Elmhurst native's documentary on organized crime winning awards
Nicholas Celozzi has produced or written 20 films, but his new project about his great-uncle Sam Giancana, Chicago's former organized crime boss of The Outfit, might be his most personal.
“Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” chronicles one of organized crime's most flamboyant personalities — a man who grew up poor in Chicago's Little Village, moved his way to the top of The Outfit, socialized with Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and was solicited by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro.
The documentary also lays out Giancana and The Outfit's campaign fixing for President Kennedy and their possible involvement in Kennedy's assassination.
“I wanted to do something very layered, with lots of textures, not something superficial,” Celozzi said. “I really want to get inside and underneath.”
In writing the film, Celozzi went through endless declassified CIA and FBI documents to tell a story that would be nearly unbelievable if it were fiction, he said. At one point, the CIA was courting Giancana for dirty deeds in Cuba while he was under surveillance by the FBI — a case of one government hand not knowing what the other was doing.
“His fame and tenure just happened to include some of the most publicized moments in government history,” Celozzi said.
Celozzi also interviewed two of Giancana's daughters and utilized home videos and other sources close to the subject.
The documentary received The Grand Jury Award for “Best Documentary” film in Los Angeles at The Bel-Air Film Festival in October and will receive a Filmmaking Award for “Best Documentary” at The Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival on Dec. 5.
Celozzi was born in Chicago but spent his grade-school years Elmhurst. After college at Marquette University he headed to L.A. where he landed television and film roles before writing and producing his own films and documentaries.
He said he remembers meeting Giancana as a young boy, but that he didn't really realize exactly who his great-uncle was until he was 10 or 11, and family conversations around the kitchen table became more tense in the mid '70s, when Giancana was deported from exile in Mexico back to the U.S.
Celozzi described a man of two lives — devoted father at home and ruthless killer at work.
“He was a sociopath, there's no doubts about it,” he said. “He led a very balanced home life … he paid a lot of tuition for people who couldn't afford it … and then he had this notorious side.”
That notorious side caught up with him shortly after his return to the states. He was shot and killed in his Oak Park home in 1975.
“You can't defend it, you can only tell it,” Celozzi said. “We tell a very well-balanced story of Sam Giancana. We're there to lay it out.”
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