Our National Geographic documentary “Pickpocket King”

Dinner with thieves

Bob and I are thrilled to announce the world premiere of the documentary we shot late last year with National Geographic. Pickpocket King features us, Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent, as “thiefhunters in paradise.” The paradise we chose for the story is the warm and wild city of Naples, Italy, home to the world’s best pickpockets.

National Geographic has just posted a clip. [As of October 9, the clip is no longer available.]

In the film, stage pickpocket Bob Arno faces off against a gang of the world’s best criminal pickpockets. The thieves demonstrate their trickiest (and most lucrative) steals. Bob and Bambi are invited to a splendid dinner with thieves, where lively thefts intersperse the endless courses.

The #1 pickpocket’s conclusion: “Bob. You and I do the same thing, but you make people laugh. I make them cry.”

The documentary’s international premiere begins this month, region by region and week by week. Watch for it in your local listing. I will post schedules as I receive them.

AND, I will soon republish the series of behind-the-scenes, making-of posts I wrote during the shoot.

Edit: Watch the entire National Geographic documentary, Pickpocket King.

© Copyright 2008-2011 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • Hi Bob,
    congratulations on the show. I´m sorry I missed a couple of episodes but the ones I saw amused me a lot. I tried to play some of your tricks on my wife, but it didn´t work out too well. We´re still married though….

  • Great documentry! Enjoyed it very much. I hope we will see more of Bob´s amazing pickpocket moves;

  • Yes! Why? It baffles us, saddens us, angers us. The final cut we approved had perfect sound. Nat Geo never puts out substandard quality like the audio on Pickpocket King. Sigh…

  • Francesco. You can’t take TripAdvisor’s list seriously. Do you know how they made that list? Not from researching cities, but from counting how many online references TripAdvisor got on thefts in each city. Bob and I do actual research in every city we write about.

    Bob has explained that Naples is the capital of pickpocketing because the pickpockets there are the best in the world. You can read his explanation at Bob Arno on “Pickpocket King”.

    By the way, did you SEE the documentary?

  • All you said it’s true, but i think that Naples isn’t surely the “world capital of pickpocket”, because Rome (that it’s second in the TripAdvisor’s top ten of dangerous city, after Barcelona) has an amount of robbery more than the duble respect at Naples (Civicum survey).
    So, even increasing the robberies by 70% in Naples, as Bob Arno says, it would always be lower than in Rome, as in Barcelona and many other cities around the world..
    So, say that Naples it’s the capital of pickpocket is an exaggeration, isn’t it?
    That’s the why i think that this documentary is defamatory.

    PS: I’m sorry for my english, i’m fifteen…

  • Hi Francesco. I don’t know how it is for locals, but visitors to Naples do have a high rate of getting pickpocketed, compared to other cities in Europe. I’m not talking about all the visitors who arrive in Naples and go straight out of town, to Capri, or Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, but those who stay and walk in the streets and take public transportation. Have you ever gone with a visitor to report a theft to the police? It is no wonder that “statistics” are low. I have seen the police just laugh. I think the reality depends on the world you inhabit. As a local, you might not spend time in the areas that pickpockets frequent.

  • Hi, i want just to say that i live in Naples, I have never undergone any type of robbery. I think that this documentary only help to reinforce a false stereotype. Surveys show that the amount of robbery made ??in Naples is very smoller than that of all other Italian and European cities.

  • Thanks a million for your kind words, GaryP. We’re eager to hear all opinions of viewers.

    Definitely visit Naples! You won’t find a more warm and welcoming community anywhere, but you might die of too much great food.

    By the way, who, in your opinion, is the pickpocket king?

  • Hi, i thought the programme, documentary was superb and has put Napoli on one of my cities to visit in my future list. What has been said is true it would only work in Italy, because it is only the Italians what can carry off this thing we call Flair and as shown at the ”dinner of thieves” it is around the table in abundance. Great viewing and who would not want to meet the ‘king of naples’, such viewing can only do more good than harm for Naples.
    Regards GaryP

  • Ciao Vincenzo,

    my name is Michele and I am one of the crew who shot the documentary.
    I say documentary because most of the people you’ll see in the programme just play their own part, the one they play in real life.
    There might be some reconstruction (I haven’t seen the final cut, but I know we shot them) but most of it is pure reality.
    I was born in Naples, where I lived until 10 years ago, so I share the inner point of you as you do.
    We can’t hide the city’s problems, we can’t lie about them.
    You may give the best imagine out to the world, but as soon as you get out of the airport, the train station or the port the truth is there to show the city for what it is.
    Instead of complaining about NG, people should apply pressure to politicians, civil servants, and ultimately fight the real criminals who are killing Naples.
    But rest assured that the good things of Naples go around the world as the bad things, so it is a fair picture the one foreigners have of it.

