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Stony Brook Film Festival

Allison Frasca in a scene from 'Dean Darling.' Photo from the 'Dean Darling' Facebook page

As film lovers packed the Staller Center at Stony Brook University last weekend for the Stony Brook Film Festival, one movie had a bit of local flavor.

“Dean Darling,” which had its world premiere at the festival July 21, was partially filmed in Smithtown and features an actress who grew up in Setauket, Allison Frasca, who plays the character Jaclyn. Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center, said Calogero Carucci, who wrote and directed the film, created a beautiful piece where one of the strengths was the director’s choice of actors.

“As the protagonist, she enters the film and brings a powerful energy that complements the very subtle performance of Douglas Towers, the male lead.”

— Alan Inkles

“All of the cast were terrific, but without a doubt, Allison’s work was the real glue to keeping the film together,” Inkles said. “As the protagonist, she enters the film and brings a powerful energy that complements the very subtle performance of Douglas Towers, the male lead.”

Frasca said “Dean Darling” centers around a 20-year-old who, after his two parents die in a car accident, searches for answers through relationships and filmmaking. She said Jaclyn is a free spirit who is a breath of fresh air in main character Dean’s life, and when he meets her, he sees the potential to find happiness in the future.

The actress said she was impressed with Carucci’s work, which is influenced by new age French cinema, and she found the film’s visuals to be beautiful. During auditions and callbacks, she discovered filming would
occur in Smithtown, and Frasca said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to film in a town she remembered from her childhood.

Her parents were in attendance for the screening, and her father Anthony said it was the first time he saw his daughter’s work on the big screen, and he and his wife Andrea were proud of her.

“It was really kind of riveting seeing her on the big screen because she’s just so charismatic,” he said.

The father said in addition to his daughter’s acting, he thought all the actors were talented and he enjoyed the storyline.

Allison Frasca in a scene from ‘Dean Darling.’ Photo from ‘Dean Darling’ Facebook page

“I thought that the message of the film — the importance of family and friendship — was uplifting,” he said.

Frasca, who now lives in Manhattan where she performs in stage productions and films, is currently working in the Off-Broadway play “Wicked Frozen.” She said she was honored to be in the film festival that takes place just a few miles from where she grew up and were she visits her parents and two brothers, Andrew and Alex, frequently. It was while growing up in the village and attending The Laurel Hill School in East Setauket that she developed a love for acting and also what goes on behind the scenes.

The actress said she remembered an eighth-grade production of “West Side Story” where there was trouble with the construction of the set. She decided to do something about it and brought crepe paper and paint home to create the scenery herself. Frasca said every time auditions were posted for a school play, she would go straight to her computer to research the story and characters. Her love for performing continued through her years at St. Anthony’s High School in Melville, and she majored in theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Frasca said she has a lot of fond memories of driving around the back roads of the Three Village area exploring with her brothers and cousins, and visiting West Meadow Beach to walk down Trustees Road and fish with her father.

She said due to her love of local history, she chose Setauket Presbyterian Church to film a comedy she wrote and produced, “Which Witch is Which.” And one summer, she and her cousin Matthew Colucci visited the Three Village Historical Society to pick up maps to help them stake out every historic sign in the area.

“Every time someone comes to visit I’m like, ‘And here is the site of the Battle of Setauket,’” she said, adding she calls herself a history nerd.

Frasca said her dream role is to play Anna Strong, a member of the Culper Spy Ring who would send signals to a courier by hanging garments in a specific formation on her clothesline in Strong’s Neck.

“It’s a bravery that doesn’t get put to the test anymore, thank goodness,” she said.

Until her dream role comes around, Frasca said she will revel in the joy of being part of the Stony Brook Film Festival as she returns to reality in the city.

“It was amazing being part of the festival,” she said. “I remember walking into the Staller Center to watch Bernadette Peters or ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was young so it was surreal walking into that theater and seeing myself on that enormous screen.”

Allison Frasca

One movie at the Stony Brook Film Festival this year will have some local flavor.

Not only were scenes from the film “Dean Darling” shot on Long Island, it features former Setauket resident Allison Frasca. The 26-year-old actor and 2010 graduate of St. Anthony’s High School plays Jaclyn in the movie, which was filmed at various locations throughout the Town of Smithtown including the train station, Short Beach and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

Additional scenes from the coming-of-age drama were filmed at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Written and directed by Calogero Carucci, the film, in addition to Frasca, features Douglas Towers, from Smithtown, Joel Widman, Theodore Bouloukos and D.C. Anderson.

