May I Be Frank: A Story of Transformation and Gratitude
Until recently, Frank Ferrante never imagined that his life of drugs, disease and excess would become a story of transformation. Now 60 years old, this Brooklyn native of Sicilian descent never dreamed that a few years ago, at age 54 and weighing nearly 300 pounds, he would agree to a 42-day journey of transformation that included following a vegan diet (which he knew nothing about), receiving colon cleansing, and looking in the mirror to affirm his “radiant beauty.” But what audiences learn after watching May I Be Frank, the recent documentary about his life, is that transformation can happen to anyone at any time, and that anything is possible.
On a dreary San Francisco night in February 2006, Ferrante was walking to a video store to pick up some old Italian movies that he was planning to take to his sick cousin in San Diego. The climate matched Ferrante’s state of being during that time. “It was a direct reflection of my internal landscape,” Ferrante says. “I was nearly 300 pounds, depressed, lonely and not living my best life.”
A restaurant called Café Gratitude caught Ferrante’s attention. He looked in the window, received a warm smile and wave from a cute girl inside and walked through the doors, not knowing what to expect. He also knew nothing about the Café Gratitude menu: raw, vegan and organic food. “I thought Vegan was a planet,” Ferrante jokes.
Café Gratitude is a locally-owned, locally-sourced, raw, vegan and organic restaurant, with locations in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles. The current LA location is on North Larchmont near Melrose while a second location will be opening soon on Rose Avenue in Venice. Part of the restaurant’s philosophy is that food is medicine. Another founding principle is that Café Gratitude is a school of transformation, a belief explained in the movie by filmmaker Ryland Engelhart, a waiter and one of the owners’ sons. Each day, Café Gratitude employees are given a thought-provoking “Question of the Day” to ask patrons of the restaurant. On the night Ferrante walked in, Engelhart asked him that day’s question: “What is one thing you want to do before you die?” Ferrante’s response: “I want to fall in love one more time, but no one will love me looking the way I do.”
-Jason Mraz, musician
At that time, Ferrante was morbidly obese, with pre-diabetes and hepatitis C. He was addicted to prescription drugs and took a cocktail of medications just to make it through the day. He felt horrible inside and out, but continued to come back to Café Gratitude because the people there were so kind to him. “When you’re that fat, you’re not seen,” Ferrante says. “You’re big enough to eclipse the sun, but you’re not seen. I got the attention I was starving for.” Soon the idea for a documentary was born.
Fast-forward to the present and the 2009 release of the film May I Be Frank, which chronicles Ferrante’s highs and lows during his 42-day journey of transformation. Engelhart, along with his brother Cary Mosier and friend Conor Gaffney, document everything - Ferrante’s quick-witted responses to his “rabbit food” wheatgrass shots, his laughing outbursts about urgent trips to the restroom after colon cleansing and his sobs of regret and sadness. For nearly two years since finishing the documentary and losing 125 pounds, Ferrante has been touring the country, attending screenings of the film and spreading its transformation message.
One of the biggest lessons Ferrante continues to learn from his experience is that he has had to really love himself. “I stopped watching the film because I hated seeing [me] on the screen,” Ferrante says. “But someone at one of the screenings told me, ‘You cannot fully live today until you honor that guy.’”
That guy, whom audiences watch go through hell and back onscreen, now finds himself a powerful example to those who attend a showing. Ferrante said that women, in particular, approach him afterward and feel a strong connection to his story. He believes that this may be a result of a missing piece of this world’s puzzle. “It’s almost like the world needs a dad,” he says. He says one woman hugged him so deeply that he felt she wanted to nestle into his fatherly embrace.
Gregg Marks, the film’s director and editor, said that when the movie was released in 2009, they shopped it around for a year trying to get distribution. After several attempts at mainstream avenues, Marks and his team decided to shift their focus, as they were gaining ground at a grass-roots level. “The magic of the story is that we were doing private screenings,” Marks says. “The reactions from audiences were insane!”
In 2011, the team launched a theatrical tour that spanned the entire U.S., taking it straight to viewers and empowering local hosts to hold screenings. They sold out at almost every venue and, as the demand for Ferrante’s presence at the screenings grew, the team decided to continue the tour in 2012 because the original intent of the movie was for it to be seen and experienced as a community, rather than viewed alone. This year, the tour will be international, with screenings in Canada and Australia already booked. Ferrante will Skype-in to some of these screenings but will also continue to make personal appearances.
Ferrante has a powerful gift to share with the world. “Transformation is not just for special people,” he says. His story is influential because he understands and has compassion for those who have lived tough lives. “I’ve had a gun to my head; I’ve been in jail,” he says. “Those times were a source of deep pain and regret. And now they are a well that I can draw anecdotes and stories from.”
Ferrante’s stories and vulnerability also enable him to gain access to a basic human need - connection. “Everybody wants connection,” he says. “The only way to connect is to reveal ourselves and that requires vulnerability. Within the vulnerability is the fear, the shame, the joy and the creativity.”
May I Be Frank will be the kick-off documentary on PlayItFWD, an online marketing and distribution platform for viewing and sharing socially conscious media. For more information, visit PlayItFWD.com. For May I Be Frank tour dates and locations or to purchase a DVD or watch the trailer, visit MayIBeFrankMovie.com. To host a local screening, email HostAScreening@MayIBeFrankMovie.com. For more information on Café Gratitude, visit CafeGratitude.com.