Now that Buddy Cianci’s scheduled July 27 prison release date is approaching, Providence documentary filmmaker Cherry Arnold is getting around to a theatrical release of Buddy, following a successful victory lap on the film festival circuit. It opens April 27 at Providence Place Cinema and Showcase Cinema Warwick, then later in Newport, Westerly, and Boston.
 
The 86-minute story charts the rise and fall of the longest-serving mayor in modern American history. Vincent A. Cianci Jr. was sent to federal prison five years ago, after the FBI’s Operation Plunder Dome investigation. One of the 12 charges brought against him stuck: conspiracy in running a corrupt criminal enterprise out of Providence City Hall.
 
Arnold and her camera had access to Cianci for more than a year, and filming didn’t stop until after his trial. Narrated by James Woods, Buddy won Best Documentary at the 2005 Boston Film Festival, the audience award in that category at the 2005 Rhode Island International Film Festival, and Best Emerging Documentary Filmmaker at the 2006 Woods Hole Film Festival.
 
The film has sold out 18 of its 21 festival screenings to date, and in an e-mail exchange, Arnold estimates that about 3500 people have seen it so far. Responses are frequently visceral.
 
“During the screenings outside of RI, in New York for instance, there were more gasps and audible reactions where people who didn’t know Buddy’s story were, I think, shocked by some of what happens, like the police chief [Robert E. Ricci] committing suicide [in 1978] and the assault details,” she notes. “Outside of RI, lots of people ask during the Q&A why he was able to run for mayor again as a convicted felon. They’re very curious about that.”
 
At local post-screening chats, Arnold has always heard from what she calls “Buddy-philes,” who are eager to share insider information of uncertain veracity. “For instance, just a few weeks ago in Newport, a gentleman stood up and said, ‘Ya know — the real reason that Buddy was so mad at DeLeo [who he suspected of having an affair with his estranged then-wife] was because DeLeo accidentally dug up $80K in his backyard when he was doing work on the Power Street house.’ This only happens in RI.”
 
Local audience responses, such as people hooting and yelling out people’s names when they see them on the screen – “ ‘Arlene Violet!,’ like it’s an RI Personality Quiz Show!” — have made her think that the documentary will become our own version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
 
Arnold expects that this summer’s release of Cianci, and of the documentary on DVD, will spark additional interest in him. “I’ve already been asked to be a guest on the G. Gordon Liddy radio show the day that Buddy is fully released,” she writes, “so I guess I’m now considered an official spokesperson of the Buddy Cianci story.”
 
The filmmaker has kept up a correspondence with the ex-mayor, exchanging letters every six months or so. What does she see as his future?
 
“He has lots of plans,” she observes. “I think you can bank on him hitting the ground running on July 27”
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