“Working locally was really amazing,” Frasca said. “It felt really cool to film in places that I grew up around. Calogero Carucci is a fantastic talent with such a strong passion and vision. He knew exactly what he wanted with such detail and the result was a truly gorgeous film.”

According to Frasca, the film follows 20-year-old Dean Darling, who shortly after both his parents die in a car accident searches for truth through eccentric family members, old friends, erratically formed relationships and filmmaking.

Currently living in Manhattan and working in theater and film, Frasca has appeared in other movies including
“Harvey’s Last Night on the Avenue,” “Neurotica,” “Toss It!” and “L.I.P.S.” More information about the actor can be found at www.afrasca.com.

The world premiere of “Dean Darling” will be screened at the Stony Brook Film Festival July 21 at 4 p.m. The festival runs from July 19 to 28 and is produced and curated by the Staller Center for the Arts. The screenings are held at the center located on the campus of Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook.

For information on the festival, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

Award winners at the Closing Night Awards reception, from left, Catherine Eaton, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘The Sounding’; Todd and Jedd Wider, directors of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’; Nadav Shlomo Giladi of ‘Across the Line’; Michael Ferrell, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘Laura Gets a Cat’; Robin Grey, producer of ‘Purple Dreams’; and Pavels Gumennikovs of ‘Just, Go!’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

The 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 29. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 20 to 29. John Anderson, film critic and master of ceremonies, and a longtime MC for the awards reception, announced the winners.

The event attracted the largest attendance ever this year. Filmmaker participation also broke records with directors from Armenia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and USA representing their films at the screenings. In addition, films from Finland, Iran, Italy, Norway and Sweden were in the mix.

From left, John Anderson, film critic and MC for the awards reception; Karoline Herfurth, writer/director/actress; and Alan Inkles, director of the Stony Brook Film Festival attend the Stony Brook Film Festival’s Closing Night’s U.S. Premiere of ‘Text for You.’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

“It truly was a magical year where almost every filmmaker attended their screenings to represent their films and host Q&As,” said Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival, adding, “As for the films we showed, the audience scores were the best in our 22 years. Great films, great guests and packed houses nightly. It’s what I envisioned for Stony Brook when we started this festival and it was certainly achieved this year.”

Two of the filmmakers whose film won an award at the festival grew up in the Three Village area. The Wider brothers’ documentary followed four families as they fought the FDA to gain access to a lifesaving drug to help their sons, all coping with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The world premiere of Todd and Jedd Wider’s documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature along with “Fanny’s Journey,” which tied with an identical high score.

“The Stony Brook Film Festival is an incredibly well curated and intelligent film festival. It celebrates independent film from around the world and gives its audience a chance to discover great films and interact with filmmakers,” noted Todd Wider. “Supremely well run and organized, each film is shown once in a giant, state-of-the-art theater to a routinely packed crowd. This format really works well here, as the entire community focuses on one film at a time. Set in one of the most beautiful towns on Long Island and backed by a powerhouse university, the audiences are really smart and very welcoming. Don’t miss this festival [next year]. It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.

Among the many highlights of the festival was the U.S. premiere of the rock documentary, “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy.” The singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, a Garden City native, moved to Paris after a music career with his band in the U.S. and then found new success in Europe. At the screening of his film, he hosted a Q&A and then played three of his songs from the stage.

Closing Night presented the U.S. premiere of “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), a romantic comedy. The writer, director and actress Karoline Herfurth came in from Germany to represent her film.

And the winners are:

2017 Jury Award — Best Feature

“The Sounding” (United States)

2017 Audience Choice — Best Feature (tie)

“Fanny’s Journey” (France)

“To the Edge of the Sky” World Premiere (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Spirit of Independent Filmmaking

“Laura Gets a Cat” (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Achievement in Social Impact

“Purple Dreams” New York Premiere (United States)

2017 Jury Award — Best Short

“Across the Line” World Premiere (Israel)

2017 Audience Choice Award — Best Short

“Just, Go!” (Latvia)

For more information about the Stony Brook Film Festival, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

Jenn McNary and her children, above, are featured in the movie ‘To the Edge of the Sky.’ Photo from Brian Ariotti

By Jenna Lennon

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the number one genetic killer of boys in the world.

