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Kevin Redding

Daniel French. Photo courtesy of CAC

By Kevin Redding

“Answer the question, same category…Name the killer in Friday the 13th.”

Ghostface, the masked slasher in Scream, dishes out a fatal round of movie trivia over the phone to Drew Barrymore’s character in the heart-pounding opening of the 1996 meta-horror classic.

Over in Huntington, in the summer of 1997 when Scream was newly available on VHS, Daniel French, now 38, remembers his parents bringing the movie home—making sure to send their kid to bed before watching the R-rated stab-a-thon unfold. But French, obsessed with movies from a young age, snuck out of his bedroom and watched the entire thing from the hallway that led into the living room.

Daniel French. Photo courtesy of CAC

It was a viewing that “blew his mind,” with all the film references in Scream ultimately sending him down a path of discovery of other movies and deep-dives into directors, from John Carpenter to Alfred Hitchcock.

“Movies have been my number one, constant passion ever since,” said French, the host of Cinema Arts Centre’s monthly Movie Trivia Night since 2016. But no worries, the game of trivia that usually takes place the first Monday of each month in the theater’s Sky Room Café is “much less dire” than Ghostface’s. 

“I just want everyone to do well and have fun. When you think about the Cinema Arts Centre, you think independent films, foreign films, less mainstream movies, but I don’t want people to think they have to know who directed ‘M.’ It’s everything: a well-rounded, accessible experience for everybody.”

For every trivia night, French devises a fresh batch of 50 questions across five rounds revolving around film, actors and actresses, famous needledrops, awards, and more. 

One such question in a previous trivia was “What actress won Best Supporting Actress for ‘My Cousin Vinny?’” For one of the music rounds, the hint was “Directed by John Hughes” followed by a clip of “Danke Schoen” from…Anyone? Anyone? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

A tense tie-breaker was a reading of the cast list, from the bottom to top, of Jaws; the first team to correctly guess the movie title based on its minor actors won.

French, who joked that he battles with his film geek self not to have a whole category dedicated to the works of David Lynch, does bring a personal flair to the questions: “You know that during Halloween, there’s going to be a Scream question, and you better believe there’s going to be a question about one of my favorite movies Carol and a The Nice Guys question for Christmas.”

Each team writes their answers on a sheet of paper that’s graded and at the end of the night, there’s a final tally to determine the winner. With an average of 50 to 60 people attending the event every month, French says there’s no limit to the amount of people on each team—but keep in mind that the winning team earns a cash prize of $100; the second place team receives up to four Cinema Arts Centre gift cards, with a value of $24 each; and the third place team gets to come up with a category for the next month’s trivia.

Plus, concessions, including the beloved CAC popcorn, are open late so “you can have some snacks, have a beer or two, and just talk movies.”

French, who works in insurance full-time and is married with two kids, said of getting to host the event every month, “It’s incredible and just so much fun. It’s something I genuinely enjoy doing, I like seeing the regulars, and it blows my mind every time that people keep coming back. It’s a special feeling for me personally and it’s a good little community that we’ve built. I’m surprised they’re letting me get away with it still!”

Since French was old enough to get into bars, he’s been participating in trivia nights. But he’s the first to admit that when there weren’t movie or TV categories included in general trivia, he’d get upset. “I’ve got a specific set of skills that I’m pretty good at, but if those don’t come up, it’s tough sledding,” he laughed. But in 2014, he started going to movie-only trivia at his go-to theater, Cinema Arts Centre.

For two years, he gathered to eat, drink, compete, and talk about movies, even forming a close friendship with a rival team member—when she got married years later, he was in her wedding party. “You keep showing up, talking to people, and you already know you got one thing in common: a love of movies,” he said. The event had a rotating cast of hosts throughout this stretch, and in April 2016, he eventually approached the theater about giving the job a shot.

“Daniel French and his super entertaining Movie Trivia Night have become a fixture here at Cinema Arts Centre,” said Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the theater. “This event is a delight for true movie lovers, especially those with a competitive streak.”

