Director Julio Vincent Gambuto’s Team Marco is a fictional story, but it’s set in a world he’s familiar with. Born into a big Italian family on Staten Island, Gambuto brings Italian bakeries, bocce ball courts and grandpas in flat caps into view in the film, painting a loving portrait of his hometown.
Filmed entirely on Staten Island, the movie follows 12-year-old, tech-obsessed Marco, whose video game developer father has left the family. Marco’s nonno (grandfather), a recent widower, moves in shortly after. Forced to reconcile their generational differences, the two make strides: Marco learns the value of real-world friendships and experiences, while Nonno witnesses some of the good things about modern technology.
We spoke with the director and co-writer about growing up on Staten Island and what people sometimes get wrong about the borough.
How much of the film is taken from your own experiences?
Julio Vincent Gambuto: The characters were inspired by my nephews; I’m the uncle of seven kids here in New York City. My nephew’s name is Marco as well. He has a grandfather on the other side of the family who is a big bocce player on Staten Island, so we [B. R. Uzun is Gambuto’s writing partner] created a story around those two characters and what would happen if they had to live together.
Where on Staten Island did you grow up?
JVG: I grew up on a block of 12 townhouses on the South Shore, and it was primarily Italian and Jewish. We played kickball in the summers; we had a very New York City existence. We opened the fire hydrants in the summer so they would spray all over the place, and we called them Johnny Pumps. All of our parents were cops and firefighters and teachers and nurses. We [went into Manhattan for] Broadway shows or to go to Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. In a way we felt like outsiders, and in another way, we were from the City of New York.
What do you hope viewers will learn about Staten Island culture from Team Marco?
JVG: It’s a warm place and a close-knit community where generations mix and even live together. I know many families that are multigenerational and live in the same home.
Staten Island is a really interesting place, because we’re in the City, but we’re not in the city. There are only five ways to get on and off [the island]. Very few people know that it’s more than twice the size of Manhattan. About one-third of it is protected parkland, so it’s a really interesting combination of city and suburb. Without getting too political, the island gets branded as this uber-red conservative place, and in actuality it’s pretty mixed.
What are your go-to borough spots for food?
JVG: Our food is incredible. I always tell people to come and visit, to take the ferry over and have a meal and really experience that part of the Island. One of my favorite places is Enoteca Maria. It’s a very small Italian restaurant right in Downtown Staten Island, and the premise is that every night, a different grandma cooks. On top of the base Italian menu, each grandma is cooking her own [Russian, Chinese, Hungarian, Greek] specialties.
What’s the best bakery, and what’s your order?
JVG: Whenever I’m back home I go to Renato’s [featured in the film]. I get rainbow cookies, pignoli cookies and Italian bread. I like to make sure I’ve got cookies and bread whenever I visit my sister and mom.
You wrote a piece for Medium about the pandemic’s spiritual and mental effects that went viral. How do you think New York City and Staten Island have weathered this storm?
JVG: I’m so grateful to be in the City during this time. I think New Yorkers have an incredible ability to bounce back no matter what the circumstances. Staten Island was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy, and the only way they got through was by coming together as a community. Even the Staten Island Bocce Club, featured in the movie, did incredible work during Sandy, volunteering and making sure they were helping their neighbors.
I’m definitely saddened that [NYC] is quieter and that Broadway is closed and that there are fewer people on the streets. But it’s still alive and doing well and adapting. No other place in the world would bounce back this quickly.
I think New Yorkers are incredibly resilient and full of heart, and hopefully the movie represents that. This is a time to really lean into that desire to help each other and band together.
You can stream Team Marco through all the major digital platforms and on-demand providers. Go to teammarco.movie for the details, and keep reading for Gambuto’s recommendations of where to go in Staten Island.
Staten Island Greenbelt trails