RANKED — Nationally ranked bocce player Brian Polantz, one of the stars of “Breaking Balls”

Capitol screens film based on Rome’s World Series of Bocce

Published Jul 5, 2018 at 4:00pm

It “wasn’t a walk in the park,” it was more like bocce balls rolling in the court during the four-year process of making and producing the film, “Breaking Balls.”

John Vourlis, president of Hometown Media Productions, will be in town for the World Series of Bocce at the Toccolana Club to be held from July 12-15. Thousands of competitors and spectators are expected to be in Rome, from near and far, to take to the courts for the 45th annual event.

Toccolana Club is actually featured in Vourlis’ film, as well as player Brian Polantz, who has competed in the event. The film is named for the English translation of “rottura della palle,” whose original object was to break the target ball as opposed to “bowling” the balls closest to the target ball. When Vourlis shared his idea of naming the film “Breaking Balls” with other bocce enthusiasts,”They loved it. They said, ‘Of course you have to name it that,’” the director laughed.

“Breaking Balls” is a 75-minute feature length documentary film that follows three key figures in the lead up to the 30th anniversary of the Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce tournament: Gino Latessa, the tournament director; Polantz, a world-class bocce player from Mayfield, Ohio; and Dominic Olivo, the head groundskeeper at the Wickliffe Italian-American Club.

Latessa and dozens of Wickliffe I-A volunteers work tirelessly to put on a world class bocce event which draws upwards of 10,000 spectators and players to Wickliffe annually.

Ninety-six four-man teams and 14 womens teams compete in the Challenge Cup for $20,000 in prize money, and more importantly, year-long bragging rights as the best bocce players in the midwest.

Prize money for the 45th annual World Series of Bocce is expected to be upwards of $30,000.

Polantz also played for the U.S. national team in the 2012 World Bocce Championships in Argentina.

“We travel with him as he competes in the Midwest summer bocce circuit, playing in the Triple Crown events of the World Series of Bocce in Rome; the Cleveland International Bocce Tournament in Mayfield Heights, Ohio; and the Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce in Wickliffe, Ohio,” Vourlis said. “Brian has won multiple tournaments, including Rome and Mayfield, but has never won the Cleveland Challenge Cup of Bocce.”

Olivo, 78, is head groundskeeper of the Wickliffe Italian-American Club, whose outdoor bocce courts are considered some of the finest in North America, if not the world. While battling colon cancer, Olivo continued to work tirelessly on his beloved bocce courts, while passing on his knowledge and experience to his young apprentice, Salvatore Continenza. Olivo and his chop-busting volunteer crew arrive at the courts at 6:30 a.m., put in hours of work three times a week all season long, from May through August, making sure the courts are ready for the Challenge Cup.

“These three narratives converge at the 30th annual Challenge Cup Tournament, where we see that bocce isn’t just a quaint, backyard sport, but instead a unique cultural tradition with a community of players, supporters and fans, who are the soul of this unique sport,” Vourlis said. “’Breaking Balls’ is a testament to the importance of passing down from one generation to the next a love and appreciation of this special game.”

From the time he pitched the idea for the film to the time it was shown at the Cleveland International Film Festival, the making of “Breaking Balls” was about a four-year process, Vourlis said. A graduate of the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, Vourlis worked in Hollywood for 20 years before returning to his hometown of Cleveland where he taught film at Cleveland State University.

The director/producer said he got bit by the bocce bug when his buddy from high school asked him to go watch a match with him. Now Vourlis not only plays the game, he decided to make his first documentary about the sport.

“I never considered making a documentary before, it was such a different process,” Vourlis said, admitting you never know what you’re going to get without professional actors and rehearsed lines. But his passion for telling the story others could appreciate and relate to drove him to create the film.

As a film producer, “it’s an itch, and you have to scratch it,” he said.

The hardest part was taking more than 200 hours of video and cutting and editing it into a 75-minute movie, Vourlis said. That alone was a two-year process.

It’s difficult to decide what makes the chopping block, because “you fall in love with everyone and everything involved,” the director said. “You have to find the narrative and structure it so it makes a story that gets your audience emotionally involved.”

Vourlis said he discovered that filming a documentary was much more fun because, “shooting a (Hollywood feature) film is more like a military operation” where everyone has their specific lines and directions. But making “Breaking Balls” took the filmmaker to places he didn’t expect to go.

“Some leads could be a waste of time, while other times you experience those ‘gold nuggets’ that you know right away will be in the movie,” he said.

Vourlis will be at the World Series of Bocce July 13-15 selling DVDs of “Breaking Balls,” as well as posters promoting the film. But Vourlis said he hopes local residents will take advantage of seeing the film on the big screen at the Capitol.

Through the editing process,” I had seen the film on the small screen and I didn’t see it on the big screen until it was featured at the Cleveland International Film Festival,” he said.

“The first time I saw it on the big screen was the most gratifying experience of my life. The (Rome) community can expect to be a big part of the film. I see this film as passing down a piece of Italian-American culture.”

“Breaking Balls” is not rated, and will be shown at Cinema Capitol Friday, July 6, through Thursday, July 12. Show times are 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. Sunday, and 7:15 p.m. Monday-Thursday.

Admission is $7, $6 for students and military and $5 for Capitol Friends. Tickets are available at the door and in advance from the Capitol Theatre box office (315-337-6453) and online at www.romecapitol.com.