Located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington, the Cinema Arts Centre will host Movie Trivia Nights on Jan. 8, Feb. 12 and March 4. Tickets are $10 per person, $7 members at www.cinemaartscentre.com or at the box office. For more information, call 631-423-7610.

By Kevin Redding

“There’s nothing like stories on a windy night when folks have found a warm place in a cold world.”

— Stephen King, “The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole”

As the air gets chilly, and the season drifts from spooky toward snowy, there’s no better way to spend the long stretch of time indoors than slipping into comfy clothes, pouring yourself a hot drink, and curling up with a good book. We asked eight local librarians about their favorite novels and new recommendations to ensure you’ll be enthralled, entertained, and enriched in the coming months.

 

Lorena Doherty

 

Lorena Doherty

North Shore Public Library, Shoreham

What is your favorite book and why?

That’s a hard one because you have a favorite book in every period of your life. One of my favorites is an international book called “The Murmur of Bees” by Sofia Segovia and translated by Simon Bruni. It’s a book about love, family saga, history, healing, bees, Valencia oranges, a special boy, and really the ties that bind us as human beings. It was charming, delicious, and had a huge impact on me because of her ability to weave this brilliant story as a window into her culture. And the translation into English was done very well. Simon Bruni did not lose its essence or lyricism.

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

“Flags of the Bayou,” a standalone historical fiction book by James Lee Burke. This is his 42nd book. What I love about him is that he writes from the landscape in which he lives, which is New Iberia, Louisiana. If you are new to this book and you’ve never read him, it is I think the best book he’s ever written and I felt that two-thirds of the way through. This is a work of historical fiction that is centered in the timeline of events near the end of the Civil Area in the area of New Iberia, the Bayou Teche, and the Mississippi River, where the North is waging and winning battle against the Confederates. It’s a unique window into the culture of plantations, social castes, freed men and women, those who live in servitude. There’s abolitionists and mixed cultures in that area. And in the midst of all the cruelty and chaos of the war, it’s also a love story. The characters are so fleshed out and the reader is carried away with the nuances of changing allegiances and how they choose to live with the possibility of their own deaths. He grounds you in there and there’s a huge level of the spiritual connection to the greater world. And if you love language and appreciate a writer who writes prose, he’s the kind of writer where I find myself going back and reading a sentence over and over again, like “Wow!” It’s a damn good read.

Jeff Walden

Jeff Walden

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Setauket

What is your favorite book and why?

Yeah, it’s an old classic but it’s my favorite book and I just reread it recently again. It’s “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. For me, it’s just a great adventure story. It’s got dragons, hobbits, dwarves and elves, treasure, adventure. It doesn’t get old, it never ages to me. It’s a book I can read and enjoy just as much the fifth time as I did the first time. Tolkien  was just a great storyteller and for that genre, he was really the first to create that whole other world that you can immerse yourself in very easily. It’s the ring, it’s Gollum, there’s just so many amazing parts to it. It’s just a fun story to read over and over again. I was just reading an original book review by C.S. Lewis [“The Chronicles of Narnia”], Tolkien’s contemporary, and even he predicted in 1937 that it was going to be a book that was going to be read over and over again. It came out to be, for me, true.

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

I have one I’m reading right now, “The Armor of Light” by Ken Follett. It’s the fifth installment in his Kingbridge series. He’s another great storyteller with good, deep characters that you really get to know. It does mention some of the other books because it’s set in Kingsbridge, this fictional town in England over the course of hundreds of years…I think they’re up to the French Revolution in the late 1700s…but it has totally different characters. There’s creative license with it but he does incorporate a lot of historical facts about the time period in the books. And I think you can still read this new one if you haven’t read the other ones and it might interest you in going back and reading the other ones. It does help to have a little bit of the background but I think they can stand on their own.

Jenna Ely

Jenna Ely

Comsewogue Public Library, Port Jefferson Station

What is your favorite book and why?

