A behind-the-scenes look at the movie ‘Cabrini’, as it wraps up filming in Buffalo


In early September, the Buffalo Water Filtration Plant on Porter Avenue off Lake Erie was transformed into a New York City seaport in the late 19th century.

There were dozens of immigrant families hauling their goods out of U.S. customs, police patrolling the area, a horse-drawn carriage, and even a living horse.

“You have Lake Erie and we have a visual effects service. So we can even put the Statue of Liberty there, ”said Jonathan Sanger, co-producer of“ The Untitled Cabrini Film ”.

The film production reimagined several Buffalo landmarks as New York locations from over a century ago before ending on Wednesday. The crew of around 300, after 45 days of filming in Buffalo, will now move on to a five-day shoot in Italy to complete production.

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Co-producer Jonathan Sanger on the set of “The Untitled Cabrini Film” on September 2, 2021.

The film will chronicle the life and work of Francesca Cabrini, an Italian immigrant nun who founded one of the largest charities in the world, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was also the first American citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

Sanger, who was also the producer of another period biopic set in Buffalo, Chadwick Boseman’s 2017 movie “Marshall”, said the experience convinced him Buffalo was the perfect location for “The Untitled. Cabrini Film “.

“Buffalo was very high on my list of places to at least watch,” he said. “I mean, I had to convince the director [Alejandro Monteverde], but once we brought him here in November and saw what Buffalo had to offer, he was delighted. And he really decided that this would be a great place to make the movie.

The crew used Delaware Park as a double for Central Park and the City Hall council chamber as a double for the Roman Senate chambers.

But perhaps the most crucial set was simply a brick warehouse complex in South Buffalo, which for three weeks doubled as New York’s famous Five Points neighborhood that no longer exists.

“We knew we were going to have to find a way to cheat it or create it in a weird way,” Sanger said. “And one of the things we found in Buffalo was a lot of abandoned warehouses, old warehouses, brick warehouses, that looked a lot like buildings in New York, like apartment buildings.”

Photos from the Cabrini film set

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Extras from “The Untitled Cabrini Film” wrap up a scene outside the Buffalo Water Filtration Plant on September 2, 2021.

It’s not just the structures in Buffalo that get the chance to show up. The shoot also allowed several hundred West New Yorkers to appear as extras.

“He said to me, ‘By the way, I’m an orphan and I have a little brother,” said Gabriella Collana of Tonawanda town, whose son, Gianluca, a freshman at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, is a extra in the film He was one of many immigrants to come out of future US customs at the filtration plant earlier this month.

Collana said she applied online after seeing that the production was looking for people of Italian descent.

“How many times can you say you’ve been in a movie in your hometown? ” she said. “So I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try it. ‘”

She added that the shoot was important to the Italian community in western New York.

“I am a first generation Italian-American and my parents came directly from Sicily,” she said. “Obviously not back then, but it’s an exciting thing to see when you come to a new country and don’t know what to live in. They have made a lifetime for themselves and their five daughters. So that’s cool. “

    Gianluca Collana on "Untitled Cabrini Movie"

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Gianluca Collana, a freshman at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, plays an additional immigrant on the set of “The Untitled Cabrini Film” on September 2, 2021.

The star of the film is Cristiana Dell’Anna, who appeared on the HBO show “Gomorrah”. On this particular day outside the filtration station, she was filming what she says is a pivotal moment for Cabrini in the film.

“She stepped on a few toes to do what she intended to do: open a hospital and raise money for it, asking, in the Archbishop’s opinion, the wrong people,” DellAnna said . “So here and there … she needs to see for herself and figure out what she will do next, what the next move on the chessboard will be.”

DellAnna has stated that she has never played a character like Cabrini.

“You haven’t heard of a nun, a woman like that, capable, with her beliefs, of building such a great empire, as she calls it,” she said. “She calls it an empire of hope and love.”

Sanger said it was great to be back on set after the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down the film industry last year. The production has a dedicated sanitation department, which Sanger doesn’t think will ever leave the film industry. Many of the crew wear masks, while the extras put their masks back on between scenes.

“But the movies have come back with a vengeance,” Sanger added. “It’s hard to find teams right now because everyone is working, mainly because most of the big companies are looking to create new content, and they need new content because everyone during the pandemic stayed at home and watched all the streamers and they’re just pretty much being watched now.

Cabrini director Alejandro Monteverde

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Alejandro Monteverde directs a scene for “The Untitled Cabrini Film” outside the Buffalo Water Filtration Plant on September 2, 2021.

Sanger said he has already spoken to several companies interested in distributing “The Untitled Cabrini Film”. Like many non-comedic book franchise movies these days, he said, it will likely be mostly seen streaming, but the hope is to get a theatrical release.

“It’s shot in a way that’s really made for a big screen,” he said.

The hope is also that the film will be marketed as the “contemporary” story that it is.

“This is a woman at a time when women didn’t do anything like this woman,” he said. “And immigration is as big a problem today as it ever was.”

The producer said he wanted to shoot other projects in Buffalo. There were only about two dozen for the set of “Marshall”. Now there are about 250 and that number is increasing. In addition, there are plans to build two film studios in the city.

“A lot of the people we hired for this movie would like to work here more, so they came here and said, ‘The quality of life is really great. Maybe if there was enough work here we would consider moving here.


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