    You may want to see the film first and then comment (I wait to do so) because we all came to Naples to show the city and its humanity.
    Eventually our target was to play with the pickpockets working there.
    We found so much beauty and poetry in Naples, and we tried to translate it into the film.
    Bob Arno stated clearly that Naples is not the world capital of pickpocketing, but it is where the guys master this “craft” at its best.
    It is NG who changed contents and titles in such an offending way and it is useless to attack Bob for this.

    I wonder if you had the same reaction to Gomorra (both the book or the movie), or the old Sergio Zavoli documentary called “Le vele”.
    They all tell the same story, which is the the true story, of a city where civil cohabitation and respect are subject to personal ambitions and ignorance.
    Where fear strangles honesty and business, corruption reaches every level of government.
    Where life have been expressing itself this way since millennia, wearing out people’s soul.

    I’m getting too far now, let’s stick to the topic.
    Naples fate won’t be changed by such a little thing like this documentary.
    This may even produce a romantic, yet realistic picture of the city, amending certain stereotypes and attracting more tourists.
    Let’s wait to see it and then comment, shall we?
    Statt’e bbuon’.

  • Thank you all to carry on the conversation and sorry it took a while for me to reply back: the amount of absurdity stated in these comments is cracking me up so hard I couldn’t write.

    So you are the ultimate source…because – let me get this straight – you were there, in Napoli? Amazing. And in other places, too. Man, honestly, you have got to live a life for each of the places you go to, to be even marginally relevant as a source.

    I, myself, have lived most of my life in Napoli and the image you all (and by «you all» I mean you lot that make money out of the mythological aura around the name of my motherland) depict of Napoli is the usual drama-style, with a bit of US flavour in it, wisely mixed up with northern-european’s god complex.

    There is nothing real about it. And I am sorry: I am the ultimate source: I was born and bred parthenopean, unlike you.

    But let’s play your game and let’s say that your methods are actually relevant. After 28 years in Napoli, where nothing happend to me in person, I moved to London UK for job reasons. After pretty much 1 year, when certainly I had stopped looking like a tourist, not far from the centre, I got almost stabbed, and my wallet and phone were well gone in a few secs. A few months earlier a friend of mine, in Piccadilly Circus, couldn’t find his stuff anymore. Well gone, and he didn’t even notice.

    Then I moved to Paris, where I’ve seen more pickpockets operating on the buses and in the central squares than anywhere else in my life. And I can assure you: I did see them in Napoli too.

    So, surely, from my “on field experience” you definitely picked the wrong place to warn people about.

    You say «Naples’ reputation as a “pickpocket capital” existed long before the making of our documentary—and for good reason». Oh yeah, you’re right, but you have no idea what the good reason is. Napoli is considered the capital of many things nowadays, thanks to the amplification of the italian media which, like you, gain many advantages by keeping this up. Napoli has also been the capital of many other things in the past. And even today, when it suffers of many problems, it is still a capital of many wonderful things (geospatial engineering anyone?).

    I mean, I don’t expect to change your mind: Bos is the worldwide famous criminologist (and I am being ironical, as I just found that out), and I am, what, just another guy from Napoli?

    So, pelase, go ahead and contribute to keep the myth alive. At the end I understand you: this “documentary” (well, there are actors, so, should I call it a fiction?) wouldn’t make a penny if you shot it in Paris or London. But in Napoli? Oh, man, it’s already famous amongst people that haven’t even watched it yet!

    You nailed it.

    Au revoir! Whoops, sorry, it’s not paris, it’s Napoli, so, «stateve bbuono»!

  • Oceanus ngo, please understand that we have no say in the title of the film. Neither did we have a say in how the film was edited. The documentary was not “written” and there was no ulterior motive. Bob and I simply brought the crew to a city we love and, over the course of a month, the cameras shot hundreds of hours of footage.

    The story as seen in the documentary took shape in the editing room. We had no control over this process. No one sought our opinion. We were not shown the edited film until it was finished. So you are speaking to the wrong people about changing the film’s title.

    But, why not wait and see the film? You might like it! The Napolitanos are ALL likeable characters, as you will see. And I believe you will see that Bob and I truly do love Naples and its people. This is not a hate-film, warning people to stay away. It shows the warm and “human” side of people who steal for a living and are otherwise considered “bad,” wherever in the world they work.

    In the film, you will see beautiful scenes of Naples, wonderful restaurants, a gorgeous hotel, happy people, including the pickpockets, parties, and lots of hugging. Really. It’s not what you imagine. Write after you’ve seen it. Let me know what you thought.