One of my favorites is “True Believer” by Nicholas Sparks and it’s actually what made me want to become a librarian. I worked in a different industry before this and worked in television, and I would read this book just as a way to escape while on my commute. The main character in this book is a librarian and while I was reading it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds like a dream job. Why did I never think of becoming a librarian?” and then I ended up going to library school and pursuing this career. So that book was really monumental and influential for me in that way. And it’s Nicholas Sparks, so it’s a great love story.

And then if I had to pick my favorite book of all time, it would be “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman, who blows me away with all of his books. I’ve read all of them and he just continues to outdo himself. “Beartown” was the first book in a trilogy and in it you’re introduced to this hockey town and the obsession with sports and teams and the impact that it has on the community as a whole. And there’s a tragedy and the town has to choose sides. A lot of people’s hearts are broken, someone is killed, and it’s really dramatic. I feel like the winter is a really good time to dive into it. All the books in that series are so worth the read.

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

So this is a new book that I think is just phenomenal. It’s called “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt. It is actually her debut novel, so it was incredible that someone’s first novel really took off and was so astounding. I actually loved it so much that I wrote a mini review of it on Goodreads. I was so moved by it. The characters, the stories…it hooked me from the first page and I devoured it in like 48 hours. It was so good I couldn’t put it down. There’s so much heart in these characters and there’s so much love, you really root for them. They’re flawed and they might do something that aggravates you but almost like how your family or friends might do. Not a protagonist where you’re like “Oh my God I hate this person, why are they doing this?” but more like “I feel for you and want you to find happiness!” And one of the narrators is a giant Pacific red octopus, which is really cool and I felt like I got to learn so much.

Donna Brown

Donna Brown

Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport and East Northport

What is your favorite book and why?

That’s a pretty easy one for me to answer. I am a Teen Librarian right now but I do read a lot of adult fiction, nonfiction, everything…I used to run the Adult Book Club, so I definitely have a broad range of reading. But for me, my favorite book of all time is “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. The movie came out in 1983, I was 10 years old and my mom would not let me see it but I read the book and it changed my life and the way I think forever. It is, I think, one of the best books of all time. I think it transcends. It’s a story about teenagers struggling to fit in, fighting, and bad incidents…but at the end of the day, all of them are pretty good kids and that’s one of my favorite things about that book. I can hand it to a teenager or an adult now and I overwhelmingly get such a great response. Most people want to meet a celebrity or a professional athlete, but it’s my dream to meet S.E. Hinton!

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

My most recent one, which I’d recommend to anyone who likes to read realistic fiction with a little bit of imagination in it, is “Remarkably Bright Creatures.” It’s one of the only books that has made me sob in recent years because of what a beautiful story it is. It is the story of an octopus and the octopus’ caregiver in a marina in the Pacific Northwest. It is such a beautiful story that teaches you about humanity and mankind and how much every single person has worth in this world and makes a contribution in some way or another, even though a lot of the time people don’t see that. I run a book group and it overwhelmingly touched the hearts and minds of every single person.

Anne McNulty

Anne McNulty

Port Jefferson Free Library, Port Jefferson

What is your favorite book and why?

My favorite book has been my favorite book since 2013 when it came out…it is “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie. It’s a sci-fi space opera novel and it won the Hugo and the Nebula awards. It is absolutely amazing. It’s just one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. I’m a really big fan of sci-fi and space operas, so I really love the kind of alien worlds they can make with them, and Ann Leckie did such a great job building the worlds and societies in her book. And she also did interesting things with playing with pronouns. So, in her book, everyone uses she/her pronouns, even if they’re not technically women. It’s very, very interesting and I love it. I love Tolkien so much and have read all of his books.  

