Christian Garzone G'11 documents eerie deaths in family-owned Syracuse restaurant for DFH master's project

By Georgie Silvarole

February 10, 2016

The film was shown at the 2015 Buffalo International Film Festival

Danny “the King” Garzone stole a Twix bar in 2008. It was a minor crime that got him arrested for the 49th time and sentenced to a year in jail. The King did his time and got out.

The day after his release he was found dead in his family’s bar, Cafe Garzone, on South Avenue in Syracuse.

Christian Garzone G'11, Danny’s nephew, felt drawn in by his uncle’s mysterious death. For a few years, he questioned what actually did happen at Cafe Garzone. Eventually the story became his master’s thesis, created while he was a student in Newhouse’s documentary film and history (DFH) graduate program.

“I was overseas as a Navy journalist, and I got home [in 2008] and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, your Uncle Danny got a year for a Twix bar,’” Garzone recalls. “I said, ‘That’s just ridiculous, this is kind of weird.’ Then he did his time and got out, and less than 24 hours later he was found dead at Cafe Garzone.”

Christian began digging into family history, and the strange story quickly unraveled, complete with roulette wheels, colorful characters, wild accusations and—spoiler alert—another death at the restaurant. Garzone turned the tale eventually into a 50-minute documentary titled “The Death of Danny the King,” which was an official selection at last summer’s Buffalo International Film Festival (BIFF).

“I submitted the film to the festival thinking, you know, ‘What the hell?’ and I forgot about it,” Garzone says. “It’s kind of a sensitive piece about my family—a death in the family—and I always kept it kind of close.”

Though the finished project didn’t win any awards at the festival, Garzone says the experience and the chance to be there mattered most to him. He credits Buffalo’s Italian-American population and BIFF’s festival programmer and executive director, John Fink and Ray Guarnieri, for securing the film’s place in the 2015 program.

“It was absolutely surreal. It was such a privilege to be shown on screen there,” Garzone says. “I got to talk about the film on stage afterwards, and it was a really wonderful experience. That was my award right there.”

Richard Breyer, professor and co-director of the DFH program, says students in the program are very close and tend to share ideas and stories—which is how the idea for Garzone’s film was first sparked.

“The defining experience in that program is pitching, researching, designing, producing and post-production of a documentary,” Breyer says. “[Christian] had an exotic family and a great narrative—it was just really, really good stuff.”

Garzone, who now works as a video producer for the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, creates content that details the center’s personalities, procedures and programs. Previously, during his time as a Navy Airman aboard the USS Nimitz, Garzone starred on the PBS docu-series “Carrier,” which aired in 2008.

Breyer says he’s sure Garzone’s talent isn’t wasted, no matter where he’s working.

“It’s wonderful he’s using his skills—which are very real and impressive—doing media for the military,” Breyer says. “He’s a very exuberant dude. It’s a cliché, maybe, but it’s one that’s from the heart—what fun, what a privilege to work with people like him.”

Georgie Silvarole is a junior newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.