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Staller Center for the Arts

The German film ‘Sweethearts’ starring Karoline Herfurth and Hannah Herzsprung makes its U.S. premiere at the festival on July 20. Photo from Staller Center

The Staller Center turns into a movie lover’s mecca when new independent films from nearly 20 countries screen at the Stony Brook Film Festival on evenings and weekends from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, July 27. The popular festival, now in its 24th year, brings a highly selective roster of diverse films, making it a favorite of moviegoers and filmmakers alike.

Produced by the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, the festival pairs memorable short films with an array of features you won’t see anywhere else. This year’s event, presented by Island Federal, brings in filmmakers, cast and crew who field questions after the screenings, adding a unique dimension to the experience.

The idea of family forms the foundation for many of the features and shorts at the festival this year. Whether they are by birth or by choice, flexible or dysfunctional, generational or newly formed, you will see families of all stripes in films that take place in nearly 20 countries, from Australia to Austria, India to Israel and Spain to South Africa.

The families in this year’s films are found in Cold War era East Germany and the political upheaval of 1980s Jerusalem. They brave the isolation of North Dakotan farmlands, experience drug-fueled head trips in the California desert and solve idiosyncratic murders on a small Turkish island. They live in Paris’ Chinatown as well as remote Himalayan villages; they travel the dusty roads of Senegal and the long highway from the south of England to the Isle of Skye; and they revel in the lush rain forest of Queensland and the wilds of Appalachia.

PREMIERES

There are many world, U.S., East Coast and New York premieres in this year’s festival including the opening film, Balloon, a German film based on the true story of two families who escaped East Germany on their homemade hot air balloon, which is making its New York premiere on July 18.

The festival closes with another New York premiere of the French film Lola & Her Brothers, a charming comedy about three adult siblings who are still trying to look after one other after losing their parents.

Several American indie films will have their world premiere at the festival, and many foreign films, including Yao, Sweethearts, Miamor perdido, Lady Winsley and Made in China will have their U.S. premieres. 

American features include Them That Follow, a tense drama featuring Academy Award winner Olivia Colman; the raucous comedy Babysplitters, featuring Long Island native Eddie Alfano; and Guest Artist, a stunning and humorous film written by and starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Timothy Busfield. 

“The quality and diversity in our dramas, comedies, and documentaries are extremely high and I expect our audience to be thoroughly entertained this summer,” said Alan Inkles, Stony Brook Film Festival founder and director. 

For a complete film schedule and descriptions of all of the films, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

TICKET INFORMATION

All screenings are held at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook in the 1,000-seat Main Stage theater. Film passes are on sale for $90, which includes admission to all 20 features and 16 shorts over 10 days. 

Passholder perks include VIP gifts, discounts to over a dozen area restaurants throughout the summer, guaranteed admission 15 minutes before each film, and the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Closing Night Awards reception. 

For $250 you can purchase a Gold Pass and receive all the Regular Pass perks plus reserved seating with filmmakers and guests, as well as entry to the exclusive Opening Night party and the Closing Night Awards reception. 

Single tickets for individual films are also available for $12 adults, $10 seniors, $5 students. For more information or to order, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Times Beacon Record News Media hosted a double-feature screening of “One Life to Give” and its sequel, “Traitor: A Culper Spy Story,” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts on Sunday, June 23. The screenings were followed by a Q&A with Executive Producer Leah Dunaief, Director Benji Dunaief, featured actors Dave Morrissey Jr. and Jonathan Rabeno and production designer Connor O’Neill. The free event, TBR’s gift to the community, attracted hundreds of history buffs to the Main Stage Theater to learn about Setauket’s Culper spies and their critical role in the Revolutionary War.

Photos by Rita J. Egan and David Ackerman

Dave Morrissey Jr. returns as Benjamin Tallmadge in ‘Traitor.’

