From the Bronx to the Buddha
A True Life Story of Tragedy, Comedy, and Triumph
Produced and Directed by: Frank Fontana

Review by Sushama Austin
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From the Bronx to the Buddha is the story of Mike DeStefano or "Mikee D," stand-up comic, former drug addict and gangster, and AIDS spokesperson, "survivor." Mike DeStefano is a guy whose face you might see in a Spike Lee "joint," except with depth. And itís his sincere depth of character that carries this hour-long docu-"stand-up"-drama.

Viewers do not know many Mike DeStefano-types as the focal point of documentaries. Usually they are in works of fiction, as shallow tough-guys, Italian-stallions, and here, there is the real thing. His crass and blunt nature is sincere and does not appear overdone. Later, however, when his stand-up and what we are seeing as "real-life" and behind-the-scenes overlap, the piece becomes somewhat redundant. Much of the stand-up is race-jokes that you've heard already. Bronx to the Buddha, at times, seems transparent, like you know what is going to happen from the onset, but as it proceeds, it and DeStefano mature.

The most compelling part of the film is definitely the final half-hour. DeStafano, a long term non-progresser or LTNP has seemingly triumphed over the AIDS virus without medication and without treatment. He speaks of Buddhism assisting in his survival and of his rejuvenated spirit.

I wish that the lives of his wife and best friend who succumbed to the AIDS virus could have entered into the piece more, which would have made his triumph even more extraordinary. There is a too-brief mention of his wife, herself a drug addict, and it takes too long to get there.

Stylistically, there are a few scenes with a psychologist that are, at best, campy. The roaming "man-on-the-street" camera in which DeStefano himself stars, engaging himself with passerbys in comedic skits are interesting. It is a unique experience to have the subject of a biographical documentary take on a role that is clearly more than just talking head and biographical footnotes; he exists as a character and as a faux-producer.

Overall, DeStefano is a fascinating, dominant character. His experiences have warranted his crassness and searing personality. And his triumphant nature brings the audience along nicely. He will remind you of so many of your favorite Italian-American characters- a la Tony Soprano and the list goes on and on. "Mikee D", as he is called throughout the piece, is tough and endearing.

Sushama Austin
Sushamaaustin@hotmail.com