Hot off the success of HBO’s The Jinx, Oscar-nominated documentarian Marc Smerling gave us an earful with Crimetown, a podcast about crime and corruption in Providence. We chatted with Smerling before he and co-host Zac Stuart-Pontier bring a live show—complete with special guests, musical performances and archival footage—to the Wilbur Theatre on July 15.
What drew you to Providence? I had a wonderful introduction to the city. I had met a girl in college, who I ended up marrying. [My ex-wife] was Italian and from Smith Hill, so I got to become part of this big Italian family. … It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody or they’re related to everybody, so when I used to go out with my father-in-law, I’d meet these really interesting characters on Federal Hill, but I also met Buddy [Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, convicted felon and the city’s longest serving mayor]. I always understood there was something different about Providence, that this sort of two-degrees-of-separation had an incredible effect of making everybody so close that forgiveness was a big part of the landscape there. There are these dysfunctional relationships like all families have, and Providence is one huge family.
Capturing the Friedmans, The Jinx, Catfish—you feature such compelling stories. What do you look for in subjects? You’re looking for people who are extreme versions of what we all go through every day, who are making choices that are much more extreme than ours, but, ultimately, they illustrate a bigger sort of connection to humanity. Angela, the woman in Catfish, is lonely. She’s burdened by her life, and she does something extreme. … You know she’s doing something wrong, but ultimately it’s hard to blame her for it. And Buddy [Cianci]— he’s a very similar character in that way.
Any hints about Season 2? We’ve been looking at cities. One city that I think is rising is Detroit. It’s got its own culture there that I think is interesting; it’s got its own music there that I think is interesting, its own heart. I have a fantasy, maybe not next season, but a season that’s more of a small-town story. The requirement is that whatever the crime is, it affected the fabric of the people who live in that city.