What makes Youngstown tick?

Some documentary makers want to answer that question.


Vindicator Entertainment Writer

Youngstown, get ready for your close-up.

Shooting will begin this week on a documentary about the city that is being co-produced by Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Jim Napoli of Youngstown is the executive producer.

“We’re going to show the city as a fighter,” said the former boxing champ and Youngstown native.

Interviews with community leaders, experts, former steel workers, athletes and regular people will be done Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Youngstown Club, downtown.

A film crew will also make forays into the community this week to find Youngstowners in their element.

The crew — which will include Mancini, director Sam Kass, cinematographer John Chechitelli, and a technician — will make surprise visits to bars, restaurants and other gathering spots.

“It’s guerrilla filmmaking,” said Mancini. “ Don’t be out with your girlfriend if you’re married, because you might get caught on film.”

Kass, the director, is the one who came up with the idea of capturing Youngstown in a documentary.

“I’ve known Ray [Mancini] for 20 years,” said Kass. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about the city and find it intriguing.”

Kass first met Mancini when the ex-champ came to New York to do some off-Broadway acting, including a play written by Kass titled “Conversations with the Mob.”

When Kass comes to Youngstown this week, it will be his first time in the city. But he feels he knows its citizens already.

“I’m impressed by their resolve,” he said of Youngstowners. “I see them as survivors. They have decided they have no choice but to move on. If any place had a right to turn out the lights and walk away, it’s Youngstown, but they don’t.”

He continued: “In this day, the country is in hard times. But Youngstown has been through this over and over. It typifies hard times and understands it. The city embodies the spirit of this country, and I want to see what makes it tick. Despite its bad news, and bad reputation, you can’t kill it. The more you beat it, the more it comes back. It’s like Ray [Mancini], and his fighting spirit. Never gives up.

Kass’ filmmaking credits include “Body and Soul” and “The Search for One-Eye Jimmy” and he’s written episodes of “Seinfeld” and “Arli$$.” This will be his first documentary.

Kass said he wants to show a cross section of Youngstowners in their down time. “The city has had its share of characters, and I want to hear the stories,” he said.

To make it a total Youngstown project, he plans to get local musicians to score the film.

Chechitelli, the cinematographer, said the film definitely won’t be yet another media bashing of Youngstown.

“We’re going to give the people of Youngstown a chance to let their voice be heard. It won’t dwell on the city’s negatives, like ‘City Confidential’ did,” he said, referring to a cable documentary a few years ago about the assassination attempt on Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains.

A 2003 Austintown Fitch High graduate, Chechitelli has been working in the film industry in California for several years. He studied filmmaking at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., and his résumé ranges from grip to production assistant on the ABC sitcom “Ugly Betty.” He has also written and sold several screenplays, although none has yet been produced.

Chechitelli — who said he’s the third person in his family with that name, but the first to not work in a steel mill — met Mancini three years ago. “A friend told me that [Mancini] was in the film business and I should get together with him,” said Chechitelli. “I called him and introduced myself and he said ‘come on up’ and we’ve been working together since. He’s kind of like my mentor.”

Mancini has two film production companies: Mancini Productions International, and Boom Boom Productions.

Mancini said the documentary will focus on the points that have come to define Youngstown over the years: the rise and fall of steel, the inordinate number of professional athletes the city has produced, political corruption, the Mafia turf wars, false promises from national politicians, and where the city stands today and where it’s headed.

“You have to let the story take you wherever it takes you,” said Mancini, who will be in town all week.

Chechetilli and the rest of the film crew will remain in town until May 28, and will return later this summer to wrap up loose ends.

The crew hopes to have the film ready by mid-October, and will submit it to the Sundance Film Festival, which is in January. Mancini already has a Canadian firm lined up for foreign distribution and hopes to find a domestic distributor at Sundance.

The timing for making the film appears to be right. “There is a boom in documentaries,” said Chechitelli. “This is the right time to do it. People are happy to see them. This could make money. It should be in theaters.”

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