Entitled Il Palazzo di Cozzo, the 85-minute film is the brainchild of Italo-Australian director Madeleine Martiniello, whose paternal grandparents migrated to Australia from Campania in the same year as Cozzo.
Shocked that nobody had already thought to do so, Martiniello reached out to Cozzo around a year ago to gain his permission to tell his story.
Once she received the go-ahead from the charismatic furniture magnate, Martiniello began researching for the film, including going back through the archives of Il Globo to discover earlier examples of his famous advertisements.
“It's such a rich story,” the director says.
“There’s the typical migrant story, there’s the beautiful aesthetic of the furniture in people’s homes and there’s also a really interesting look at what the media can do.”
Martiniello soon put together a production team, including producers Samantha Dinning and Philippa Campey of Film Camp, and began shooting with the help of funding by Screen Australia and Film Victoria.
To complete the film, however, she needs to fundraise a further $20,000.
The documentary will explore two main chapters of Cozzo’s story: firstly, how and why a young migrant from the Sicilian countryside built an empire and became an iconic figure in his new home, and secondly, how his business flourished alongside the migrant community in Melbourne.
In fact, while his first customers were post-war migrants from Italy and Greece, his current clientele is made up of new migrants from the Chinese and African communities, among others.
Martiniello explains that we can trace an interesting parallel between Cozzo’s personal story and the aspirations of migrants, each generation of which is drawn to his elaborate furniture.
Cozzo’s Baroque-style pieces have become a symbol of success for new migrants.
“Many Australians would look at his furniture and wonder who would ever buy it, but obviously he has managed to stay in business for decades,” Martiniello says.
“I want to have a protrait of Australian homes that’s different from what the mainstream Australian interior is expected to be.”
The director encourages anyone whose home is adorned with Franco Cozzo furniture and who would like to be included in the film to express their interest.
Hailing from the Sicilian town of Ramacca, Cozzo arrived in Melbourne on January 26, 1956, when he was just 21 years old.
He knew not one person in Australia when he set foot on its soil.
He began working as a launderer, then as a door-to-door appliance salesman.
While his talent for selling is innate, Cozzo is also a creative soul and his greatest passion is music.
“Franco always wanted to be someone who was well known,” Martiniello says.
“He always wanted to be a performer, but he knew it wouldn’t have been possible in Italy. I think it’s really beautiful that he came here and his artistry became performing ‘Franco Cozzo, the furniture salesman’.”
Having opened four stores selling furniture imported from Italy, Cozzo presented Australian television’s first non-English musical variety show, Carosello, which first aired in 1967 on Channel 0.
From that moment, he became a household name for Italian families in Australia and abroad, who would unite in lounge rooms to watch the show every Sunday.
The ‘70s and ‘80s saw the advent of the commercials which would launch Cozzo into the spotlight.
“I think he was very smart - he knew how to brand himself as himself and he knew that he had to be the face of the brand,” Martiniello affirms.
“Also the fact that he made ads in English, Italian and Greek was a really ingenious move which allowed him to really connect with these migrant communities.
“He’s always been good at using media platforms… even today he uses social media and is very popular on it.”
In 1981, Cozzo received recognition from the mayor of Footscray for his service to the community.
By that time he had already become a celebrity and icon of the suburb, which he put on the map with his famous ads, in which he exclaimed: “Where? In Brunswick and Foot-a-scray!”
Today, his Hopkins Street store is considered the “spiritual home” of Footscray residents and Martiniello hopes to delve into the history of the western suburb.
“Footscray is a microcosm for this story in general, because the same thing which happened there happened all across Melbourne,” she explains.
“When Franco Cozzo opened his store there, it was very European suburb and it has changed dramatically since then.”
Cozzo has become a cult figure in Brunswick and Footscray and his story couldn’t have begun anywhere else.
And while he’s known for his thick Italian accent, Franco Cozzo is intrinsically Australian.
For more information on Il Palazzo Cozzo or to donate, visit the fundraising page.