Isadore Blumenfeld, better known as Kid Cann (a nickname he hated), was the “closest thing Minnesota had to a godfather.”
The Romanian-Jewish immigrant rose to infamy in Minneapolis during Prohibition, when the Twin Cities were known for a thriving mafia scene.
At times a money launderer, bootlegger, murderer, and power player, for many Minnesota Jews Kid Cann gave the community a bad name. His activities fed into regional antisemitism and had law enforcement treating the entire Jewish community as if it was full of criminals.
But nearly 100 years since Cann’s heyday, he’s going to get a new portrayal in a short film titled “The Combination,” led by Michael Greenberg, a local Jewish filmmaker, and his production house North Coast Entertainment. Greenberg is crowdfunding $15,000 for the movie’s production, with a little over $2,000 raised so far.
The older generation of Jews, “they’re a little bit more hesitant [about the project],” Greenberg said. But the Jewish mafia is alluring to “anybody younger that doesn’t know the story, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ Obviously, we want to tell that story, and it deserves to be told.”
For Greenberg, the project isn’t about making another gangster movie glorifying the mafia. It’s an attempt to have a more nuanced conversation about who Cann was and the context he grew up in. In a way, Cann’s story is emblematic of the immigrant Jewish experience.
“In this world, pre-World War Two, where things were extremely hard with antisemitism and for Jews in Minneapolis…you look at how our people were greeted, being first-generation immigrants,” Greenberg said.
Jews in Minneapolis were barred from many job, housing, and retail opportunities both through explicit and implicit antisemitism, leaving few ways to get by.
With the family in poverty and as the oldest of several siblings, Cann started selling newspapers, then running errands for criminals to make money. Eventually that led to making a fortune bootlegging rum and whiskey during Prohibition with his brothers.
“It makes sense why he went down that path,” Greenberg said. “A lot of it is circumstance, not just who he is…carving out their piece of the American Dream.”
The script for the short film focuses on a young Cann and the first time he ever killed someone. It’s a story of transformation and creation, as Cann becomes the figure immortalized in news reports and court cases. But this time, the depiction will be more three-dimensional, Greenberg hopes.
“The deep part of it is setting up that character to be like, ‘Oh, okay, this guy is gonna go on to do some awful shit,’” Greenberg said. But, “he has to have redeeming qualities [shown]…he used to sit around and tip the paperboy 200 bucks. There’s all those personal stories that you don’t hear.”
Greenberg recognizes that it’s a bit of a strange idea to tell the story of Cann at a time of rising antisemitism. Cann’s story dances with several antisemitic tropes: Jews owning a particular business (bootlegging) and having outsized political power (Cann was close with Floyd B. Olson, a Yiddish-speaking non-Jewish Hennepin County Attorney who would go on to be governor of Minnesota while accused of widespread corruption and mafia ties).
But there were other ethnic mafia groups, like the Italians and Irish, in the Twin Cities at the same time, and political corruption wasn’t only a tale of Jewish criminals. At the same time, Greenberg wants to showcase the diversity of the Jewish community in his short film with other characters who are not in the mafia.
“We will absolutely, when we get to making the show, have other characters in the community,” Greenberg said. He’s aiming for a “much better representation of an average person, and much better than we see in Hollywood films.”
Part of that comes with casting – Cann will be played by local Jewish actor Ryan London Levin.
Through telling Cann’s story, Greenberg also wants to tell the tale of Minneapolis and use the short film as a launching point for something bigger. Perhaps, with enough attention, this could turn into a full series on Netflix or Hulu, or a full-length feature film.
In doing so Greenberg hopes to raise the profile of the Twin Cities filmmaking community, and bring back the heyday of movies like “Fargo” and “The Mighty Ducks.”
“The film community is so deep with talent all across the board here,” Greenberg said. “I think Minnesota is waiting for a show to up the ante that we believe in film. And that it’s important to us, and that we have a production here…so we’re hoping that Minneapolis can get behind this one and help us make that a reality.”
Filming for the short film is scheduled for Jan. 19-21, regardless of if the project’s $15,000 fundraising goal is met. Greenberg is used to pulling together work on a tight budget, but most of the money is necessary to make a convincing period piece and a strong production.
“Raising that money will help with costumes, props, locations, help us have more hands on set, have more extras help us, hire better professionals on the back end for post-production, stuff like that,” he said. “And also pay everybody, even if it’s a little. That goes a long way for being in a town like Minneapolis with how hard and how passionate everybody is.”
With any luck, the short film will start to make the rounds in mid-late 2024, when audiences will get to decide their own takeaways about the life and tribulations of Kid Cann.
“I don’t think anybody will be able to watch [the film] and say, ‘He’s heartless. He’s a killer’ – he is, but at what cost?” Greenberg said.