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The Power Of Love In Good And Evil

Michael Franzese
Michael Franzese was listed as the 18th richest Mafia Boss in America in Fortune Magazine's cover feature in 1986: The 50 Biggest Mafia Bosses. Among many other crimes, Franzese, a captain in the Mafia with a crew below him, had hatched the gasoline racket which cheated the US Government out of taxes on gas (petrol), which saw him net 10 million dollars a week at its height. The love for his father, John "Sonny" Franzese, the notorious underboss of the Colombo crime family, saw him dive into a world of unimaginable evil and crime. The love of a woman saw him change his life around to the man he is today, a Disciple of Jesus. Can a man who without question followed orders that brought untold misery to others be truly a changed man? Before I met Michael Franzese, I was apprehensive, skeptical, and curious. Apprehensive because like most people I was never up close and personal to a convicted mobster before, skeptical because we all know when we are doing wrong, curious to see what I would fathom from the man. Throughout the interview I was fascinated by this outwardly gentle, peaceful man with an underlying tenacious persona, who with sincerity of purpose talked about his life then and now. Elspeth Tavares is in Conversation with Michael Franzese, a born again Christian, now a motivational speaker promoting the virtues of the ability to change through the love of God.

ELSPETH TAVARES: God the Father is the film of your life that Moonstone Entertainment is representing at Cannes. How would you describe the film? Is it a documentary, a message film, or is it about religion?

MICHAEL FRANZESE: Where my faith intersects in my life, it's part of the story, so it's not a religious film. I call it a hybrid: it has many features of a movie, but with interviews and archival footage which I think is a very credible and interesting way to tell the story. This film is about my past and the transition from where I was to where I am today. The first half is a mob story, and it delves into what I did and I reveal some things that probably people would be surprised to hear. Reviewing all the archival footage for this project, I now understand why I was in so much trouble back then.

ET: While watching the interviews in the media on television that you have conducted on your journey to this new life, I was struck by many dichotomies. As a man, is it about redemption, is it about the resurrection of your soul, or the power of love?

MF: It's definitely redemption. I was as far away from being redeemed as anybody could be. I make no excuses for my life. That's who I was. I regret it, because it is an evil life, and that was something that I was part of. I say an "evil life" not because the guys are evil - I'm not the pot calling the kettle black - but because the life is evil. I don't know one member of any family of that life, including my own - not my wife and children, praise God - but my brothers and sisters, my mother, that hasn't been totally devastated. I was redeemed and saved from that lifestyle. When I say "make no excuses," nobody pushed me into that life, it was a choice I made, so I take full responsibility for what I did during the 20 years I was in that life. Is it a love story? Yeah, it was really the love of a woman, who happened to be a real woman of faith, who eventually over a period of years got to me, and brought me out of that life, not initially the love of God.


God The Father is a hybrid film with the feel of a docudrama,
which also incorporates the stylish animation above..

ET: When looking at the archival footage, what is interesting is that you say now that it was evil, but you knew then it was evil. It's a part of the question that you cannot answer but I would assume on orders you were instructed to kill people. How do you explain that?

MF: I will. It's not justification, it's explanation. I went into that life to save my father, to help him get out of a sentence that I believe to this day was unjust. My dad was wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, and has done 35 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. When I came into the life, I looked at it as an honorable thing. I was 21 years old and idolized my father. I wanted to be part of who he was so that I could help him.. When you are initiated into the life, you are told it's a life of honor, you understand that the playing field is level, you are told very clearly what the rules are, and if you violate the rules, you could pay for it with your life. If your best friend violates the rules, he can pay for it with his life, and you might be the one called upon to do it. In a crazy sort of way, you think - its okay, our eyes are all open, the ground is level, we understand we can make mistakes and we understand we're gonna pay for it. You justify it in that way. I want to explain this too: It's different in the United States than it is in Europe and Italy. We didn't go around killing people on a whim. The order to kill could only be approved if it comes from the boss, and was taken very seriously. So unlike drive-by killings, it wasn't that way. In part, why that life was able to thrive for over 100 years in America is because it was very organized. We had organization, very strict rules, we had discipline. Now, is it just? No. I saw guys get killed for the wrong reason, as a result of greed, and there's a lot of treachery. At some point, you know, this is wrong, it's evil, yet even after I realized that, I stayed in it.. If I knew what I know now, I would never have gone into that life. I was worried about my wife and kids. I didn't want them to go through what I went through growing up the son of my father, and he didn't want that life for me either.

ET: You have found redemption through Jesus. What about the people who don't believe in Jesus, or in God, or religion, what do you think this hybrid documentary film offers them?