In “To the Edge of the Sky,” Emmy and Oscar Award winning producers, and Old Field natives, Jedd and Todd Wider tell the story of four mothers in their fight against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the approval of a potentially life-saving drug for this fatal disease.

The world premiere of the 118-minute documentary at the 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival was met with a standing ovation July 23. Continued feedback from the audience, during and after the Q&A period, has been nothing but positive for the brothers and for raising awareness for treatment of this disease.

“As a documentarian, there’s no greater reward than hearing audience members come up afterwards and ask how we can help, what we can do, how can we bring further attention or shine further light on these issues and help the families that are suffering so deeply,” Jedd said.

‘To the Edge of the Sky’ is produced by Jedd and Todd Wider brothers who grew up in Old Field. Photo from Brian Ariotti

“We spoke to so many people after the film who wanted to get involved and that’s incredibly rewarding to us as filmmakers,” he continued. “We invest years of our lives into these topics to help bring attention to these issues to help these families and for us there’s just nothing greater than that, than hearing that response.”

With such a large audience, Todd couldn’t help but be emotional as he took the stage with his brother for the Q&A session.

“It was a weird thing — I’m not normally that emotional during a screening,” he said. “I got to say it …. was a little surreal. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve probably watched it about a thousand times now, but I found that screening was extremely, unbelievably, emotionally powerful.”

Jenn McNary, one of the mothers in the film, brought her sons Max and Austin to the July 23 premiere.

“Jenn and her family have been incredibly supportive of the film from the very beginning, as has all of the other families as well,” Jedd said. “They’ve all been strongly behind the film and hoping that this film could bring more attention to these issues and bring more attention to the potential companies out there and the foundations that are working to help fund further research.”

Filming took place periodically over almost four years and “was a significant emotional investment,” Jedd said.

“At any given point, the story line would change on the drop of a dime,” he continued. “We became very attached to these boys and very attached to these families.”

Duchenne is the most common type of muscular dystrophy and occurs from a mutation in the gene for the protein dystrophin. Symptoms begin appearing around the age of three or four. At first, young boys start having trouble walking. By their early 20s, they’re essentially paralyzed from the neck down.

“To the Edge of the Sky” examines the fight for FDA approval of the drug eteplirsen, produced by Sarepta Therapeutics, that is meant to help produce the missing protein. In 2016, and at the end of the film, the FDA granted an accelerated approval for the drug, but Todd said the fight is far from over.

“We live in the United States of America where we’re in a functioning democracy, and we can move our political organizations and our political institutions with the power of our will if we choose to,” Todd said. “And in the case of this situation, it was really these four moms that really moved the needle, we feel, on how the FDA was sort of dealing with this … it was the power of their advocacy and the connection and their love for their kids that helped to sort of focus that attention on what was going on in terms of the drug approval process in this particular case.”

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo courtesy of Staller Center
Presents mix of independent features, documentaries and shorts

By Jill Webb

Drop your beach towels and grab some popcorn because the Stony Brook Film Festival kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. and will run for 10 nights. The festival’s director, Alan Inkles, who has been curating the event since its inception, said in a recent interview that the idea to showcase great films annually came to him because “film is the art of this century.”

Festivalgoers view these films in the main 1,000-seat auditorium of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, which features a 40-foot-wide screen for maximum viewing pleasure.

Inkles’ biggest challenge as festival director is finding the films that are going to “draw 800 people on a Thursday night — in the summer on Long Island — to a film they’ve never heard of.”

Last year, the director started using www.filmfreeway.com as a way for filmmakers to submit their films, saying the service is “the most fair to both filmmakers and film festivals” due to its piracy protection. Inkles and his team received over 1,000 submissions from the website, along with about 700 from sales agents internationally — all of which are viewed between January and May.

Diversity on the big screen

The vast number of submissions have led to greater diversity. This year’s lineup includes films from Italy, Armenia, France, Sweden and the Netherlands among others and puts a spotlight on a variety of relevant topics including the LGBTQ+ community and immigration.

The big draw this year, Inkles said, is an abundance of women directors — a demographic that often gets overlooked in the film industry. “Almost 50 percent of our films are directed by women — features and shorts,” Inkles said, adding that three of them write, direct and star in their films.

