Every summer, as the sizzle perspires from the cement, urban thoughts of running streams, flowing grass and cool mountain breezes inherently materialize around every New Yorker and only subside with the arrival of fall. But few would consider the very nearby setting today that many Italian families once made an affordable respite. A sentiment reflecting the desolation this upstate destination of a bygone era now suffers. Nonetheless, a holdout remains and is the subject of The Last Resort.
The Screen Feed: For younger people, what the hell are the Catskills?
Dante Liberatore: Exactly. Right now there’s one Jewish place and three Italian places. I used to go to a place called Villa Maria. The whole setting was an extension of little Italy for Italians. It meant going to a place with people just like themselves and reminded them of home in Italy where they could catch the mountain breeze.
The Screen Feed: Why did the Catskills die out?
Dante Liberatore: When the airlines went through deregulation, prices fell dramatically. This giving people so many more options – who really wants to go to the mountains and look at trees.
The Screen Feed: How did the idea come about?
Dante Liberatore: After finishing my previous project on Arthur Avenue, the producer wanted to do another Italian themed film. So I said, why don’t we go see if there’s any Italian resorts left in the Catskills. We hired a researcher, and she found three of them. She suggested Villa Vosilla because there was a lot of friction in the family between the matriarch, Natalina Vosilla and her daughter and son-in-law. It was something that the researcher picked up on right away. Early on talking to Lee McGunnigle, the son-in-law who serves as manager and cook, Natalina just came barging in and began ranting and raving. It didn’t even matter that there were guests all around. The same was true later for our cameras.
The Screen Feed: What was the source of the conflict?
Dante Liberatore: Lee and his wife Doria have long wanted to renovate the whole place, while the mother has this convoluted idea that business is going to be what it was like in the 70s and 80s. This is just a lull, she believes, and won’t loosen the purse strings she controls. Even so, I wanted to get a better story arc, and there’s no real solution in the film because there’s no solution in life.
The Screen Feed: But a solution does emerge as you reveal at the end?
Dante Liberatore: In June, Natalina passed away suddenly at the age of 84, and like right after the funeral, they started renovating. But unfortunately, we had finished shooting already. The budget gone, there was no going back.
The Screen Feed: Even so, why did Lee and Doria endure all the crap the mother put them through, and once the old Italians pass on, won’t it be for naught anyway?
Dante Liberatore: They do pretty well in the winter with the skiers coming from Hunter Mountain, while Rock festivals, corporate events and weddings all contribute to actually turning a profit. Otherwise, they stay as a tribute to the founder John Vosilla – the father who started this with such a great passion
The Screen Feed: Tell me about the performers who date to the bygone past the whole film typifies?
Dante Liberatore: All of the performers we see - there's still a 60 plus crowd that are entertained by them. Uncle Floyd Vivino, for example, he's a pretty famous guy from New Jersey. He had one of the longest running shows on TV - even though it was only on UHF. He's still just a working comic. The kind of guy who drives at 3AM on mountain roads in the rain to get to the next gig. He's probably the last of his breed, but he's funny. That's why he's still working. On the other side, you got Marcantonio who performs for room and board. He was the old Italian Vaudeville type act. He has no business being on stage. Then there’s singers like Gene Ferrari. He takes a lower $300 rate and takes the free meals and drinks to make up for it and get out of the house.
The Screen Feed: What was it like for you to walk among all the ghosts - shuffleboard tournaments, outdated acts and Italians vacationing like it was 1950?
Dante Liberatore: It did feel like I was in a time warp. But even with the arguing among the family, they're all decent people, and the guest are just looking for somewhere to go that's quiet, has great friends and serves great food.