place is closed. So then you have to sit down and say to yourself, okay, what happens in a cafe or restaurant when it's closed? Well, you're going to have a private party. So I know that my movie, whether I like it or not, is going to be about a private party.

Talking about the story, I found it very interesting that you had it kind of work around a party, a homecoming, but there's all these different layers to it. It's not what it seems like at first. Was that intentional, when you were first going in, to have all these layers peel away, or did that come across the more you worked on it?

That was extremely intentional from when I was writing the first draft of the script. The movie takes place in one night, and I owe it to the audience, if I'm going to ask them to watch a movie that takes place basically in one location, I need to give them the world in one location. So I sort of, in a very pretentious way, modeled it on James Joyce's Dubliners. I got ten people. Conflict is always between two people which means I've got five sources of conflict. I've got to give the audience five stories.

So out of these ten people I've got to give them a series of two-handers where it's a beginning, a middle and an end. The conflict, if you take it by itself, it's completely unimportant and not interesting. But if you put five uninteresting stories together, banging together...they're like two pieces of flint. You hit them together and there's a spark, and all of life and all the world can come out by these small stories.

The Resurrection of Tony Gitone is currently playing exclusively at the Royal Cinema. Check the theatre's web site for showtimes.

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