by director/co-writer Matthew Bonifacio
In 1990, when I was 17, my father passed away from diabetes.
It was a week after his 53rd birthday and he had battled with the disease
his entire adult life, until finally his weight and poor eating habits
just overpowered him. He was a longshoreman and I still remember how
he would take me down to the Brooklyn piers. I would hold his clipboard
and look out across the East River at the New York skyline in the distance.
I would proudly watch as he took charge and directed his workers on
the waterfront. I just thought he would live forever. But then he was
gone. Little did I know that one day his passing would be part of my
motivation for directing a movie about food addiction, compulsions and
fighting to save one’s life.
I learned from what happened to my dad that life was short so I have always followed my dreams. At a young age I became fascinated with movies and realized that I wanted to be an actor. In 1991 I was cast as an extra in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. On set I met a fellow actor who would forever change my life, a young man from Queens, New York—Carmine Famiglietti. He was funny, outgoing and confident, looked like Ben Affleck and at the time weighed only 185 pounds. We immediately formed a deep friendship and working relationship that has lasted for over 15 years.
Throughout the ’90s I continued to get deeper into acting, performing in numerous plays in Manhattan. But something new was percolating inside me—I was becoming very interested in filmmaking. I obtained the reading lists from NYU and Columbia University Film Schools. Hundreds of books later, I was educating myself and developed a strong desire for directing.
Over the years my friendship with Carmine continued to grow. We collaborated on a variety of theatre projects—where we would write, act, direct, produce, design the program guide, print the tickets, clean the bathrooms—you know, indie theatre at its best. But by the late ’90s Carmine’s weight had dramatically increased to 385 pounds and I was worried about the health of my friend.
With the memory of my father always in my mind, it was really difficult for me to watch as Carmine gained almost 200 pounds. Then I began to notice that he wasn’t acting as much and was basically hiding behind the scenes. But Carmine was fighting his demons, and was up to something that would soon bring him out of hiding. One day he showed me a screenplay he was writing called The Trailer, which would later become Lbs. I was completely taken after I read the first rough draft. The main character, Neil Perota, was overweight and addicted to food. Neil seemed very human to me, unlike the typical overweight characters always dehumanized in movies. In the script Neil loses an incredible amount of weight and I immediately knew that the real reason Carmine wrote the script was to save his own life. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story of an overweight lead character who is in a lifelong fight with his worse enemy—food. When I gave Carmine my feedback, we were so in tune with each other that he asked me to direct, co-write and produce Lbs. with him. I was truly touched and enthusiastic. What mattered most to me now was helping my best friend save his life. So I set out to tell Carmine’s story, and the story of millions of other people who struggle with food addictions, as truthfully as possible.
Lbs. isn’t a movie just for people who have weight issues. It’s for anyone who has ever wanted to come to terms with themselves, their health and the need to improve their lives. Lbs. may not have a neat little Hollywood ending but it speaks the truth.
In the film, Carmine’s character Neil says, “Monday came...and I’m getting it done”—and he did. As for me, I think back and realize that I’ve also accomplished something that once I could only dream of. Hopefully, Lbs. will motivate a lot of people to accept responsibility for their own recovery. Now every time I pass by the piers of Brooklyn, I’m reminded that the most important thing we have in life is our health and we have to do everything we can to keep it.
Thanks Dad...you showed me the way. I miss you.