MF: It's a tough question because I was one of those people. I believed there was a God, because sensibly and rationally, it was very difficult for me to look around at the world and believe that it just happened out of the big bang theory. I believe in a creator, I believe in creation, I believe in intelligent design. But I had no relationship and I had no moral consequence to that. My mother-in-law and my wife were sworn people of faith and talked to me about God, I didn't buy into it. But something happened to me. When I was put back into prison the second time you count the days, I was there for 35 months and 13 days; 29 months and seven of those days I was in the hole, complete isolation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just me and God, if there was one. I can only tell you this: I grew up on the streets a very cynical guy, you can't sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, you gotta prove things to me. I know every standard of proof that exists in our criminal justice system. I've been to trial five times: four on my dad's cases; evidence has always been a major part of my life. When my wife and my mother-in-law were feeding me the rhetoric about Jesus, I was kinda, okay, great. When I got into the hole, I had nothing but time and studied for three years, not only the Bible, inside out and upside down, but I read over 400 books on every different faith. I wanted to know, I didn't want to be fooled. My conclusion, based upon the evidence that I felt was very solid and still do till today, the Bible is God's word and Jesus was my savior. When I came out of prison, I came out with that thought, but with no knowledge whatsoever of what I was going to do. I didn't plan to be in a ministry, I didn't plan to be a speaker, I didn't plan to write books. I was told I was going to get killed so had to go and be undercover. What's developed since then, in my view, is all God's plan for my life. So, for those that don't believe, I get it. As Christians we don't force our faith on anybody. We are obligated to tell our stories, and people have a free will. If they want to believe it they can believe it, if not they don't have to.

ET: Was Jesus a regular man? Who and what is he, to you as a man?

MF: Very interesting question. Jesus was absolutely a very real man, according to scripture, there's enough evidence to support that the biblical writings are real, so let's take that as a given. Throughout my whole life, I was told I had to be a man's man, and that was the standard I had to live up to. When I first came to Christ, and to know him, realizing that he was a man, I separated his deity from his manhood and I wanted to see what type of man he was. I always had a wimpy impression of him, he's portrayed quite often hanging onto the cross, wimpy and soft. That wasn't my idea of a man. When I studied Jesus, as it's recorded in the Bible, he was an amazing man, truly, the only man's man that ever walked Earth. He was perfect in every way. He was wise, he had courage, he had strength, he had love, he had every quality. That attracted me to him. Now you have to take the leap: he was crucified, that's been supported by documentation outside of the New Testament. People have a problem with the Resurrection, because it's the Resurrection. Based on the evidence, it makes sense that the Resurrection was real. And I see what's happened in my life.

ET: Are you therefore saying that after reading 400 books and completely reading the Bible, which I think very few people have completely read, that through all of this, you've come to the conclusion the evidence is there that this man existed? In one of the interviews there is talk that your discovering Jesus was your way in. Your way into what?

MF: Discovering Jesus was my way into a new lifestyle, a new way of thinking, according to the Christian faith, a way into redemption and salvation. I didn't get out for Jesus, I had already made the decision to get out of the Mafia. Jesus was my way into a new lifestyle, because if you believe like I do, that he died on the cross for forgiveness of all sins, then he allowed us to come into grace and into eventually eternal life, which is what all Christians want. We have one real goal in life and that goal is to get to Heaven. Our goal is to get there, and in the Christian faith, we believe it's through Jesus, so that is my way in.


John "Sonny" Franzese (L). (R) Michael Franzese's wife Cammy and daughters, Miquelle, Amanda, Julia, who all appear as dancers in the movie's live action segments.
ET: How do you know if Heaven exists? And if it exists, what is it? There are a lot of people who don't believe in God, who don't believe in Jesus, who don't believe in the Heaven and the Hell.

MF: There have been a number of strong atheists such as C.S. Lewis, who finally sat down and did the research. Those very strong atheists have become the strongest Christians, this isn't a fairytale. No pastor can come to me and say, "Hey, you got to believe in Jesus because I said so." I needed to find this out on my own. My research produced this result. And I believe very, very strongly that if people were to take the time and do the work and do the research, and much of it is historical, they'll come away with the conclusion that Jesus was real.

ET: What is Heaven?

MF: Heaven is described in the Bible, very accurately, it's that place that you go to be closer to God, and according to the Bible, Heaven will one day exist on Earth, that'll be the new Earth. But it is a place that Christians believe we go when we accept Christ and that's where we live, with God forever. And do I believe in that? The answer is yes. ET: How would you describe faith?

MF: Faith is your belief in something. Faith is something people generally only apply to God, like faith is a supernatural, otherworldly thing. It's not so at all. Think about how much faith we have to have in our normal day - how much faith you have every time you get into an airplane. You don't even realize it. You get into that airplane, you have zero control over your life. What is your faith based upon that you walk into that plane? Pilots know what they're doing, equipment is sound, the FAA in America has it under control, sometimes. You have faith based upon very strong evidence. It's the same thing with your faith in God. Nobody's telling you just to believe in God because somebody said so. The way I look at it, and God put me on this Earth with a free will, I could have chosen one of any one hundred faiths, or I didn't have to choose any faith at all. So if you do the work, you can come to a conclusion. You can do the work and reject it, but I think that's difficult, because to me the evidence is so clear.