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will present Times Beacon Record News Media’s latest film, “Traitor,” on Sunday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. The special screening is preceded by the award-winning “One Life to Give” at 6 p.m. Admission is free, TBR’s gift to the community. Call 631-751-7744 for more information.

Belle (Emma Watson) comes to realize that underneath the hideous exterior of the Beast (Dan Stevens) there is the kind heart of a Prince in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon. © 2016 Disney Enterprises inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host a concert by the Stony Brook Wind Ensemble on the Main Stage on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Conducted by Bruce Engel, the program will include Samuel Barber’s “Overture to the School for Scandal,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony (1st movement),” “Bolero by Maurice Ravel, “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, “Beauty and the Beast” by Allan Menken and “Pines of the Appian Way” by Ottorino Respighi/

Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students and seniors. For more information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

By Melissa Arnold

Classical music has a long-held reputation for being upscale — there’s something about it that feels refined, polished and graceful. The Department of Music at Stony Brook University is passionate about demystifying the genre, making the works of Mozart, Brahms and others enjoyable for everyone.

Each year, the Stony Brook University Orchestra invites the community to join them for their Family Orchestra Concert, an hour-long performance meant for all ages, including young children. This year’s concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at the Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

“[This event] used to be called the children’s concert, but we didn’t want to give the impression that it’s just for children — the whole family comes along, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said conductor Susan Deaver, who’s led the orchestra since 2000.

The ensemble is comprised of over 70 Stony Brook students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as a handful of area high schoolers. Many of the students aren’t music majors and come from a variety of disciplines. In fact, the majority are studying biomedical engineering.

“So many of these students have been in music all their lives and don’t want to let it go,” Deaver said. “We have a lot of great players, and it’s a real blend of disciplines, the common denominator being a love of playing orchestral music.”

 This year’s concert theme will highlight dance in orchestral music, with each piece either having “dance” in its title or creating a sense of dance and movement. The repertoire features recognizable pieces including selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bach’s Minuet in G, along with some that might be unfamiliar, like Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka. 

The program will also feature works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Borodin. Dancers under the direction of SBU’s faculty member Amy Yoop Sullivan will collaboarte with the orchestra.

A highlight of each year’s concert is a solo performance from a grade school musician in Stony Brook’s Young Artist program. Open to grades 6 through 12, the program allows young musicians to enhance their musicianship and ensemble performance skills. Students are encouraged to enter an annual concerto contest, where a panel of impartial judges chooses a student to play at the concert.

This year’s contest winner, 12-year-old pianist Viviane Kim, will play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I’d practiced a lot. I played the song for my family, my friends, and anyone else who came to our house,” said Viviane, a seventh-grader at Port Jefferson Middle School. “It also helped that only three people were listening,” she joked.

Viviane, who also plays the flute, comes from a musical family — her father, Alan Kim, plays piano as well, and her grandmother is a violinist. “I played piano all the time when Viviane was a baby, and she took a natural interest in it. She started playing around the same time she started reading,” her father said. 

Michael Hershkowitz, executive director of Community Music Programs for the university, sees the annual concert as a chance to expose the audience to something new and wonderful.

“It’s important for classical musicians to be as accessible as possible and to break down barriers for people wanting to try it. A lot of people have an impression that classical music is just old and stuffy,” Hershkowitz said. “I think that dance is one of my favorite themes we’ve done — so much of music is tied to motion and bringing people together. And once you see a classical concert, you want to do it more.”

All seats for the Family Orchestra Concert are $5. For tickets and information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

For more information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

Renee Fleming

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

As befits a woman born on St. Valentine’s Day, Renée Fleming grew up to become the sweetheart of the opera world. Possessing a powerful yet silky voice, great beauty and impressive acting skills, Fleming has moved from a single dimension to any number of new musical venues, with a major role in Broadway’s “Carousel,” singing the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl, and innumerable appearances on television, in movies and in concerts.

