Happening every beginning of summer, the festival organizer’s crew will install the 350-pound projector up to Mr. Pente’s room which will then be projected to the blank wall across the street. When Mr. Pente died in 2010, his nephew, the late Ray Lancelotta, bought the house and allowed the Film Fest to continue. When Mr. Lancelotta died in 2014, and the house has been subsequently sold to a new owner, the gracious owner agreed to continue the Film Fest tradition.
Apart from the Film Festival, the Little Italy neighborhood celebrates annual events such as Columbus Day Commemoration in October, Madonnari Arts Fest during fall, Ravioli Dinners happening every March and November, Columbus Piazza Lightning in December, and the Taste of Italy in September when all the restaurants gather and have samples of their food in a parking lot.
The Film Festival’s popularity is mainly because of how local it is. TV personality and former mattress kingpin, Joe Garagiola, consider it as a community success. With many factors working to tear the community apart, the Film Festival is something that kept the community’s strong Italian identity intact while making it a destination spot. The 20+ restaurants in the neighborhood have benefitted the most as many moviegoers would come as early as five o’clock to get a good spot, and either order carry-out food from the restaurants or set up a chair first and reserve their spot before going for dinner.
Every year, just like a tradition, the 1987 romantic comedy “Moonstruck” starring Cher and Nicholas Cage kicks off the nine-week series and “Cinema Paradiso” will end it. The film usually starts at nine, and one would be surprised as a hush falls over the crowd once the reel begins Everybody is quiet, enjoying each other’s company. By 11 o’clock, the evening is done. The same thing, albeit different sets of movies, will happen again the following Friday until the last Friday of summer.
In 2018, after 19 years of being Baltimore’s summertime tradition, the Little Italy Film Festival had been canceled. It’s original organizer, Mary Ann Cricchio, became occupied organizing tours of Italy and no longer spends her summertime at Baltimore. Moreover, the former location of the movie fest is set to be sold for developers who are eyeing the area. Its proximity to up and coming Inner Harbor, Harbor East, and downtown makes Little Italy one of the most sought-after places in the city.
Little Italy Film Festival is run by volunteers and as expected, life has changed for many of these organizers. New volunteers tried to set up the festival at the fence parking lot of Stratford University, a few blocks away from the original place, but haven’t had the time to get all the liability and permits required on time.
It would have been hard for John Pente to see the festival going in hiatus. His neighbors knew that Mr. Pente not only valued the restaurant in the neighborhood but the whole community. Mr. Pente is a well-known and cherished neighbor for many residents of Little Italy in Baltimore, Maryland. Born and raised in Little Italy, John bought the house adjacent to the room up in 222 South High Street. He was known in the community as someone who welcomed people into his home with no regard to their race, religious beliefs or sexuality. He was always so well-known and so well acknowledged for his kindness and his hospitality – a simple man who lived a simple life. He never achieved any kind of greatness, but in his small way, he did remarkable things. Neighbors recall how he was always there to contribute without any fanfare.
When he died at the ripe age of 100, the festival provided him with a long life’s perfect closing act. His simple act of generosity had made him “Little Italy’s ambassador to the world.” Thanks to him, the neighborhood is flourishing today, and perhaps nobody is more proud of its current success than John Pente. He had witnessed many of the neighborhood’s transformations and changes, all the while remaining a constant presence. Mr. Pente exemplifies the commitment and dedication which gives a community its character.
A mural on Pratt & High Streets, sponsored by Peroni Beer and is the work of artist Marshall Adams was commissioned as a tribute to the neighborhood’s Film Festival. It includes an inset honoring the late John Pente and his dog, Gina. The local restaurant owner also marked a plaque to his house as a gift for Mr. Pentes’s big support and participation to the Little Italy Film Festival.