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

So it is Halloween time and I do love horror as well. I’m actually in the middle of this book “Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology.” It’s an anthology of short stories, which is nice if you don’t have time to sit and  read a whole book. All the stories are written by Native American authors and it’s really good so far. It’s horror so it’s perfect for the season and the stories I’ve read so far have been really creepy. I also love all Stephen Graham Jones’ books, especially “My Heart is a Chainsaw,” one of my favorite horror books.

Jennifer Zwolak

Jennifer Zwolak

Comsewogue Public Library, Port Jefferson Station

What is your favorite book and why?

I would say my favorite book in recent years has been “The Maid” by Nita Prose. It’s been popular but it’s very interesting for anyone who likes murder mysteries but ones that aren’t too graphic. The main character has a very unique perspective, which I enjoyed a lot. I’m actually rereading “The Maid” right now because I enjoyed it so much. I would recommend cozy mysteries when you really want to get that fall-winter feeling. 

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

I would recommend reading “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. It’s about a female scientist in the 1950s and all the struggles she goes through. Again, another unique perspective that gives a different type of person a voice. There’s a lot of science and a lot of feminism in it.

Erin Schaarschmidt

Erin Schaarschmidt

Port Jefferson Free Library, Port Jefferson

What is your favorite book and why?

“High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life” by Tiffany Jenkins, a nonfiction book about a woman who overcame a drug addiction. And she was married to a police officer so she had a double life. I love nonfiction and to read how she was able to hide from the police officer who she’s married to and all that was just amazing and then they all found out she was a drug addict and she went to rehab. And then something I read around this time every year is…I’m a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan so I always do his collected stories, like “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” I re-read them every year just because it’s the spooky time of year and it’s very nostalgic. 

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

I just finished reading “The Daddy Diaries: The Year I Grew Up” by Andy Cohen. I really like nonfiction and it was a fun read about his family because you don’t usually hear about his kids and stuff like that.

Connor McCormack

Connor McCormack

Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport and East Northport

What is your favorite book and why?

It’s like choosing your favorite kid, but probably “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin in terms of fiction. It’s really well written. Ursula Le Guin is one of the most prolific sci-fi writers from the 60s and 70s, and this one is considered her best work. It’s just really unique world-building and explores a lot about human condition, psychology, gender roles…just explores a lot of themes in a really well-done way. And for nonfiction, I read a lot of military history such as “The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman, and “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe. Those are probably my two favorite nonfiction books. 

What is a new book that you would recommend and why?

For a favorite one I’d say “Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel and then “Memory Police” by Yōko Ogawa. And then for nonfiction, there’s this book called “Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia” by Christina Thompson that I think I’ve recommended to everyone in my family at this point. It’s all about how the Polynesian culture spread across the Pacific Ocean — how they traveled between the islands, what their navigation methods were, the myths that they told, just like a whole view of their culture, and how it spread. 

A special thanks to all of the librarians who took part in this article.
Happy reading!

— Photos by Heidi Sutton

 

The Fusco Brothers perform a juggling act. Photo by Jeremy Thomas/Cirque Italia

By Kevin Redding

A time-traveling water circus is splashing into town this month to make dreams come true.

For those of all ages seeking thrills in the form of high-stakes performances, aerialists, jugglers, contortionists, trampoliners, archers, and the vibrant, multi-talented Alex the Clown at the center of a unique aquatic spectacle, Cirque Italia’s “Water Circus Gold” comes to life under a big white and blue tent at Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove from October 5 to 15. 

Cirque Italia, the animal-free, human talent-only entertainment company, which was founded in Italy in 2012, has long blended its high-caliber production values (dazzling lasers, lighting, and its “Wheel of Death” contraption!) with reverence for the history of the European circus scene. Traveling across several cities and states, the show features an elaborate stage that contains 35,000 gallons of water and 27 computers controlling it, and 17 performers spanning 10 countries, from Argentina and Brazil to Ukraine and Romania, to deliver an unforgettable visual and narrative experience.