The opening and closing night films both have one thing in common: Germany. Each of these German films will be making its U.S. premiere at SBFF on its respective night. Opening the festival is “Welcome to Germany” (“Willkommen bei den Hartmanns”), written and directed by Simon Verhoeven, a ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy about a refugee from Nigeria who, while awaiting the ruling on his asylum request, is taken in by a wealthy but severely dysfunctional family from Munich.

A scene from ‘Text for You’. Photo courtesy of Staller Center

The closer, titled “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), is a romantic comedy that explores coping with grief and loss. Karoline Herfurth is a triple threat in the movie’s production as director/writer/actress. The film’s main character, Clara, is struggling to get over the death of her true love and begins to send text messages to his old number. The new owner of the phone is compelled to answer these messages, creating a dialogue between the two strangers. Inkles describes the film as a “German [version of] ‘When Harry Met Sally.’”

Long Island: In front and behind the camera

While Inkles stresses that he selects films solely on being the best of the bunch, he admits he loves getting a Long Island angle in. This year’s Long Island connections includes “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy,” a documentary chronicling Rockville Centre native Elliott Murphy’s journey to rock star status, starting in mid-1970s America and eventually traveling to Europe where his career takes off.

While the film is set in Maine, a great deal of “The Sounding” — which follows a woman who has chosen to remain silent until a traumatic experience leads her to speak in only Shakespearean words — was shot here on Long Island.

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo from Staller Center

Academy Award winners and Ward Melville graduates, Todd and Jedd Wider, have been making films together for 19 years. Their documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” focuses on mothers trying to get FDA approval for a drug to save their sons affected by the fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Jedd Wider got the idea for the film at an event listening to a Harvard-educated doctor talk about his son’s experience with DMD and the extents his family was going through to save his life.

“I was mesmerized by what he had to say,” Wider said. After the event, a Google search on the doctor, Benjy Seckler, lead Wider to his first meet-up with a family challenging DMD. The film watches the mothers transform into “very serious political activists as they attempt to rally the FDA,” Wider said. “It’s really a window into the FDA system, but it’s also a very serious look and window into the troubles, the issues, the challenges, the tragic circumstances surrounding these families as they attempt to find a cure and secure that cure for their children.”

The short “Brothers” will be screened before the Wider brother’s film and is directed by another Ward Melville graduate, Zachary Fuhrer. “Brothers” tells a story of a 9-year-old boy who deals with experiencing guilt after accidentally hurting his little brother while playing baseball. Fuhrer looked back on the way he dealt with confrontation as a child as inspiration for the film. The take-away Fuhrer hopes the audience gets is “what it truly means to say I’m sorry, and what it truly means to show compassion for another person and understand wrong-doing.”

Exploring your options

Presented by Island Federal Credit Union, the festival will run through July 29. For $85 you can purchase a Festival Pass to see all of the films, along with promotions for local restaurants through labor day, seating guaranteed up to 15 minutes prior to the showing, first entry for preferred seating options and some merchandise freebies: a film pass, lanyard and tote bag.

If you’re looking for something a bit more lavish, try the Gold Pass: For $225 you get all the perks of the Festival Pass but also entry into the Opening and Closing Night parties along with access to the VIP seating with the filmmakers. Individual tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors and $5 with a student ID. Free parking is available in the Visitors Parking Garage during the festival.

For more information on the program, tickets and trailers check out www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com or call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Film Festival Schedule

Thursday, July 20

Opening Night

8 p.m. “Welcome to Germany”

Friday, July 21

7 p.m. “Walking David”

Short: “Game”

9:30 p.m. “Let Yourself Go”

Short: “Rated”

Saturday, July 22

4 p.m. “Ethel & Ernest” (animated)

Short: “Snowgirl”

7 p.m.“The Sounding”

Short: “Icarus” 9:30 p.m.

“Love Is Thicker Than Water”

Short: “Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens”

Sunday, July 23

4 p.m. “To the Edge of the Sky”

Short: “Brothers”

7 p.m. “Fanny’s Journey”

Short: “Who Sank Your Ships?”

9:15 p.m. “Tonio”

Short: “Oma”

Monday, July 24

7 p.m. “Apricot Groves”

Short: “The Simon’s Way”

9:15 p.m. “Strawberry Days”

Short: “The Dog and the Elephant”

Tuesday, July 25

7 p.m. “Little Wing”

Short: “Real Artists”

9:15 p.m. “From the Land of the Moon”

Short: “Interrogation”

Wednesday, July 26

7 p.m. “Laura Gets a Cat”

Short: “Speak”

9:15 p.m. “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”

Short: “Just, go!”