  • “Hello Bob, hello Vincent, first of all thank you for replying us.
    We respect your point of view, but what you have writen is just your opinion after your personal experience in Naples.
    We still believe in pickpocketing official reports as you still belive you are “considered the ultimate source”.

    What is “good for Naples” is that people like you stop to make their own bussiness on stupid stereotype… Let us remaind you other words you used to advertise Naples in this website: “…If they don’t like you, they just kill you. Even if they do like you, because you’re just a tourist with money to spend (or have stolen), you might step in front of a flying bullet. These things happen in Naples.”
    We are sure you choosed Naples just to give a Soprano fake style to your work nothing else… of course it’s just our point of view…

    We ask you again to change the italian title

  • Vincenzo—yes, it does seem that the Italian division of National Geographic changed the name of the documentary for Italian television. The official title used elsewhere which we are aware of is “Pickpocket King,” without naming Naples.

    The claim that Naples is the home of the world’s best pickpockets is our own: my and Bob Arno’s opinion. As worldwide researchers of this ubiquitous-but-esoteric subject, we are considered the ultimate source. We research through actual feet-on-the-pavement, being-there. You can read about how we research elsewhere on this blog, and in our book. Our knowledge is respected enough that we are asked to train security and law enforcement around the world.

    I’m sorry to say that you must forget official statistics. They have little or no relation to reality. This too, is substantiated elsewhere on this blog.

    Bob Arno and I are responsible for choosing Naples as the locale for the documentary. We chose it for many reasons, but primarily because we knew (from personal experience and years of research) that there were so many pickpockets actively working in the city. In the making of this film, we were pickpocketed on the very first bus we rode.

    Naples’ reputation as a “pickpocket capital” existed long before the making of our documentary—and for good reason. Since government cannot seem to correct the problem, our goal is to teach travelers how to avoid becoming victims. We give travelers training, and thereby confidence, allowing them to visit Naples (and elsewhere) and leave the city with only good memories. That, you must agree, is good for Naples.

  • Ok, NG Italia might have changed the title, which is shameful. But here the problem does not seem to be any different. This article says:

    «[…] the warm and wild city of Naples, Italy, home to the world’s best pickpockets»

    Seriously? What’s your source? What’s your evidence? Or is NG just riding a worldwide known stereotype whose diffusion is to be granted to the our first enemy: the Italian state.

    There are shedloads of cities around Europe where the pickpocketing problems is likely to be 10 times worse than Napoli’s. In Italy “national leaderboard” Napoli is not even in the first 10 positions!

    So what’s the reason for NG to choose Napoli in the first place, other than exploiting an old worn out stereotype camouflaged by fake romanticism?

    As parthenopean I am sick and tired of seeing the great name of my city and my land covered in sh*t just for sake of someone else’s bank account.

    Subject: 1023 firme in 3 giorni per chiedervi la NON messa in onda del “documentario” su NAPOLI
    To: redazione@nationalgeographic.it

    Napoli meriterebbe ben altro trattamento e attenzione dal NG. Il “documentario” girato con l’ausilio di attori è lesivo per l’immagine di Napoli sin dal titolo, anzi afferma anche il falso! Secondo dati ministeriali Napoli non risulta essere affatto la prima città come numero di borseggi! Un colosso dell’informazione come il NG trasmettendo questo “documentario” assesterebbe l’ennesimo, gratuito colpo basso alla città di Napoli annullando tutto il lavoro svolto dalla cittadinanza attiva e associazioni che tentano ogni giorno di fare uscire da Napoli un’immagine nuova, quella vera, quella di una grande, splendida Capitale d’Europa unica al mondo! Fra i tanti, anche Il nostro lavoro, il nostro tributo alla Città di Napoli a cui abbiamo dedicato un intero progetto “Un’Altra Napoli” http://www.oceanus.it/it/progetti/another-naples.html Qui di seguito le prime 1000 firme raccolte in meno di 3 giorni, dal 20 sera al 23 settembre, per chiedere la non messa in onda del “documentario” del National Geographic “Napoli, i Re del borseggio” prevista per domenica 25 settembre 2011.

    [1,023 names deleted]

  • Bambi, are the pickpockets talking to their marks ? like saying excuse me/ my bad ? The way it is presented in the documentary, people are so stuck in the buses that they don’t even care if someone bump into them.

  • i watched it 3 times ! such a good documentry ! i think these are same thieves in your posts about the ”Den of thieves”. i was quite surprise that Bob wasn’t able to steal in real life knowing that he wouldn’t have any problem doing it ! i’m writing a book about pickpocketing and comparing techniques of stage and street pickpocketing and that documentry helped me a lot ! That’s awesome !

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