Movie Review–Youngstown: Still Standing

Fellow Rust Wire blogger Angie and I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Youngstown: Still Standing last Thursday at the Cleveland International Film Festival. One of my favorite aspects of the CIFF is that it shines the spotlight on local filmmakers who present work on some very interesting topics. Despite initially feeling a little disappointed with the film, Youngstown: Still Standing turned out to be one of my favorite works at this year’s festival. If you’re a regular Rust Wire reader, I recommend it.

I’m going to admit upfront that I was woefully ignorant about Youngstown walking into the theater last Thursday, despite having lived most of my life merely 75 miles away. Angie, on the other hand, lived and worked as a reporter in Youngstown for some time, and thus seemed more well-versed in the character of the city. Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini, in a speech before the film, described the producers’ intent to portray the good, the bad, and the ugly of Youngstown, in order to accurately and fairly tell its story.

Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, the film's director and former boxing world champion. Photo by Robert Yosay via The Vindicator.

Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, the film's producer and former boxing world champion. Photo by Robert Yosay via The Vindicator.

In keeping with Boom-Boom’s spirit, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of the film itself.

The Good
I learned a lot about Youngstown from this film. A lot. While I knew that Youngstown (along with Cleveland and Pittsburgh) had been devastated by the closing of steel mills over the past few decades, I never entirely understood the dynamics of the Youngstown economy. Nor was I at all aware of how rampant organized crime ran in Youngstown, or how deep the political corruption went. While most people educated in politics know a thing or two about Jim Trafficant, I doubt that many realize that he was merely one of many similar players in the dirty game of Youngstown politics.

The producers brought together a solid line-up of interviewees. Ed O’Neill (who you may know as Al Bundy from Married With Children) was frankly hilarious. The diversity of interviewees, from news reporters to academics to everyday citizens who lived through the ups and downs of Youngstown, provided a nice perspective on experiences in the city.

I felt that the film portrayed Youngstown in a fair light. With films about specific cities, I worry about the agenda of the filmmakers. Are they a booster out to convince people that the city is awesome? Are they from a rival city intent on destroying a reputation? Or (and this is occasionally a problem around here) are they a local with a self-depreciating attitude creating their work because misery loves company? I never felt like the film attempted to persuade the audience in any of those directions.

The Bad
As mentioned, I’m not a local of Youngstown, nor have I spent any time there. The filmmakers made repeated references to the north side, south side, etc. They also referred to events that happened at the intersection of such and such streets. To me, these references were mostly meaningless, as I have no comprehension of the geography of Youngstown. To Angie, however, these references to different neighborhoods and locations were significant, as she seemed more aware of the dynamics of those specific places. This makes me wonder who the producers intended as the target audience for the film? Were they making it for Youngstown locals? Or were they genuinely trying to inform a broader audience about the city?

What I do know about Youngstown is that it is one of a few cities that is embracing its population loss and attempting to shrink the city itself. Unfortunately, this was covered only minimally toward the end of the film. While I understand that this is a recent development, to me it’s an incredibly important piece of the story.

The Ugly
I don’t go to the CIFF expecting million-dollar Hollywood caliber production quality, but Youngstown: Still Standing felt a little too amateurishly produced, even for a festival film. Or perhaps the production was rushed in order to have it finished in time for the CIFF? Whatever the case, there certainly could have been room for improvement.

For instance, the film makers used a very cartoonish font to display most of the on-screen text. I guess it was supposed to look like something that came from a label-maker and was slapped onto the screen. I have a hard time understanding the value of using it over a simpler and more legible font. I also struggled to keep many of the interviewees straight. With so many different people being interviewed on screen, it would have been rather helpful to have their names and significance appear more frequently. Perhaps it sounds nitpicky, but I question if the film was shown to an audience of non-Youngstown folks before the final version was made.

-Rob Pitingolo

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Headline, Real Estate

3 responses to “Movie Review–Youngstown: Still Standing

  1. schmange

    I really liked it also. Youngstown is a really interesting place and I thought they did a good job capturing its flavor.

    I wish I knew how people could access this movie if they would like to see it. If anyone knows, please share.

  2. Movie_Fan0001

    I just got the dvd and loved this documentary! This review was off the mark. The only thing the author got right was that it was worth watching…

    Addressing their points from a viewer’s standpoint, here’s what I have to say:

    “The filmmakers made repeated references to the north side, south side, etc — To me, these references were mostly meaningless, as I have no comprehension of the geography of Youngstown.” There is a point early on in the film where a priest is describing the makeup of the town specifically mentioning the North side, East side, West side & South side. He explains what type of people lived there. I don’t think you need to be from the area to follow along with North side, south side etc.

    “What I do know about Youngstown is that it is one of a few cities that is embracing its population loss and attempting to shrink the city itself. Unfortunately, this was covered only minimally toward the end of the film. While I understand that this is a recent development, to me it’s an incredibly important piece of the story.” I thought it was pretty clear from the title that this piece was about examining that city’s past. Maybe they could have discussed it in more detail but then again that would have added at least 20-30 more minutes and I liked that the movie was an hour and a half, I don’t think it should have been two hours long.

    And lastly, I really liked the font that this reviewer called “cartoonish,” because it looked like the type of label that blue collar people have on their work name-tags. Giving all the interviewees that font (no matter if they are the Mayor, a millionaire businessman or a retired steelworker) really stressed the blue collar atmosphere of the town, I liked it 🙂

    Great documentary on a forgotten American city. I learned a lot of things (especially all the organized crime details) and I laughed out loud several times. Excellent choice for the narrator and Ed O’Neill was terrific!

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