ters a movie as jarringly personal as LBS, any critical reaction will probab-
ly be every bit as jarringly personal. For TrustMovies, Lbs proved a difficult experience but one that grew more impressive and meaningful as the movie went along, culminating in a rush of emotion and thoughtful consider-
ation that made the experience one-of-a-kind. An odd combination of narrative and documentary (the latter captures the actual weight loss of its leading man), Lbs tracks a very chubby Neil Perota (played by Carmine Famiglietti) as he interacts with family, friends -- and food. When a life-changing event happens, change piles upon change and we are thrown, like our hero, into a very strange world that only grows stranger as even more change occurs.
Directed and co-written (with Famiglietti, who also produced) by Matthew Bonifacio, shown at right, whose first full-length film this was, the movie is rough as hell in many aspects, starting with its homemade look. The director had little film experience at this point (see interview below), though he and his star went on to make the interesting and more sophisticated film-wise Amexicano. Fortunately, with Lbs, Bonifacio went after truth-of-performance above everything else, and this paid off in a kind of honesty and moment-to-moment realism that is difficult to fake, despite a sometimes choppy mise-en-scene and screenplay.
inflicted) but it is not unbelievable. As an actor, Famiglietti (left) is able keep us with him through thick and thin, love and loss (pounds among other things). He's a likable screen presence who never begs for sym-
pathy. Consequently, he get ours, along with occasional annoyance and surprise. One of the film's best and most difficult scenes takes place in a restaurant on a date, as the "new" Neil talks with a young woman he's longed to know better and now finally can.
Michael Aronov (above) as Neil's coke-addicted best pal; Susan Varon as his mother, Fil Formicola as his dad and Sharon Angela (in wedding dress two photos below) as his sister; and especially Miriam Shor (below) as a young woman Neil meets upstate. Because the movie was filmed over a 27-month period, the cast had to make itself available, complete with the right appearance and emotional state, throughout. I'd guess that Lbs proved a labor of love for more than just its star and director.
Sundance Film Festival in 2005, the film has taken five years to reach even limited theatrical distribution (see interviews below for some of the reasons), but at least it is here.
Film Society of Lincoln Center Spanish Cinema Now series, another film about weight and self-image -- Gordos -- made its American debut. What a double-bill these two movies would make! Gordos comes at its topic from all angles and a raft of characters, at last zeroing in on the key. Lbs starts small, slowly expanding outward, even as our hero reduces, to reach the same important conclusion. I don't know when, if ever, Gordos will see a theatrical release herein the US. For now, we've got Lbs. It's a thoughtful antidote to much of the simple-minded weight-loss blather we're bombarded with daily. Don't let this one pass you by.
Distributed by Truly Indie, Lbs opens Friday, March 26, at the Village East Cinema in New York City; on April 9 in Boston, at Landmark Theatres' Kendall Square Cinema; on April 23 in Minneapolis at Landmark Theatres' Lagoon Cinema; and on May 7 in Washington DC at Landmark Theatres' E Street Cinema.
Note: Carmine tells me that he pronounces his last name with a hard “g” sound, rather than in the Italian manner – fah-mee-lee-etty – in order that people will spell it correctly.
This movie is so personal that it was sometimes hard to watch.
That’s what we set out to do. There are all kinds of reasons when you set out to make a movie. With us, one of these was definitely to make a movie that defined what we considered eating disorders.
Did you happen to see the Spanish film Gordos, which was shown at the FSLC’s Spanish Cinema Now festival last December?
I think I heard about that movie, but I didn’t see it.
Gordos tackles the similar subject but its canvas (and budget) is huge next to your film—in which you whittle everything down to the very personal, just your one single story.
True. And Lbs is just one story.
It can be any kind addiction or flaw. I’m not educated enough to know if you can really have an addiction to food. But it feels like I do have one. And I don’t like it, either. It robs me of so many things I’ve wanted: girls I wanted to date, and acting jobs! It’s awful, when hundreds of people are looking at you, say at an amusement park and they won’t let you get on the ride. It’s really embarrassing. That’s happened to me. We had that scene in the film, too, but we couldn’t fit it into the final film, so we’ll probably have it as a DVD extra.
Do you still go up and down noticeably in your weight?
Oh, sure. People talk about how they fluctuate by ten pounds. Well, the highest I’ve been is 385 lbs and the lowest is 185.
What are you right now?
The low 300s.
Whew! How long have your director Matthew and you known each other -- and how did you meet?
We actually met as extras on set of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X @ in 1991
Wow—so almost 20 years! How long did it take you to film Lbs overall?
We began in June of 2001 and finished in September of 2003: 27 months, and then we premiered at the 2004 Sundance.
So why are we are only seeing the movie now?
Can you talk about how and why all this happened?
