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Sorvino to debut film funded by Pa. taxpayers

Paul Sorvino might finally be over his trouble with "The Trouble with Cali."
/ Source: The Associated Press

Paul Sorvino might finally be over his trouble with "The Trouble with Cali."

Armed with $500,000 in taxpayer funding, the first-time director and "Goodfellas" star shot the independent film in northeastern Pennsylvania six years ago. But the project ran short of cash, and politicians in Scranton demanded to know what he did with their investment. Sorvino, in turn, was stunned and hurt that anyone would question his integrity.

Sorvino is hoping all that's in the past now that his passion project is about to get its first screening on Tuesday, at Arizona's Sedona Film Festival.

The 72-year-old actor said he's proud of the black comedy about an aspiring dancer and her dysfunctional parents. His Oscar-winning daughter, Mira, has a small role as the title character's ballet instructor; another daughter, Amanda, wrote the script and most of the score; son Michael produced the movie and also appears on screen. Sorvino himself plays Cali's father.

"It's the little film that could," Sorvino said.

The movie deal was originally pushed in 2005 by then-Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, who called Sorvino a "hometown hero" and said his decision to shoot in the county seat of Scranton would boost the region's attractiveness as a low-cost destination for filmmakers.

Cordaro lost re-election in 2007, and was later charged with shaking down businesses that held county contracts. He was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison on bribery and extortion counts.

Meanwhile, Sorvino's film got stuck in post-production, and Cordaro's successor said the cash-strapped county had no business betting money on an independent feature. The county asked Sorvino in 2008 for a "full accounting of the use of the monies we invested."

Sorvino took the criticism — and any suggestion that he had frittered away the public's money — as an affront.

"I have very high standards for my behavior and very high ethics. I would no sooner do a thing like that than jump off a building doused in gasoline," said Sorvino, whose ties to Scranton go back 30 years.

The bad publicity, coupled with the national economic downturn, made it increasingly difficult for the Sorvinos to get the financing they needed to finish the movie. Paul Sorvino wound up spending about $300,000 of his own money on the $1.3 million film. He said it was foolish — directors "should always use other people's money" — but necessary.

"I put a lot of my own in it because I wouldn't let it fall apart. It had to be done," he said.

While frustrating, the long delay allowed the Sorvino clan to hone in on the story they really wanted to tell. In the editing room, they jettisoned material they had once deemed essential but came to view as extraneous. In the end, Michael Sorvino said, "Cali" emerged as a leaner, better movie.

They're hoping to create buzz on the film festival circuit, beginning this week in Sedona. A theatrical release is their ultimate goal, though a TV deal would be fine, too, if that's what it takes to make "Cali" a financial success.

The county's chief financial officer sent another letter to Sorvino just last month, asking for an update on "Cali" and noting that Lackawanna County residents have a "great deal of interest ... regarding the film's progress."

The Sorvinos hope the county will soon make back its investment, plus a percentage of any profits. Down the road, they plan to screen the movie in Scranton, which Sorvino calls one of his favorite places and where he has many friends.

"It's been a long, hard haul, but I think there are a lot of reasons to exhale now and enjoy this part of it," Michael Sorvino said.

His father chimed in: "We made a film. Voila!"