Get ready for leather jackets, poodle skirts, muscle cars, and Elvis and Little Richard to blare from the jukebox as the show tells the story of a 1950s-obsessed boy, dressed up as Alex the Clown, who goes to sleep and dreams of living in his favorite decade. Waking up in his own vivid dreamscape, he’s guided through the 1950s by grown-up Alex the Clown.

Behind the makeup and red nose is Alex Acero, 39, of Brazil, who has been performing as a clown, ringmaster, juggler, trampoliner, and trapeze artist with Cirque Italia for seven years. In line with the show, he has been dreaming of being in this world since he was a little kid and grew up in the kind of family where he didn’t have to “run away and join the circus.” A third-generation circus performer, Acero’s grandparents on his mother’s side were circus entertainers and his parents met at a carnival and are still actively performing to this day.

“I grew up watching the circus…some kids want to play with trucks, not me. I wanted to be a trapeze artist, I wanted to be a juggler. This is our way to play,” Acero said. “I’d wake up and see elephants, tigers, lions, and camels around me. That was my childhood!”

He officially joined the circus in Brazil at 9 years old, doing a trampoline act with his brother and honing his comedian skills even then. Traveling all over, he and his family would perform in tours that ran four to six months out of the year, with eight shows a week, which meant he was enrolled in at least 12 different schools throughout his childhood. Regular kid by day, circus entertainer by night.

As he got older, he said his passion for the lifestyle never waned. “I wanted to do this since I was a kid, that was always my dream. Growing up, I still have the same dream.”

At 20, he joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, through which he performed at Madison Square Garden, one of his most cherished memories.

“Now I’m working at one of the best shows in the United States,” Acero said of Cirque Italia. “People can expect a lot of lasers, music, and dance. Everybody asks if we get wet, we don’t. We work around the water. It’s like a huge pool and we have a little stage in the middle.

“During the show, I walk into the audience and ask for a quarter for the jukebox. It’s a show for the whole family.”

And Acero really means it. Not only is his wife, Vanessa Ferrari, a trapeze artist in the show but his daughters, Bianca, 12, and Sophia, 4, have joined the family trade too: Bianca is a dancer and Sophia has a walk-on appearance and shares a jukebox dance with her dad.

“We like to say we are families entertaining families,” Acero said. “And I mean thousands of families!” He takes pride in kids in the crowd loving his trampoline act and taking a piece of the show home with them through little stuffed dolls of Alex the Clown. “One mother said her daughter is 4 years old and she bought a cotton candy for her and she didn’t eat it because she was so entertained watching the show…I love that.”

Another excited performer in the show is Margarita Denysova, 24, originally from Ukraine and now living in New Jersey, who specializes in aerial acts, unicyle-riding, hula hooping, handstands, and juggling. With Cirque Italia for a year and a half, she said her childhood dreams have come to life through her emergence in the circus, which began for her at 18 in the Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo.

“I remember going to a circus when I was about 7,” Denysova said, “and it gave me more questions than answers at that time. Because it was like, ‘It’s not possible!’ ‘How can you walk on the wire!’”

A dancer throughout her youth, she got a taste of her future at a circus school in Ukraine. “I was like ‘Oh my God, they jump, they spin, there’s people doing unicycle…I want to do that!’” She eventually attended the Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Arts, where she learned pantomime, circus history, and how to excel on the circus stage. Though it took some time to convince her parents that this was a fitting path for her, and lots of bad falls in the midst of practicing on the unicycle, she’s exactly where she wants to be.

“I’m good at what I’m doing and I’m enjoying it. You’re making people impressed and happy,” she said. “It’s a cool and unique show in the United States with the water stage we have. And animals should be living a free life, so it’s really good.” Referring to her unicycle training, she laughed, “I’ve fallen so many times, and you’re flying off it and landing on your back! I put a little bit of fear in myself just to have this adrenaline. I’m like, ‘Here we go!’”

Now able to balance on four-wheeled unicycles and juggle multiple pins at the same time, Denysova enjoys making a connection with the audience during Cirque Italia performances—especially the younger members.