People wanted to release Lbs, but they also wanted control the movie.
You mean make changes to the movie?
Yes: Make changes, but also, then it became clear that they didn’t have the money to properly distribute the movie – only the expertise. So then the deal wasn’t so attractive. But I have to say that the distributor made incredible efforts to raise the money but it didn’t work out.
I guess things can change: I noticed recently that Maya Entertainment, the company that released your next film, Amexicano, has changed from distributing Hispanic-oriented movies to something quite different now.
Yeah: One of the amazing things about our country is there is this tendency to believe that when immigrants come here, we think that America as a whole is going to become more like them. But no: they actually become more Americanized. My old neighborhood is mostly Korean. But ten years later those Koreans are as American as we are. It takes a generation.
How hard was making Lbs for you – I mean, to dwell on the subject and get into something this personal? Did you find yourself using the making of the film as a kind of therapy?
Now, with the film opening in Boston and all over, it should be easier for me. But I am still struggling. I’d love to be on Oprah. But with my going up and down all the time, this is not what audiences necessarily want to see. With the movie, I had something I liked just as much as food. That was making the movie. And though I had a dual passion, the movie always won out. But after it was over, the food came back.
How do you feel now about self-help groups like Over-eaters Anonymous and its like?
I think it’s different strokes for different folks. That is never been something I’ve been into. I don’t like talking about it in a group. I don’t want advice. I know what I am supposed to eat and what exercises I should be doing. The whole point is: Don’t quit on yourself. Keep going -- even though you will have setbacks and false starts.
While I’ve got you, is there anything else you want to say?
You know what? I think the reason we’re doing these four cities – we’re opening in New York, Bopston Minneapolis and Washington DC -- what we need is what Oprah and Tyler Perry did for Precious. I know somewhere out there, there is someone like these two who will see Lbs and want to grab it and push it. We have a great team in place. And we’re hoping somewhere in these four cities we’ll meet someone who will want to -- and can -- put the movie on more screens.
And one more thing: I feel that what my character is saying to audiences is this: If you don’t deal with childhood obesity early on, then you will probably have to deal with it for the rest of your life. But don’t come off as a sad sack about it all. I am fighter and you have to be, too. Oh – and if I could pick one person to show the film to, it would probably be our First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Yeah -- Carmine is very humble, genuine guy. The way he talks to you is the way he talks to his parents and me and all his friend. He uses a lot of self-deprecating humor.
Can you tell me something about how it was to film Lbs?
And you did!
Thanks. The movie was shot over 27 months, in conjunction with Carmine's weight loss and raising the money. But it was always about the performances -- never about me or the camera. I didn’t want to concentrate of visuals and camera tricks so much, but rather on the actors.
Lbs has such raw energy to it.
A lot of spontaneous elements came out of it. Later, filming Amexicano, I really made an effort to make that one more visually-oriented. With Lbs, I didn’t want to be influenced too much by outside forces, camera shots, etc. Instead, I wanted to eavesdrop into Carmine’s world. So I didn’t even want to move the camera unnecessarily.
How hard was this to dwell on Carmine and his weight and get into something this personal?
It was easy, really, because we had known each other, by that time, over ten years. I had seen him down to 175 and up close to 400 lbs.
No. And I didn’t ask his family to get in on it, either. I took the approach that I am on board to make this movie and to help save his life. During the shoot, crew members would sometimes call me up and tell me, “I saw Carmine the other day, and he has not lost the weight.” I’d say, “Never mind: He will be there for the deadline.” And sure enough , when that deadline came, the weight was off. He trusts me as a director, and I trust he him as an actor. That was always established.
How did you go about casting the movie?
We didn’t hire a casting director. .Being a former actor, I cast many of the actors I has already worked with – like Michael Aronov.
God, he is wonderful – and versatile. He was so good in Amexicano, too.
Exactly. I knew what I was getting and I knew the strengths and weaknesses of these people. We had staged readings, too, so we could get the feel of things.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I think it’s important that this film started out as something that might save Carmine’s life. Once we saw the footage, we felt we had captured something special. And audiences at Sundance and since then seem to feel this, too. This is a film about an over-weight guy who takes responsibility for himself. He doesn’t blame others. I am really proud of this film and of the commitment of all the actors and crew who kept coming back and back to it -- after 27 months! This should not go unnoticed. It’s really hard to do when you are shooting linear, like this. I’ll probably never have a chance to have something like this happen again.
On that note, what is next for you?
I have a few projects is various stages of development. Two of these I’m attached as director, and another as writer/director. I hope to get one or another off the ground this year -- or next.
Amexicano has been performing well, too. Well over 16,000 people have seen it via Netflix’s DVD and streaming facility and have rated it three-and-one-half stars.