Following 2014’s short film “Holy Toledo,” UT alum Charissa Gracyk’s new documentary, “Toledo: The Prohibition Chronicles,” premieres at the Collingwood Arts Center (2413 Collingwood Ave.) at 3 p.m. Sunday, January 7, 2018.
Currently living and working in L.A., Gracyk and her cousin, Gillian Perdeau, has been writing and directing material about Toledo for several years. The Jan. 7 premiere is the latest in her efforts to bring Toledo to the big screen.
What brought you into the world of film-making?
Ever since I was little, I wanted to somehow be involved in movies, but I didn’t think it was possible. I thought California was this far-off, magical place that I would never go to. But, I did want to be a writer and that seemed more possible. So, after studying journalism, I realized I liked creative writing more. I was told you have a better chance of getting on a rocket and going to the moon than making it in Hollywood, especially as a woman. But, [Gillian and I] are persistent and I think it’s slowly paying off. We wrote and produced the indie film “Suicide Dolls,” and then I wrote and directed “Holy Toledo,” a short film about our family during Prohibition, and now the documentary is coming out.
What was it about the topic of Prohibition, specifically the connection to Toledo, that spurned the film?
My Grandma! She used to tell us stories all the time about how our family was involved with the gangsters and Kennedy. She always said, “This is the story you need to write. About Toledo and the gangsters and your family.” And, she was right. It’s fascinating to me because everyone seems connected to it in some way.
What was the most challenging part of the process for this film?
Raising money—that’s always the hardest part. I like being creative and want to jump right into pre-production. I want to cast, pick out costumes, props, and locations. Stepping onto the set and seeing everything you’ve worked so hard to get into place finally come alive is the best feeling in the world. It’s even better when you are the one who calls “Action!” But, first, you have to convince people that you have a great story worthy to be told—and that they should hand you a bunch of money.
What was the most inspiring part for you during the production process for these films?
My biggest fear was that this amazing generation of these fantastic stories would pass away, and the stories would disappear with them. I interviewed several gentlemen in their 90s [ . . . ] their stories and experiences were beyond inspiring. And, I’m so sad to say that two passed away this year, so that’s who the documentary is dedicated to— Don Pinciotti and Don VanderHorst— two of the kindest and greatest characters you could ever meet! And, meeting Jamie Farr was pretty amazing, too— a true Toledo supporter.
What are future projects in the works?
The ultimate goal was always to shoot the 2-hour feature film in Toledo Jack Kennedy, Yonnie Licavoli and everything that happened. The short film and documentary are stepping stones to get to the actual movie. Independent filmmaking is tough, but so rewarding because you have creative control. This is a Toledo story and I want to make it in Toledo [ . . . ] it would be my worst nightmare to have a studio take our script, rewrite it, cast Shia LaBeouf as Jack Kennedy and film it in Toronto.
What else should viewers know?
It took moving away from Toledo for me to realize how great it actually is—and our history during the early 1930s rivals Chicago and New York when it comes to gangsters and bootleggers. Toledo was the center of the universe back then. I hope this documentary shows Toledoans that and helps them appreciate their hometown a little more.
3 p.m. Sunday, January 7
Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Ave. brownpapertickets.com/event/3182921.