“Sometimes in the intermission, I see some kids already doing a walkover and some cartwheels. I’m like ‘Wow! When did you learn this?’ It’s very nice, I like it!”

Cirque Italia will be performing shows October 5th through October 15th in a Big Top stationed in the parking lot at 313 Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove. Tickets can be purchased now starting at $10 to $50 depending on availability. For more information on times and tickets, call 941-704-8572 or visit www.cirqueitalia.com. 

Robin Wilson Photo from LIMEHOF

By Kevin Redding

As a teenaged self-taught singer and “bedroom songwriter” in Tempe, Arizona, Robin Wilson would comb through ads of local bands in the paper—dreaming about being in one someday. The powerful yet tender voice he’d honed, mostly in his room and car, ultimately landed him in a new band that was blowing up in Tempe called Gin Blossoms.

Not long after that, the group found major mainstream success. Throughout the 90s, Gin Blossoms’ catchy harmonies and jangle guitar-driven pop rock dominated the airwaves with massive hits like “Hey Jealousy,” “Follow You Down,” “Found Out About You,” “Til I Hear It From You,” “Allison Road,” and “As Long As It Matters.” 

Wilson and his bandmates had music videos on MTV, became mainstays on late night shows, and were nominated for a Grammy. They’ve not only contributed to the soundtracks for such movies as Wayne’s World 2, Empire Records, and Speed, but for many people’s lives. 

On Aug. 25, Wilson will be inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook Village. He’s bounced between Arizona and Valley Stream since the mid-90s, but says he became a full-time Long Islander in 2001 and even more so over quarantine. 

TBR News Media had the opportunity to interview Wilson by phone last Sunday as the singer/songwriter took a trip down memory lane.

What does this induction mean to you?

It makes me very proud and it’s really great to be part of the “Big Rock Story” and to know that we’ve had the same sort of impact that so many of my favorite groups did. I was just onstage last night [in Reynoldsburg, Ohio] looking out at 6,000 people who all know the words to a song I wrote in my bedroom and I was thinking, ‘Ya know, we really did great. Nobody thought we could still be doing it this long.’ And here we are 35 years later…I’m very gratified and grateful that I still get to do this for a living. It’s bewildering to me.

We got inducted into the Arizona Hall of Fame back in 2017 alongside the Meat Puppets, one of my favorite bands. I still just shake my head in disbelief because one minute you’re a teenager going to open mic nights and thinking ‘God I hope someday I can be in a band that plays this bar’ and now we’re among the most successful acts to ever come out of our homestate, alongside Jimmy Eat World and Alice Cooper. 

More than anything else, I’m really proud for my family here. It really feels like their achievement and it means the world to me that so many of them are going to be there for the ceremony. My son’s band is rehearsing and his biggest influences all come from the 90s.

What was it like to be a rock band in the 90s?

There were so many great moments where we knew we were accomplishing something very rare. Most of it was the grind of doing the work and being a touring rock band…it’s only with the perspective of time that you realize how grandly we succeeded. We’re going on tour in a couple weeks with some of my all time favorite bands to tour with: Fastball, Tonic, and Sugar Ray. We’ve been on these package tours with Lit and Everclear and Smash Mouth and none of them have done “Saturday Night Live.” 

We performed at the American Music Awards and I got to front KISS on Letterman! There was a lot of diversity [in the 90s] but the bands that survived as the soundtrack of those times were delivering high quality music and really great, memorable songs. I think certainly the key to our success has been having really good songs.

How did you come to join the band?

As I was finally forming my first band with my best friend, Gin Blossoms called and asked me in for an audition. They had only been playing out for a few months but as soon as they hit the local scene, they were a big deal. I already knew our bass player, Bill Leen, and our original guitar player/songwriter Doug Hopkins [who penned many of their early hits and passed away in 1993]. We all went to high school together. They were a few years ahead of me, but they were the only kids that had a band and putting out records. I was listening to Bill’s and Doug’s music since I was like 15. 