ET: Your wife clearly didn't like your father, and was very upset with him for betraying you. How would you describe love? Obviously I'm not suggesting for a moment that the love that you have for your father is the same as the love that you have for your wife. Clearly, it's not. but in the context of what love means, and in terms of what you did, and in terms of what you're doing now, and in terms of your wife, how do you separate and reconcile the combination of those aspects in your life. Can you explain that?

MF: I will. The love I have for my dad goes back and is very involved and it's not dealt with in this movie, but will be in the sequel. When my Mom and Dad got married I was an infant. I grew up from an early age believing that my dad was my stepfather, and there's a reason for that, and the sequel will reveal that. Prior to marrying my mother my father was married. He had three children from the first marriage. Throughout the marriage - It was very difficult for my mother. At 18 she now had three kids aside from her own baby that she had to take care of. And it's sad to say, (rest her soul) but she did not treat those kids well, she rejected them, and it was a constant flashpoint in the home. I always feared that my father was going to reject me because of that. So I did everything in the world to try to please him: I was a great student, a great athlete, all to please him. He never rejected me, he always treated me like his son, very special. So I had a love, an admiration and a thankfulness for that, and that's how my love grew for my father. I found out later on that wasn't so. My love for my wife - I'm madly in love with her, to the present day. She's a great woman, great mother, who has supported me throughout my past. I believe, through her, God saved my life. My love for God is the fact that I believe that he saved my life, that I was on the wrong trajectory, I was doomed, and he pulled me out of that.

ET: Can those three different kinds of love find a point at which they connect?

MF: I still love my dad. My dad betrayed me, but I still love him. In a weird way, I just never held him accountable to that, which my wife finds a little difficult to understand at times. Love is a very strong emotion. In the Christian faith, I've seen a lot of 'genuine love' from people, that's been really impressive for me, 'cause it's something I didn't experience in my former life.

ET: Members of the mob are dead and you're still alive and you put that down to God looking after you, and wanting you to do what you're doing with your life now. Could it be argued that you made a deal with the FBI and they're protecting you in some way? From what I have read, you never paid the $15 million regarding the deal they made with you.

MF: What I tell you is a matter of record. The reason I went back to prison is because I made a deal with the FBI but never lived up to it. I was pulling the wool over their eyes, telling them I would cooperate but never intended to. When they finally put me to the test to cooperate, I refused, I broke the deal, and ended up back in prison. They haven't protected me. Number two, as for the money, as a matter of record, I did pay it back.

Initially I didn't want to, and I did everything not to, but in the end, I did. Thirdly, there is a supernatural reason as to why I'm still alive. I believe that my purpose in life has not been completed yet. I think we all have a purpose and God works through us. But God didn't just say, "Okay, Mike, you're in all this trouble. I'm gonna throw you out there to fend for yourself." You gotta understand, I spent 20 years in that life at a very high level. I knew what the guys would do and what they wouldn't do. Unfortunately, one of the horrible things in that life: your best friend walks you into a room, you're in trouble, you don't walk again. You are done, I've experienced and survived that. When I made the decision to turn my back on that life I said, okay, I'm gonna marry this young girl, and move out to California. I took a plea. I was gonna do a couple of years in prison. When I come out, I'll have parole and probation. I can use that as an excuse not to meet with anybody, and I thought maybe after 10 or 12 years, guys in New York would forget about me and I'd live happily ever after out here. Of course, it didn't happen that way. It became public and I was in trouble. But understand something - I knew the life intimately well. They weren't gonna walk me into the room again. It's one thing to walk somebody in the room, it's another thing to send a hit squad across the country, kill somebody, and get away with it - especially the guy that knows what's going on. I knew what these guys would do, so I changed my whole lifestyle. I haven't been in a club in 25, 30 years. Why? Bad place for me. I know who hangs out in these places. I'm pretty well-known. I'm in the club, guy makes a call to New York, I'm gone. I don't walk my dog at exactly 7:00 in the mornings, or create patterns in my life. I don't go and sit in the same restaurant every Tuesday. I changed my whole lifestyle around, and I was and am very disciplined about it. Plus, the FBI did come to me. They're obligated to, even if they don't like it. "We got word from our informants, this guy's out here to hurt you." They gotta tell you. I've had threats on my life, and, I have outlasted everybody. Everybody I knew is either dead or in prison for the rest of their lives. So with combination of God, he prepared me for it, he said, Okay, now you're ready. You know what to do. I'll help you out. You're gonna make it. People have to understand that this happened but here's the result 15 years later, that I'm still very fortunate and blessed in what I do.

This article is also available in The Business Of Film's new and innovative QR Reader Platform featured in the TBOF Cannes Special Issue & Product Guide Printed Edition.
 
 

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