Growing up in Bensonhurst in the 1980s and 90s, Craig Syracusa and Paulie Malignaggi were immersed in a tight-knit Italian American community defined as much by their shared culture as their shared faith.
A big part of that community identity also included the “entrepreneurial conglomerate called the Mafia,” which ran “this particular section of Brooklyn. . . like its own city-state [and] invested time and money to build invisible walls of security” that secured them the trust and loyalty of residents.
Now the two friends – who have since built successful careers for themselves in the church and competitive boxing, respectively – have teamed up to put a face and story to some of their and their friends’ adolescent experiences, with a new film, “Omertá: The Act of Silence,” which will be featured on Saturday, September 20 at 6 p.m. at The Golden Door Film Festival in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“It’s based on some of my life experiences growing up in Bensonhurst [that included seeing] friends of mine going to jail. When they got out, they thought they’d have this newfound respect, but they had nothing,” explained Syracusa of the inspiration for his script. “I was able to be around but not involved in the lifestyle.
“So this film shows a side of the Mafia that was never exposed before,” said Syracusa. “And it shows this guy, this character, wanting to repent for his sins. He goes to church to confess and realizes that, in the end, all he has is God and faith.”
The lead protagonist is named Reno and is played by Malignaggi, a world championship boxer who described Reno as “intriguing” because “having grown up in the same Bensonhurst neighborhood where the movie is set, I felt a kinship with him.”
“We loved the idea of talking about the Mafia but from a different point of view, not glorifying or idolizing, but what happens when you’re part of this society and what happens when it’s finished,” added Syracusa.
The film took over a decade to complete and briefly came to life in 2003 as a short film, but really got going during Syracusa’s research process, after he reached out to journalist and crime author Philip Carlo, known for his biographies of mass murderers and The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer.
“He sent me some of his memoirs before he passed away from ALS and gave me inspiration for some of the characters,” Syracusa said. “There’s a lot of inside information, like how the ceremony takes place, and it’s gotten a big response because it’s actually true crimes, like the mortgage scam and how it was created. . . it’s like a history lesson in a way. And Paulie’s an amazing actor.”