The opera diva will be the star attraction at Stony Brook University’s Gala, the major fundraiser at the Staller Center March 2. I’ve long known about her spectacular professional career but thought I would like to know more about the person that she is, so I had a brief, 10-minute chat with her on the phone at a hotel in Barcelona, Spain. We were time-limited to protect her voice, which is as immediately recognizable when she speaks as when she fills the Metropolitan Opera House with glorious music.

Q: You are coming to Stony Brook to perform. Do you have some special connection with SUNY?

A: Yes, I went to SUNY Potsdam, and so did my sister and brother. My two nephews are at SUNY, so we are a fan club.

Q: You undoubtedly travel a lot. What do you do to keep yourself healthy and protect your voice during plane trips?

A: I try to stay hydrated, get enough rest. I live moderately and believe in mind over matter. And I do the same as others, trying to avoid those who are coughing on the plane.

Q: I believe you grew up in a musical family, your parents both being high school music teachers. Did you always want to sing?

A: It was the furthest thing from my mind! I loved horses, thought I might be a vet, or maybe the first lady president — which has yet to happen. I had ambition, was a very good student. I always wrote music growing up. But I never heard of a woman composer so that wasn’t an option. I majored in music ed, my parents thought that was a good idea, went on to the Eastman School and Julliard. Then I fell in love with jazz.

Q: Do you get nervous when you are to
perform?

A: I was not a gregarious person, that wasn’t my personality. I was shy. So that was one of the skills I had to learn.

Q: Do you have a favorite role or composer?

A: I’m not so much into favorites. Verdi, Strauss …

Q: Do you speak other languages?

A: Yes, I speak French, German, some Italian.

Q: Do you need to know those languages to sing in them?

A: No, there have been great singers who have not known the language they were singing in. You do not need to know the language but it is helpful.

Q: You have two daughters. How did you manage the work/life balance?

A: It’s hard for a working mother. You never feel you are doing anything well. You have to manage everything. It’s challenging. Fortunately I have a tremendous amount of energy and a great work ethic.

Q: Did you get that from your parents?

A: (Pauses.) Yes, probably.

Q: Do you ever have nightmares that you had forgotten your lines?

A: Yes, those kinds of nightmares like
everyone else.

Q: Did that ever happen?

A: No.

Q: Are your dreams set to music?

A: Hmm, I don’t really know. 

Q: What else about music?

A: I’m working with the National Institutes of Health. When children are exposed to music early, their oral comprehension is increased. Studies have shown that.

A major passion of the opera superstar is the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. She is artistic adviser at the Kennedy Center and has launched a collaboration with NIH — the first of its kind between a performing arts center and the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world. She gives presentations on her concert tours with scientists, music therapists and medical professionals. She recently co-authored an article with Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Be sure to come out for the fundraising Stony Brook University Gala Saturday night, March 2, at the Staller Center. You will not only hear fabulous music. You will see one of the 21st century’s most remarkable
women.

Susan Lucci

A night of comedy

“Celebrity Autobiography” heads to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Recital Hall on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. The evening will feature Emmy winner Susan Lucci (“All My Children”), Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”), Jackie Hoffman (Emmy nominee for “Feud”) and show creators Emmy nominee Eugene Pack and Drama Desk winner Dayle Reyfel who will read from highly selective and hilarious celebrity memoirs.

Mario Cantone

The passages in “Celebrity Autobiography” run the gamut from the “poetry of Suzanne Somers” to the shocking “romance tips” from Tommy Lee. Audiences will hear how Vanna flips her panels, what Stallone stores in his freezer and tips from the Kardashians. Justin Bieber, Hasselhoff, Celine, Zayn, Barbra, Tiger, Arnold, Britney, Dolly, Cher, Oprah, Beyonce, as well as the famous love triangle of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher are included, all in their own words. 

“Celebrity Autobiography” won the 2009 Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience. The off-Broadway show ran for 10 years and toured extensively to Los Angeles, Edinburgh, London’s West End and Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Tickets are $48 with discounts for children, students and seniors. To order, visit www.stallercenter.com or call 631-632-ARTS (2787). 

