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Here at last: North End’s story on film

In July 2013, I wrote about the North End Historical Society’s documentary. I had thought that the film would be premiered in early 2014. I was optimistic. Nevertheless, good things come to those who wait, and the film was finally premiered on Jan. 20, 2016 at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre on Washington Street – and with our thanks to Suffolk University and John Nucci. This is only its first showing, and there are many others planned.

The film is called “Boston’s North End: An Italian American Story.” As the title indicates, it is not so much a documentary history as it is the story of some of the things that made the North End special: These include Sunday dinners, nicknames, street corners, Doo Wop, Tony De Marco, and coach Dom Campochiaro.

But there is also some history. Following the work of the historian Steve Puleo, we include a segment on George Scigliano, the first Italian American elected to government in Boston with a focus on his life work and the battle to re-name North Square after him lead by the Post-Gazette’s founder James Donnaruma. It includes archival material from the Scigliano family.

There is also something about William Foote Whyte and his book “Street Corner Society,” which is still regarded as one of the most famous works of urban sociology.
Finally, we talk about the history of gentrification and how the North End has changed. In addition to interviewing Steve Puleo, we also feature North Ender and historian William De Marco, as well as author Anthony Riccio.

While the ‘star’ of the film is the North End, the co-star is the narrator, Stephen Passacantilli, who walks and talks us through the film. He tells us about his grandmother Clementina Porta Langone, shows us where he grew up and played stickball, and gives a classic description of coach Dom Campochiaro.

Other great moments include his scene with Tony De Marco at Tony’s statue and with his daughter Grace at the film’s end. Stephen was with the film from the very beginning, way back in 2009, when Dan Casey and Maureen McNamara first started filming (more on this below), and he has been one of its driving production forces.

In my earlier article, I described the early history of the film so I will be brief with that but spend more time filling in what happened since.

Dan Casey, a scholar of Irish history and then resident of Charlestown, came up with the idea to make a documentary on the North End. He had just completed a film on Charlestown called “The Green Square Mile” and had the idea to make one on the North End.

Working with Maureen McNamara of Kendall Productions, Dan got connected with Stephen, and they started filming based on a screenplay Dan had written. Unable to complete the film, Dan asked the North End Historical Society to take over, still working with Maureen as producer, director, and filming.

We kept interviewing, but we decided to go with a new screenplay. This turned out to be a curse and a blessing. Working without a screen play meant we were not always sure what we would do with the various interviews, so we were not sure where we were going with the film. The other thing was that we kept thinking in terms of a “documentary” — a narrative history of the North End. We also struggled with raising the funds for the film. All of this slowed us down. But the blessing was this: without a script, the film sort of took on a life of its own, based on the interviews we did.
So we sent what we had for its post-production life with John Balcom Productions in California. John began to assemble the parts. But soon he realized that while what we had was very good, we needed to do a little bit more. We flew John out from California to spend a weekend in the North End, directing a final set of interviews and additional segments with Stephen. Even this was not the end, however, as we did some additional interviews and Voice Overs right down to the wire of our deadline of Jan. 1, 2016.

We hope everyone else will be happy with the results. There are always things we wished we could have done and people we wished we could have included. But the film is finished. It will make the North End forever.

For more information on the film, see: http://www.northendboston.org/

About James Pasto

James S. Pasto is a senior lecturer at Boston University, co-founder of the North End Historical Society and editor of the society's journal. To share stories about North End's past, e-mail pasto@bostoniano.info. To find out more about the North End Historical Society, visit alexgoldfeld.com/NEHS.html.