By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(August 2005) Rhode Island is definitely
a unique place. Its people are quirky and individualistic.
They are naturally friendly, yet still maintain a reserve
that has become known as a recognizable “New England”
trait. Rhode Islanders love to be entertained and no
sport is more fascinating to them than politics. It
is a true spectator sport for the locals; and for a
state known for centuries as “Rogue’s Island,”
what could be more apt.
Scalawags and scoundrels make up the fabric of Rhode
Island’s history and in the tradition of Huey
Long, corruption and chicanery are understood by most
here as a natural part of doing business.
In 2002, Rhode Islanders were awash in a major controversy
featuring none other than the popular Mayor of the capital
city, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr. The
charges brought by Federal prosecutors were numerous
and the resultant media circus had all the trappings
of a rehash of what happened to Claus von Bulow. Could
a movie version be far behind? (Actually, his turbulent
life story has become a veritable cottage industry that
shows no signs of slowing down.)
No question: “Buddy” Cianci is an original.
Ever the showman, he was every mother’s darling
and a tempermental pressure cooker who could blow unexpectedly
over a political concern or slight. As the trial went
down and the sentence pronounced, people were divided
over just who he really was: a self-sacrificing man
of the people or self-serving egotist? Fall guy or mob
As the longest-serving mayor in Providence, Rhode Island's
history, “Buddy” Cianci remains one of the
country's most controversial political figures. Cianci's
unflagging popularity and extraordinary career comebacks
have baffled political analysts and frustrated federal
investigators. Brilliant and aggressive, charming and
ruthless, Cianci is described by supporters and critics
alike as a political survivor. No one really expected
the charges to stick and no one expected that he would
face jail time.
On July 17th, 2002, his conviction was upheld and in
December of that year, Cianci went to Ft. Dix, NJ to
serve a five-year sentence on RICO charges for racketeering
conspiracy; essentially for running a criminal enterprise
out of Providence City Hall. Providence under his aegis
was a “city for sale,” according to the
charges. Yet, three years after his departure, the romance
with “Buddy” has not waned and many of his
supporters feel that he was unfairly targeted by the
A Telling Documentary
Providence-based director Cherry Arnold has created
a complex portrait of this often contradictory and always
audacious public figure who became the youngest man
and the first Italian-American to become mayor of Providence.
He was a Republican who unseated a Democrat stronghold
of more than thirty years. From his early promise as
an attorney prosecuting organized crime to his apparent
success overseeing what he termed as Providence's "renaissance,"
the film tracks Cianci's entanglements with city council
opposition, union skirmishes, personal scandals, and
criminal indictments. The result is a fascinating study
of American local politics and a surprising tale of
a man who, in the words of one commentator, "has
a city as a mistress."
I recently caught up with Ms Arnold to discuss her latest
work and how it came about. She will be having the world
premiere in August at the Rhode Island International
Film Festival and is now busily trying to insure its
GTM: What was your motivation to take on this project?
Cherry Arnold: Buddy Cianci lived three houses away
from us when I was a kid growing up on the east side.
I met Cianci once before I went away to school in 9th
grade. Over the years I returned to Providence for only
short family visits, but whenever I would come home
it seemed that people were always talking about the
latest trials and tribulations of Buddy Cianci, he seemed
like an ever-present character in people’s lives
As I got older I was fascinated by how the farther away
I got from RI, the more mythologized Buddy and his story
became. Once I told people I was from Providence, they
would ask me about what it was like to live in a “mob-run
town”, and what was that “mob mayor”
like who beat up someone with a fireplace log and then
But what interested me most in doing the film was all
the passion that surrounds Buddy Cianci and his story.
Buddy Cianci’s passion for Providence, and the
extreme and very passionate feelings that people have
for Buddy, that always seemed to fall at opposite ends
of the spectrum.
GTM: When you first began pulling this together,
how did you secure the support of the former Mayor?
Arnold: I pitched Cianci on the idea of doing the film
in January of 2002. Included in my request to him was
permission to follow him and film him in his everyday
activities. It took some convincing but he finally agreed
to give me access to him and then later to his archives.
GTM: Obviously, the story took a different turn as you
began shooting. How did you feel about that and how
did that impact on your script development?
I’m not sure what you mean here, but I followed
Buddy before, during and after his trial, up until a
few days before he left for prison. After the first
few months, I realized that with Buddy Cianci, anything
could happen and that I better be prepared as possible
at all times.
I didn’t start on the script until the 150 source
tapes had been logged and transcribed, approximately
6 months after Cianci went to prison.
GTM: What was it like working so closely with
Cherry Arnold: It was fascinating to spend time with
him during the trial; he kept up this positive front,
which in turn helped his staff to weather the storm.
Wherever he went there were so many people who would
lean into him and give him words of support –
he’d always say, “Don’t worry, we’ll
He was very generous in his allowing me to be around
him so much. Because I was shooting verite footage,
most of the time he wouldn’t acknowledge my presence,
which was good for me as it allowed me to sink into
the background and capture some really good moments.
GTM: Given the charges and subsequent conviction of
the Mayor, was it difficult to remain dispassionate
about the subject of your film?
Cherry Arnold: No, it wasn’t.
GTM: How long have you been working on "Buddy"
and what significant changes occurred when you began
editing all the footage together? Has this process taken
longer than you expected.
Cherry Arnold: I started pre-production on the film
in December of 2001.
The process has taken longer than I expected for many
reasons, chief among them the difficulty of raising
funds for the project.
GTM: You did a preview screening in Boston at
the Independent Film Festival. What did you learn from
the audience reaction and feedback and what changes
have been made to the film since that time?
Cherry Arnold: The Boston screenings were fantastically
helpful. The main thing we learned was that we needed
to add more room at many points of the film because
of the audience’s extreme reaction.
GTM: What are your goals with the film? What would you
like to accomplish with it?
Cherry Arnold: I see “Buddy” as a provocative
character-driven film about local politics that I hope
will spark lots of lively discourse wherever it is shown.
My goal is to get out there and seen as far and wide
as possible. After a film festival run, I will be seeking
theatrical and TV distribution.
GTM: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you
got involved in filmmaking: what is your background?
Cherry Arnold: I started producing editorial and commercial
photography after graduating from college. After moving
to NYC I began working in TV commercials as well. I
had directed and produced a few short narrative films
of my own and I had worked as a producer a couple of
NYC-based documentaries, so when the opportunity to
do Buddy’s story presented itself, I jumped on
GTM: This was a long experience for you. What did you
personally learn about the process and how has that
impacted on you both professionally and personally?
Cherry Arnold: This was a real barn raising; so many
people helped with the making of this film - from all
the Brown University interns that worked with me, to
every local TV, radio station and newspaper donating
media to the project, to my team of advisors who looked
at cuts of the film and gave me feedback, to the funders
who awarded me grants.
On the whole, it’s been an incredibly rewarding
process where I’ve had the pleasure of working
with many gifted and generous people.
GTM: What words of advice would you give a young filmmaker
about tackling such a project?
Cherry Arnold: If you’re going to take on an producing
an independent film, you have to be 150% passionate
about your subject, because that is what will help you
get others on board and help you get you through the
good times and bad. Never give up.
For more information about “Buddy” and
Cherry Arnold, check out the film’s website at
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached