family names in Rhode Island history. How
coincidental, I think, that they should combine as
someone’s full name, Cherry Arnold, who is a film
director and native Rhode Islander. How coincidental,
too, that she should have spent years making a
documentary film about archetypal Rhode Island
personality, Providence major, Vincent “Buddy”
Cianci, a man whose name has launched her into a sort
of shadowed limelight. But this interview is not about
Buddy. This is about Cherry Arnold.
|Cherry Arnold directed BUDDY, a film that screened to sold out audiences at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August.
Photo by William Loggia.
I dial the
phone. It’s one of my first questions.
relation to those families,” Cherry tells me.
No. My family
got here to Rhode Island a long time ago, but no
relation to those families.
Hmm. She seems
young over the phone. She speaks, as I will soon
discover, with the cadence and level of a documentary
filmmaker, in close, steady waves with an occasional
lift to the end of sentences as if a declarative
should be a question. Modesty, I feel. But, not
I left Rhode
Island in the ninth grade,” she says. “I came back
to Providence in 2001 because my step-father was very
sick. To me, being outside RI was really cool and
having this insider-outsider thing going on. People
would ask me, “What’s it like living in a mob city
with a mob mayor? People are fascinated by urban myth.
And the farther away I got the more “mythologized”
I know what
she is talking about. Years ago, especially, I would
get the “ah, Mafia” look from people when they
found out I was from Rhode Island–especially when my
dark hair was darker. And after all, I sport a vowel
at the end of my family name…”
But in Europe,
people heard, ‘Long Island,’ so I just went along
How did you
get into film?
Years ago, in
Newport, I got involved producing photography with the
sailing photographer, Onne VanDerWal. It was
commercial work, a lot of crazy shots, from
helicopters, etc. Later, I did some jobs in Florida. I
had to walk along the beach and go find ten different
people so they would look like families and put them
Then, I went
to Philadelphia where I got hooked up with a
commercial photographer and then produced his work
which involved everything from set-builders to casting
actors and animals (I have such good animal stories
from those days!). I’m sorry if I’m dragging you
through my resume…”
No, not at
all, go on.
I went to New
York where I did the same thing. In 1993, I got
involved in the Internet, which at that time was just
about to take off. The Well, an online community,
launched in 1985 on the West Coast, asked me if I
would grow their business on the East Coast. For me,
repping was a challenge. Getting reels to people was
an arduous process and the idea of using reels online
was so great that I started to look into that. I was
already very intrigued with that technology. Then, the
Internet took off.
I became well
known as an Internet specialist, with the mix of
producing and marketing. I got a job with Barnes &
Noble in their on-line marketing department, which
they just had launched. They were going head to head
with Amazon, it was an exciting time, so much fun, and
we had a great run. Working in retail was such high
pressure, but I missed doing films, more and more.
|Vincent A. Cianci as seen in the premiere of BUDDY, a documentary about the former Mayor of Providence. Directed by Cherry Arnold with narration by James Woods.
Photo courtesy of Cherry Arnold.
that time, I was doing film work on the side. My
stepfather was dying back home in Rhode Island and my
mother had been diagnosed with dementia. No one was
minding the shop, so I took a sabbatical from New
York. I jumped right in, doing a lot more stuff. I
made a three year commitment and took on the Cianci
Such a pairing
of contrasts, I think, right out of Aesop’s Fables,
as in the Lion and the Mouse, yet, a balance: the
sturm und drang of Cianci and the halcyon, observant
eye of Arnold. Always curious about the thread which
leads people to do what they do, I ask the simple and
inevitable; what was your major in college?
I majored in
English and Political Science with a Minor in Art
What do you
like to read?
What do I
read? I read almost strictly non fiction. In fiction,
I feel, a thin, implausible plot line, or a character
which is not properly developed. I know it’s a curse
to be this way…
But, for me,
non fiction is also fiction.
I’m reading “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell. In
general, my favorite books to read are biographies.
“A Personal History” by Katharine Graham is my
favorite. To me, truth is more interesting than
certainly befitting one who makes documentaries…
I do see the
world through documentaries.
documentaries so much. I love that “take” on
things. As an example, look at A BEAUTIFUL MIND, in
the narrative version. It’s a great movie with
actors like Russell Crowe. Then take the documentary
of the same subject, A BRILLIANT MADNESS. It was so
fascinating, so over-the-top. Better than the Oscar
winning movie. No, I’m not saying one is better than
the other. Just different “takes” on it. It’s
more interesting to me from real life.
As for the
film about Cianci…I haven’t seen it myself, but I know that people flocked to
see it. One friend told me it was not as controversial
as she had expected -and the guy’s middle name is
controversy. He elicits such strong emotions from
people, adoration, revulsion…documentaries cast a
cool eye on things, don’t you think?
Yes, I would
say that was the greatest challenge especially with
this subject matter. Which side of Cianci to use as a
measuring stick. I didn’t want to make a movie for
Rhode Islanders, but for national audiences. I
didn’t want to get dragged down by local details,
fascinating though they may be, but not to someone in
the middle of Ohio.
By the way, I
teach yoga. The philosophical arm of yoga helps me
tremendously in grounding me. Also, it helps generate
Income? How do
you as a director generate income?
The circumstances under which I came back to
Providence were unique. I did well in the Internet
Industry so I came here with a chunk of savings. I
didn’t intend to go through it, but I did augment my
savings by teaching yoga. Also, there were grants from
the Rhode Island Council on the Arts and Humanities.
They helped me make the movie, but so far, I haven’t
made a dime.
we’re looking for distribution. It’s a matter of
finding the right sales rep. I didn’t go the way of
a lot of filmmakers with the credit card thing,
running up a lot of debt and at the moment, I have a
number of paying jobs, films for non-profit, involving
kids and animals.
As for the
film, whatever happens with BUDDY will happen. We’ve
done all the right things. As a yogi, I believe that
whatever happens is the right thing.”
Before I let
you go, I want to tell you about what happened during
those three years I worked on the film. It was tough
going. My stepfather died. My mother was diagnosed
with Alzheimer’s and we had to find assisted living
for her. I had to sell the house my grandfather built
in 1924. Then my sister died. There were some days I
was afraid to get out of bed. The whole time, this
movie, I was making was an anchor for me. It gave me a
sense of purpose. It’s life.
I don’t have
any words for her after hearing this. Those were
events that would have crushed most people and I can
only imagine…All I can say is” thank you” and
truly mean it. I hang up the phone. It hits me, her
voice, so young and positive, doesn’t waver. She
really does cast a cool lens on life, even her own.
was born in Providence Rhode Island. He
is a classical guitarist, writer and sometime actor.
He also travels all over the world lecturing. Vin
still lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two