From left, Emmy award-winning actor Brian Cox with Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival at the U.S. Premiere of ‘The Etruscan Smile’ on July 21. Photo by Nick A. Koridis

The 23rd annual Stony Brook Film Festival wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 28. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 19 to 28.

“The Etruscan Smile,” featuring acclaimed actor Brian Cox in the lead role, won the Grand Prize. The sold-out U.S. Premiere was screened on July 21 with Brian Cox, Thora Birch and Sandra Santiago attending and hosting a Q&A. 

Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival announced additional awards at the reception. “We received so many enthusiastic responses from our astute audience members over the ten days of the festival,” he said. “‘The Etruscan Smile’ was hailed as a favorite. I was fortunate to have Brian Cox reach out to us just as we were finishing our schedule. He had been to the Stony Brook Film Festival for his film ‘The Carer’ and was keen on having the U.S. Premiere of ‘The Etruscan Smile’ at Stony Brook.”

The Stony Brook Film Festival has awarded eight Grand Prizes in its 23-year history. “The Etruscan Smile is the ninth to receive a Grand Prize.” 

And the winners are:

2018 Grand Prize 

“The Etruscan Smile” (United States)

U.S. Premiere 

Directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis. Written by Michael McGowan, Michal Lali Kagan and Sarah Bellwood. With Brian Cox (“Braveheart,” “The Carer”), Thora Birch (“Ghost World”), JJ Feild (“Austenland”) and Rosanna Arquette (“Pulp Fiction”). 

2018 Jury Award – Best Feature (tie) 

“Octav” (Romania)

U.S. Premiere 

Directed by Serge Ioan Celebidachi. Written by Serge Ioan Celebidachi and James Olivier. With Marcel Iures, Victor Rebengiuc, Eric Aradits and Alessia Tofan.

“Symphony for Ana” (Argentina)

East Coast Premiere 

Directed by Ernesto Ardito, Virna Molina. Written by Ernesto Ardito, Virna Molina and Gaby Meik. With Isadora Ardito, Rocio Palacin, Rafael Federman, Ricky Arraga, Vera Fogwill and Rodrigo Nova.

2018 Audience Choice – Best Feature 

“The Guilty’ (Denmark)

Directed by Gustav Möller. Written by Emil Nygaard Albertsen and Gustav Möller.With Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage and Omar Shargawi.

2018 Spirit of Independent Filmmaking  

“Thrasher Road” (United States) 

East Coast Premiere

Written and Directed by Samantha Davidson Green. With Allison Brown and Christian Kohn.

2018 Jury Award – Best Short

“Unnatural” (United States)

East Coast Premiere 

A film by Amy Wang. 

2018 Audience Choice Award – Best Short

“Internet Gangsters” (United States)

New York Premiere 

A film by Sam Friedlander. 

This year the films at the 2018 Stony Brook Film Festival spanned 19 different countries and the festival welcomed over 40 filmmakers to represent their films at screenings. With support from presenting sponsor Island Federal Credit Union and others, SBU was able to welcome guests from Israel, India, England, New Zealand, Spain, Belgium, and many from the West Coast.

The Closing Night Awards reception held in Staller Center’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery was sponsored by HBO. Catering for the reception was provided by The Meadow Club. 

Additional sponsors include Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP; Altice Media Solutions, Suffolk County; and WLIW21. Staller Center Media Sponsors include WSHU Public Radio, Times Beacon Record News Media, WALK 97.5, LI News Radio and Oldies 98.1.

The Stony Brook Film Festival will announce the start date for 2019 entries later in the year at www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

Above, a battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket last summer.
Film showcased at SBU’s Staller Center for the Arts

By Talia Amorosano

The wait is over. On Sunday, June 24, an integral piece of U.S. and Long Island history will be revisited in the geographic location where much of it actually took place. At 7 p.m., the Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, will host the first major public screening of “One Life to Give,” a film about the friendship and lives of young American heroes Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale, whose actions would lead to the creation of a Revolutionary spy ring based on the North Shore of Long Island.

