Monday, March 23, 2015

CIFF: 'Traficant' Offers a Portrait of an Unforgettable Character

James Traficant gets his due in director Eric Murphy's insightful and entertaining documentary (photo courtesy of Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown).

Those who are not from Mahoning County, Ohio, may not fully understand how James Traficant became a fixture in the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years. Eric Murphy's documentary Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown gleefully examines the phenomenon that was the Youngstown area's charismatic, entertaining and embattled sheriff-turned-congressman.

Known for sporting bell-bottom pants and a long-on-the-sides, who-knows-what's-going-on-up-top hairstyle, Traficant rose to prominence in the Mahoning Valley first as a maverick high school quarterback and then as a candidate for sheriff. The son of a truck driver could easily identify with the region's blue-collar population and embodied a swagger that got their attention. 

Taking on the area's established Democratic machine, he won the job of sheriff but ran up against the Cleveland- and Pittsburgh-area mob families, which both had their hands in the industrial city located between them. That's just the opening salvo in this film, which makes wonderful use of historic footage of the charismatic and blustery Traficant to show off his larger-than-life persona. 

It's easy to see why voters were so drawn to Traficant. Even when he's spinning what seems the tallest of tall tales to get himself out of a jam, you want him to prevail. Even when he's making bad jokes on the floor of the House of Representatives, you snicker. Along the way, you find out that was a large part of his allure ... and his downfall. 

Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown screens again at 11:55 a.m. on March 23. For more information and a full Cleveland International Film Festival schedule, visit

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