Andy Garcia and Raymond De Felitta Talk Messed-Up Families and Their New Movie

If you thought your family was messed up, just wait till you meet the Rizzos, the big brawling clan at the chaotic center of writer-director Raymond De Felitta's new comedy City Island. One moment, they seem normal, then they don't, and then they do, and then they don't. They lie. They keep secrets. They fight incessantly. And yet, despite everything, the Rizzos all love one another.

Starring one of Miami's favorite sons, Andy Garcia, City Island made a Gusman Center gala appearance last Friday at the Miami International Film Festival. Tomorrow, the movie begins screening in Los Angeles and New York before hitting Miami on March 26. So, get ready, it's almost time to gather your dysfunctional fam and hit the multiplex.

New Times: This movie's named after and mostly set on City Island, a small island that's part of the Bronx. What's it like?

Raymond De Felitta: Well, it's an utter anomaly. The Bronx is urban New York at its grittiest. Then jutting off of it into the water is a New England fishing village! And you really can't put together how this island got there. It's like it got towed into the wrong port.

Did either of you have a personal connection to the place before shooting this film?

Andy Garcia: I had gone there once, years ago, without even really knowing where I was because I went there at night. I was taken by Tito Puente, who used to have a restaurant there prior to his death. And I went with Tito and Cachao and Johnny Pacheco. We had dinner there and a little jam session. He said I was in the Bronx. And I was like, "Okay?"

Raymond De Felitta: Yeah. Like a lot of New Yorkers, I didn't even know it was there. I thought that it was a boatyard. I used to hear "City Island Marina" and I thought it was just some place. I didn't know it was a community. Then one day when I was writing the script, which was set in a generic neighborhood in the Bronx, I read an article in the New York Times. It sounded so interesting and unusual that I took a trip to see it and I thought, "This is great. I gotta put my movie here."

City Island focuses on a family, the Rizzos. Who are they?

Raymond De Felitta: You know, the Rizzos are the infrastructure of New York. When people make movies about New York, you typically see the same thing: it's about the fashion world or it's about the Upper Eastsiders. The ritzy, glitzy New York ... But Manhattan represents a fraction of New York. New York City is all these other boroughs -- Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, City Island. And that's where the cops, the firemen, the teachers, the electrical workers live. Those are the real New Yorkers.

Andy, you play Vince Rizzo, a 40-something New York State corrections officer with dreams of being in the movies. Considering you've been a successful Hollywood star since your late 20s, was it difficult to get into the head and skin of a late-life wannabe actor?

Andy Garcia: No, not at all. It took me a long time to get an opportunity to have a career as an actor. I went through many, many years of very uncomfortable situations, very inadequate auditions, trying to find my way in the insanity of this industry. So I had a lot of memories to pull from.

In certain ways, the Rizzos are an average family, but the secrecy and bickering between them borders on toxic. Would you consider them normal or dysfunctional?

Raymond De Felitta: I consider dysfunctional to be normal! I think we mislabeled it. (Laughs) No. What I was trying to get at is everyone thinks they're alone with their secrets and dysfunction. It's very isolating and it's one of the saddest facts that we face in our journey through this peculiar maze of life. But when you find out that other people are as screwed up as you are, it's an enormous relief.

I had a little bit of a hard time believing how easily the Rizzos accept and forgive each other when everyone's secrets are revealed. Why isn't there more anger or resentment?

Raymond De Felitta: Well, I think they spent the whole movie being angry and resentful! (Laughs) There just comes a moment when acceptance is really what people need to love and forgive.

Andy Garcia: I think, ultimately, there is a genuine love in that family that trumps anything else. The fact that everybody comes clean ... There's a catharsis that happens by telling the truth. And, in catharsis, there is forgiveness.

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S. Pajot