Thursday, July 27

7 p.m. “Purple Dreams”

Short: “Across the Line”

9:15 p.m. “Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs”

Short: “AmeriKa”

Friday, July 28

7 p.m. “The King’s Choice”

9:30 p.m. “The Midwife”

Saturday, July 29

Closing Night

8 p.m. “Text for You”

Ten nights of independent films you won’t see anywhere else

Katie Page stars in “This Isn’t Funny” to be screened on July 17 at 9:30 p.m. Photo by Peter Borosh

By Donna Newman

Would you love to travel the world but lack the funds? … the time? … the energy? Well, you’re in luck! The 20th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival — which begins this evening at 8 p.m. — will bring the world to you. Travel far and wide in the comfort of a cushioned seat in the Staller Center’s air-conditioned Main Stage Theater on the Stony Brook University campus. Festival Director Alan Inkles says, “Over ten days, [you] will be transported to Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Mexico, Greece, Egypt, France, Canada, Iran, Belgium, England, Morocco and Algeria.”

Should you prefer homegrown fare, Inkles said, “We have more American films than ever this year. Dramas, comedies and documentaries will be shown on our huge screen, and many of the producers, directors, cast and crew members will attend the Q-&-As following the films.” In sum: There will be something for everyone.

You’ll travel through time during the 10-day festival as well. Be transported to the South in the aftermath of the Civil War (“The Keeping Room”). Find yourself in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village (“Secrets of War”). See how American propaganda films were created during World War II (“Projections of America”). Return to the 1960s in Quebec for a story with heart and music (“The Passion of Augustine”). Tune in to a television debate series in 1968 that created a whole new format for public discourse (“Best of Enemies”).

Revisit the turn of this century and yet another banking scandal (“The Clearstream Affair”). Spend time in the current decade examining women’s rights (“Nefertiti’s Daughters”). Or step out of time into some magical moments in the short films “Freeze,” “A Single Life,” “Wrapped” and “DOT.”

Inkles and his staff have screened more than 700 entries, looking for the best independent features, documentaries and short films available worldwide. The schedule includes 34 films; 19 are feature length and 15 are shorts. Among them are a world premiere and eight films that will have their first U.S. screenings.

“Audiences will get to see many works of true indie spirit, where the filmmakers wear a variety of hats,” commented Inkles. “On Opening Night we’ll have the U.S. premiere of ‘The Man from Oran,’ a drama from Algeria starring Lyes Salem, who also wrote and directed the film. It’s a story set largely in the years following Algeria’s independence from France, that explores the themes of friendship, idealism, politics and betrayal.” Inkles is pleased that Salem will be present on Opening Night.

Perennial festival attendees will recognize the star of the Closing Night feature, “The Passion of Augustine,” a film from French Canada about a small convent school that had become a musical treasure. Céline Bonnier also starred in the 2012 festival entry, “Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s.” Léa Pool directed both films. Inkles is delighted that Bonnier will attend the screening.

An added feature to this year’s festival is a display of Vintage Film Posters in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery located on the first floor of the Staller Center. This exhibit of classic movie posters will be open each night of the festival from one hour prior to the first screening until the last screening of the night begins.

This year’s festival is being presented by its newest sponsor — Island Federal Credit Union — a financial institution that has been serving Long Islanders for 60 years. Island Federal has established a 10-year partnership with Stony Brook University that provides philanthropic funding for multiple university projects.

The SBFF runs for 10 nights. Most nights screenings begin at 7 p.m. Starting times for the second film varies. Check the schedule. (In some cases, Q-&-As may delay the start of the second feature.) The Opening Night film begins at 8 p.m. The Closing Night film begins at 8:30 p.m. And there’s a bonus feature on Sunday evening that begins at 6 p.m.

A Festival Pass to see all the films is $85. A $225 Gold Pass includes seating in the section reserved for filmmakers and their guests, as well as tickets to the opening and closing receptions. Individual tickets ($10, $8 seniors, $5 students) will be sold subject to availability. Tickets for the Opening Night and Closing Night receptions are $25 each, also subject to availability.

For more information, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-ARTS or visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

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