‘Cruise’ shines spotlight on 1980s Francis Lewis Boulevard

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If you enjoyed “American Graffiti,” or grew up in Queens in the 1980s, or spent your teenage years cruising up and down Main Street, you’re bound to connect with “Cruise,” a nostalgic feature film coming out later this year.

Set in Whitestone during the summer of 1987, this coming of age story centers around an Italian-American teen named Gio Fortunato, played by rising actor Spencer Boldman, whose character is loosely based on executive producer Gino Cafarelli.

Like many guys his age, Gio spends his free time driving around with his buddies while checking out all the pretty girls driving by in their cars — much like young Gino back in the day, before social media became king.

“The film was inspired by me, and my nights and days cruising ‘Franny Lew’ — Francis Lewis Boulevard — back in the ‘80s. My neighborhood back in the day was like the nights of ‘American Graffiti,’” said Cafarelli, who grew up in Flushing on 33rd Avenue, and has a supporting role in his film. “That was how many young people connected with each other in those days. Our social media in the ‘80s and early ‘90s was Francis Lewis Boulevard.”

The year 1987 was especially memorable for Cafarelli. It was the year he graduated Holy Cross High School (located on Francis Lewis Boulevard). He was 17 and it would be the last summer of fun before going off to college at St. John’s University.

The producer recalled his free-wheeling days driving around without a care in the world in his 1981 Cutlass Supreme with a custom electric blue paint job, and blasting his favorite song, “Running,” by Information Society. It was the era of freestyle dance music.

“Your car smelled great. All washed up. Windows down. Music blasting on a summer day or night. No better feeling. You felt on top of the world.”

Cafarelli said his favorite “parking spots” were in front of Pioneer bank on Francis Lewis Boulevard and the parking lot at Parsons Boulevard and Willets Point Boulevard, a mile or two away from Franny Lew. It may sound boring now, but for Gino and his friends, that was their world, and it was an exciting time. That summer was their last hurrah before parting ways and going off to college.

“I hung out mainly in Flushing, Whitestone and Bayside, and then on some off-Franny Lew nights, my friends and I would visit other cruising spots and go into other neighborhoods, like 86th Street in Brooklyn, and Central Avenue in Yonkers. The clubs we would frequent in Queens were Avanti in Bayside and Paleds in Rego Park,” Cafarelli recalled.

As the son of immigrant parents from Pietrapertosa, Italy — Cafarelli described them as “old school Italians” — he got plenty of inspiration for his part in the film, playing “Gio’s” dad opposite Kathrine Narducci (HBO’s “Wizard of Lies,” “The Sopranos”), who plays his wife. The leading lady love interest is played by Emily Ratajkowski (“We Are Your Friends,” “Entourage,” “Gone Girl).

You may have seen Cafarelli on popular TV shows like “Blue Bloods,” “CSI,” “Dexter,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Nurse Jackie,” to name a few. He was cast as Vinny Pitts in an episode of “The Sopranos,” and had a cameo role as Joe Pesci’s bodyguard in “The Good Shepherd.”

The seeds for “Cruise” were sown when Cafarelli posted his very first reel to YouTube and was subsequently discovered by Robert Siegel, writer/director of the Oscar nominated film, “The Wrestler.” In 2009, Siegel offered him the supporting lead role of Jeff Aufiero, a fast-talking attorney, opposite actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, in Siegel’s film “Big Fan.”

“I filmed a short story pitch presentation in 2012 titled ‘Franny Lew,’ and showed it to Siegel. I told him about my days cruising, and how those days and nights should be told in a story. We moved forward, he started writing the screenplay and eventually directing the film as well,” Cafarelli said. “Currently, a few distribution companies are looking at the film before it’s released in a few major cities theatrical­ly.”

Cafarelli recently directed the short film “Bricklayer’s Poet,” which screened March 15 at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image during the ongoing 8th Annual Queens World Film Festival.

He will also be appearing in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” as Mayor Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia, in a scene in which he attends an event thrown by Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) for Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). The movie is set for release in 2019.

In his work, the actor and producer says he has always tried to balance an interest in his cultural heritage with a desire to move beyond a strictly Italian-American experience.

Like “American Graffiti,” perhaps “Cruise” will remind viewers that you just can’t stay 17 forever.

Updated 12:23 pm, March 19, 2018
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Reader feedback

Johnny o from Whitestone says:
Where did the guy ever. Hang out on the Blvd. never seen him or known of him. He ready has no idea of the Blvd. just storytelling From others. Never. Been up there. That a fact
March 18, 9:13 am
Billy B from Woodhaven says:
Looking forward to seeing this. I loved cruising Franny Lew in my ‘77 coupe!!!
March 18, 10:24 am
Mike P from Whitestone says:
Clearly Johnny O must have cruised every day and night for 30 years and knows the name of every last person to hang out there. riiiiiiight.
March 18, 5:24 pm
Moochach from Whitestone says:
Were these the guidos that cruised the BLVD after everyone been there and done that. I rememebr 65-67 GTO's and 77 78 Trans Am's.
March 18, 6:01 pm
Tommy Allegretta from flushing says:
Hanging at carvell
March 18, 6:14 pm
Johnny o from Whitestone says:
That’s right knew everyone up there. Blvd had different crew. From all over. We did a lot of biting up. Heads up there. And picking up broads. Or whowas. Lol
March 18, 7:48 pm
Jim from Whitestone says:
Will Grant and Gunther be making a cameo appearance?
March 18, 11:04 pm
Billy from Bayside says:
That guy. With the Cruz. Shirt. Would have caught a beating looking like that. Guy looks like a prep. Doesn’t even look like a Guido. Who casts theses people.
March 19, 8:31 am
Gino bello from Whitestone says:
What a joke. This guys has no idea of the Blvd We were Kings at the deli biz. Know your history before you make a movie I still have my iroc. I probably robbed your Benz box
March 19, 9:33 pm
Lisa from Bklyn says:
Loved cruising 86 street! If only kids today could do what we did and be safe like it was in the late 80 when I was 19
March 20, 1:07 am
KAC from Fresh Meadows says:
Never heard of the guy and that was our school and Neighboorhood in the 80'.
March 21, 2:30 am
Mike Perricelli from Whitestone says:
What About Hangin @Pizza Rama in the Late ‘70’s on “ Franny Lew” The Good Ole Days when a Slice Of Pizza might have been 45 cents !! MANGIA
March 21, 6:01 am
Jerry C from Douglaston says:
Any of you guys remember Elephas? That placed rocked.
April 6, 3:20 pm
RICHIE Allen from Bayside says:
That guy is probably —— cruising on rainy Louise in his 60s and 70s not like these pussies back in the 80s and 90s and they never drove down 32nd Ave.
June 18, 12:08 am
Nick Greci from Flushing Queens says:
The Guy Who posted That the Actor playing Gio would have caught a beaten is Right,he Wouls have fit in in the Movie with Al Pacino crusing,we had a Gym on 32 ave Flushing Barbell Club,from 78-83 Remember the Accident,I will say Gino and his Family are great people,he was friends with my younger kid Brother,Flushing was turning into Chinatown by late 80s,But Wish Gino all the luck,my friend Vin Fortunato is not too happy,the real Drag Racers would go to Astoria connecting Highways or Staten Island,Thats were Mike Castellana would go,he now holds the world Record in the 1/4 mile,My ex Dog Partner and owner of Western BeefbSupermarket
Oct. 7, 5:39 pm

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