By Amanda C. Davis
We all know the story: A steel town collapses, virtually overnight. Organized crime infiltrates the area. A once- beloved congressman goes to jail for accepting bribes.
Most of the details are common knowledge for people who have lived through the Mahoning Valley’s storied — and often sordid — past.
But Los Angeles filmmaker Eric Murphy, a 1994 graduate of Warren’s JFK High School, is betting that story will have a much-broader appeal.
For 10 years, Murphy, a writer/producer for The History Channel, has been consumed with the rise and fall of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. His 90-minute documentary, “Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown,” is entering its post-production phase but Murphy needs help to see the project through.
He’s spent about $10,000 of his own money so far but is asking for the public’s support to raise an additional $25,000.
This is being done through Kickstarter.com, a fundraising platform for creative projects.
The site solicits “all-or-nothing” funding, meaning projects must reach a funding goal by a specific date before money changes hands. Murphy has until Nov. 30 to raise the money.
He is offering incentives for donations that include a signed DVD of the documentary, movie posters and Traficant T-shirts and books.
Pledging $500 or more gets donors a “Youngstown Tune Up,” which includes two jars of Murphy’s mom’s hot peppers in oil, a “thank you” in the movie credits, a movie poster, T-shirt and DVD.
Donors who pledge $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 get a producing credit at the end of the documentary and various other perks.
“This will be a living document for generations to follow,” Murphy said in a recent telephone conversation from Los Angeles.
He said it explores the time between the collapse of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. in 1977 and Traficant’s release from federal prison in 2009. The former federal lawmaker and Mahoning County sheriff served seven years for bribery, racketeering and other charges.
Though the film depicts Traficant’s flamboyant side, the overall tone is not anti-Traficant, Murphy said. The former congressman is not involved with the project, though Murphy extended him that courtesy.
An attempt by The Vindicator to contact Traficant was unsuccessful.
Murphy and producer Jeff Alberini of Howland have spoken to former and current elected officials, including Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, former Youngstown Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, a former Traficant aide who defeated his former boss for the congressional seat.
Others interviewed include Vindicator columnist Bertram de Souza, FBI agents, judges and “Modern Family” star Ed O’Neill, a Youngstown native.
Murphy said the documentary will bring forth information that isn’t general knowledge and cited a conversation he had with Ungaro regarding car bombs and bribes he was offered but declined during his time as mayor.
“It’s the kind of stuff that makes your jaw drop open,” Murphy said.
He also explained his interviews revealed Traficant was offered a deal to serve six months to a year on the federal charges but rejected it.
Ungaro told The Vindicator that time period in Youngstown’s history and events involving Traficant will draw an audience for the documentary. “Those are interesting topics,” he said, calling Traficant a “likable and talented guy.”
When questioned about his tenure as mayor and bribes he was offered, Ungaro said it wasn’t hard for him to stay straight when so many of his friends and associates were traveling a different path.
“I just did the right thing, though I think a lot of people don’t believe that,” he said. “The influence of the Mafia was in every segment of our community.”
Though the documentary explores Youngstown’s darker days, Murphy said he wants viewers to walk away with a sense of hope that the area is “turning the corner.”
The documentary should be complete in late 2012, and Murphy said he’ll plan screenings in Youngstown, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. It also will be entered in a few film festivals, and Murphy said he’s in talks with network agents and producers to find a home for it.
Murphy grew up in Warren and has a film-marketing degree from Youngstown State University and a master’s degree in film production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.