Presented in the Main Theater, doors will open at 6:45 p.m. After a message from publisher Leah Dunaief, a short behind-the-scenes documentary will be shown followed by the main film screening. After a message from the creators, the evening will conclude with a Q&A with the cast and crew. Admission to the event is free, courtesy of TBR News Media. No reservations are necessary.

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback last summer.

The film’s co-producer and writer, Michael Tessler, describes the film as an exploration of historical events with a human focus. “After spending several years researching Benjamin Tallmadge and the other heroes featured in our film, I began to look at them not as detached names in a textbook, but more so as real people, with real stories that deserve to be told,” he said.

 Dave Morrissey, the actor who portrays Tallmadge in the film, describes his character as a “22-year-old kid,” who, despite his relative youth, is “focused” and “grounded,” propelled into action by the death of his brother at the hands of the British. “When something like that happens to you, you turn into a machine … into something else,” said Morrissey. “If you channel the energy and do what’s right, the possibilities are endless.”

By focusing a metaphorical macro lens on the multidimensional characters of Tallmadge and Hale, the film traverses consequential moments of American history: the Battle of Long Island, the anointing of America’s first spy and the events that would lead to the creation of the Culper Spy Ring, a group of men and women who risked their lives and status to gather British intelligence for the Revolutionary cause. 

Though Tessler notes that the film is, at its heart, a drama, he and the film’s director and co-producer Benji Dunaief stress the cast and crew’s commitment to accuracy in their interpretation of historical events. 

“The history comes second to the narrative in most [other film adaptations of historical events],” says Dunaief. “Our approach with this film was the exact opposite. We wanted to see where we could find narrative within [pre-existing] history.” 

“Many of the lines from the film were plucked directly from the diaries of the heroes themselves,” stated Tessler. “We worked closely with historians and Revolutionary War experts to achieve a level of accuracy usually unseen in such a local production.”

The fact that many scenes from the film were shot in the locations where the events of the real-life narrative took place helped give the visuals a sense of truthfulness and the actors a sense of purpose.

“The location took production to the next level. It’s really crazy how closely related the sets we used were to the actual history,” said Dunaief, who specifically recalls filming at a house that contained wood from Tallmadge’s actual home. “It helped to inspire people in the cast to get into character.” 

Morrissey recalls spending a particularly inspiring Fourth of July on Benner’s Farm in East Setauket. “We were filming the war scenes with all the reenactors … in the cabin that we built for the set … in the town where the battles and espionage had really happened. There were fireworks going on in the background while we sang shanty songs. It was amazing.”

The Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm.

Though locational and historical accuracy played a large role in making filming a success, ultimately, Dunaief and Tessler credit the resonance of “One Life to Give” to an engaged and participatory community. “This was a community effort on all accounts,” says Dunaief, noting the roles that the Benners, Preservation Long Island, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society and others played to bring “One Life to Give” to fruition. 

The fact that the screening will take place at the Staller Center, in the heart of the community that helped bring the film about, represents a full-circle moment for the cast and crew. “We’re calling it a screening but it is so much more,” said Dunaief. “It is a fantastic example of how the community has stood by this film, from beginning to end.”

“We’re beyond honored and humbled to use a screen that has seen some of the greatest independent films in history,” said Tessler. “Stony Brook University has been a wonderful partner and extremely accommodating as we work to bring our local history to life.” 

Tessler projects confidence that viewers will leave the screening with a similar sense of gratitude. “This story shows a part of our history that I think will make the audience very proud of the place they call home.”

The future of ‘One Life to Give’: 

Michael Tessler and Benji Dunaief plan to show the film at festivals around the country, to conduct a series of screenings on Long Island, and to partner with local historical societies that can use it as an educational tool. Additionally, a sequel to “One Life to Give,” titled “Traitor,” is already in the works. Filming will begin this summer.

All photos by Michael Pawluk Photography

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