To coincide with the 30th anniversary of longtime Forest Hills resident Geraldine Ferraro’s historic vice presidential nomination, which made her the first U.S. woman to be nominated on a major party presidential ticket, her filmmaker daughter, Donna Zaccaro, has produced a documentary about the woman who became a trailblazer without forgetting where she came from.
On Monday night, St. John’s University hosted a screening of the film, “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way,” which has been chosen as a selection at several film festivals and is now being broadcast on Showtime.
The screening was preceded by remarks from several area elected officials, while a post-screening panel discussion allowed the nearly 100 in attendance to speak directly with the filmmaker.
Geraldine Ferraro’s husband, John Zaccaro, was also on hand, offering his daughter support from the rear of the auditorium.
Borough President Melinda Katz, in her opening comments, called Ferraro “an amazing national figure” who “set the standard.” Katz said she was “amazed by her energy ... by her,” and added, “If it were not for women like Geraldine Ferraro, there is no way I’d be borough president today.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) recalled that during an earlier screening of the film, she “had chills because I remember the whole thing.” She said that Ferraro “really made her mark,” and called her an inspiration, suggesting that before Ferraro entered politics, “Forest Hills did not have any women representing them. She did our community very well.”
According to filmmaker Zaccaro, Ferraro, who passed away from multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, at age 75 in 2011, had known she was fighting the deadly disease for some time before going public with her illness.
About a year before Ferraro died, 12 years after being diagnosed, Zaccaro sat her mother down in front of a camera for an extensive interview, encompassing some 60 questions, which forms the basis of the film.
Ferraro’s responses are weaved throughout the film, along with interviews with 28 other mostly public figures with whom she worked, as well as archival footage and stills.
Over approximately 90 minutes, the film offers insights into her life, both public and private. It touches upon Ferraro’s childhood in upstate Newburgh; the loss of a baby brother, after whom she was named; her 13 years as a stay-at-home mom, during which she cared for her own children; her religious devotion; her careers as a teacher and a lawyer; and, of course, her unexpected entry into politics and her meteoric rise, foretold by her successful bid for Congress in 1978.
“She won first time out of the gate,” John Zaccaro says in the film.
The film follows Ferraro through her two unsuccessful bids for the Senate and details her efforts to become the first female vice president in the country’s history. Included is the moment she strode onto a podium at the Democratic Convention on July 19, 1984 to accept the nomination, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Though she and her running mate, Walter Mondale, ultimately lost the race, she said philosophically, “The candidacy made a difference for women in this country.”
At the conclusion of the screening, Donna Zaccaro said of her mother, “I really miss her.” Making the film, she added, was the hardest thing she has ever done. “I’m glad I did it,” she added, seeing the film as a way “to clarify and preserve her legacy.”
In his welcoming remarks, the university’s new president, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, said Ferraro “left a legacy of action and concern. She cared for her constituents.”
The film, which premiered on March 21 on Showtime as part of its Women’s History Month celebration, will be broadcast on the station through August. Private DVDs will be available starting in September at ferraropavingtheway.com.