The Chicago Syndicate: Town Debates Merits of Serving as Location for Latest Mob Movie

Friday, April 11, 2008

Town Debates Merits of Serving as Location for Latest Mob Movie

An old saying in the media holds that there is no such thing as bad advertisement. But news that Saginaw will provide the backdrop for a Mafia movie doesn't exactly tout the region's best features.

"Street Boss" is set to begin filming Tuesday, April 29. Philip R. Kerby, a retired FBI agent and former chief of its Saginaw bureau, says the movie is based on the FBI's real-life takedown of Detroit's most notorious mobsters.

The plot doesn't involve Saginaw but the community's role as a filming location makes it a supporting character of sorts, not to mention an important anecdote in the film's production.

Kerby promises the feature will star "names you'll know" despite an independent film-sized budget. The Hollywood casting director on board has placed actors in such shows as "Without a Trace," "ER," "The Sopranos" and "The Longest Yard." So "Street Boss" has the potential to make some noise at box offices nationally.

If that's the case, Saginaw will get face time with plenty of moviegoers. That's a ticket Flint rode to success during last year's filming and this year's premiere of the Will Ferrell basketball comedy, "Semi Pro."

The difference: "Street Boss" is no funny business.

We aren't discouraging the filming of the movie in Saginaw. Bringing Hollywood to this area is an economic opportunity and a chance for Saginawians to participate in the wonders of cinema-making.

However, community leaders should practice caution and consider the subject matter before embracing the movie as a homegrown product in the way Flint has adopted "Semi Pro."

In short, feel happy that a production team has chosen Saginaw but don't shine a light bright enough that it could highlight the unfortunate parallels between the movie and the filming location.

Flint seemed to roll out the red carpet when moviemakers came to town, welcoming the retro vibe of the film's 1970s-era plot. Every day on the set seemed to produce a news event. The opening screening resembled something out of Hollywood.

Saginaw shouldn't do the same for "Street Boss." Violence and shady characters make for sexy cinema, but Saginaw doesn't need to celebrate the macabre nature of organized crime. Not when the community has struggled for decades with its own real-life violence and shady characters.

Coincidentally, Kerby is familiar with Saginaw's criminal back story. During his tenure at the FBI bureau, he played a role in the Saginaw Gang Crime Task Force -- a coalition of city, county, state and federal law enforcement agents -- that began tackling the youth gang problem in 1994.

Organized crime began in Saginaw long before then and remains a problem today. A modern-day equivalent of that policing conglomerate arrested 15 Saginaw gang members in February and prosecutors have put them up on federal charges.

Police say the gang problem is subsiding but still present. The stereotype of Saginaw as a violent gangland certainly remains, deserved or not.

Promoting the region as the home of a Mafia movie's filming probably isn't the best way to escape that typecast.

Maybe there is such a thing as bad advertisement.

The Saginaw News

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