Bill and Doug had heard me sing at a couple of parties so when they needed somebody for Gin Blossoms, I got the call. I auditioned on a Wednesday, they gave me the job that night, we rehearsed on Thursday, and then we did three days of shows that weekend, Friday-Sunday. I was playing rhythm guitar and they’d let me sing a couple tunes. Jesse Valenzuela [Gin Blossoms’ guitar player] was the lead singer. I got the job because he and I sounded so good together; it was really special right from the beginning. 

A few months in, Jesse said, “You and I are gonna switch. I’m gonna be the guitar player and you’re gonna be the lead singer.” I was just blown away. In the history of rock and roll, has a lead singer ever done that? It was just such good fortune and destiny…the right place at the right time with the right skillset.

What’s your favorite song to play live?

Doug started the band with this incredible batch of songs, including “Found Out About You,” so it was easy for me to just step in and sing them. And then there were a handful of songs he and I wrote together. The only one of them we ended up recording was “Hold Me Down” [off their 1992 LP “New Miserable Experience”] and that one’s really special to me. Playing the hits is very gratifying too. There’s a song I wrote for our last record called “Break” and it’s great to see them react to it and to know it’s a song that holds up to the rest of our catalog.

What was it like bringing your own songs to the band?

Being in Gin Blossoms with seasoned composers, it helped me to raise my [songwriting] game at an accelerated pace. It wasn’t until I wrote “Allison Road” that the whole band seemed to realize I was approaching their level as a songwriter. Earlier this year, our hometown of Tempe honored us by renaming a street Allison Road.

What’s the strangest bill the band has been on?

[Laughs] We did a show once with Missing Persons, MC Hammer, Joe Walsh, and Toto. And it was just like, ‘How did we end up on this bill?!’ Missing Persons was on before us and MC Hammer was on after us. That was like 12 years ago or something.

In honor of Empire Records, if you were in a record shop right now, what would you be looking for?

My favorite band right now is called White Reaper. They’re one of the best bands of their generation and I love them to death. If I walked in right now, I’d be looking for White Reaper on vinyl. My favorite band of the last couple decades is The Darkness, and I’m excited they’re going to be performing in Tempe in October and so my son and I are going to home to Arizona at a club I’ve played a bunch of times to see them. Another great rock band I love is called Volbeat.

What’s it like being a rock star on Long Island?

This is the first time since winter that I’ll be home here on Long Island for more than five days. I’m home until the Hall of Fame induction and then I leave town the day after that and I’ll be gone for about six weeks. But I have until the 26th to actually be in the same place so I’m fixing to make the most of it, spend time making the racket down in the basement in our new studio, exercising. I played a lot of video games during the pandemic. I bought a Switch and I love that system.

A few years ago, when the pandemic hit, that’s when I really got to meet my neighbors, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re in a band, huh?’ I’m like ‘Yeah’ and they’re like ‘Well, you keep at it!’ And then a few months later, the neighbor will come up and be like ‘Holy ___, apparently my brother has your record!’

It took me a while to get used to living here, but I’m finally a citizen. And I’m the only guy on Long Island who flies an Arizona flag on his front porch.

The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, 97 Main St., Stony Brook will hold an induction ceremony for Robin Wilson on Friday, Aug. 25 from 7 to 10 p.m. Wilson will perform with special guests on the Exhibit Hall stage as part of the evening’s ceremony. Tickets are $40, $35 members at www.limusichalloffame.org or by calling 631-689-5888.

By Kevin Redding

‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’

— Barbara Russell,

Town of Brookhaven historian

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Six years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which was built in the 1700s,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Villages and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful four-year run, the fifth annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of over 20 locations including the addition of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot encampment with musket firing and battle drills on the Village Green for the ultimate Culper Spy Day experience. “The more the merrier,” laughs Arceri.

One of the highlights every year during the daylong dive into history is the opportunity to visit two neighboring and active churches in Setauket — the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church, both on the National Register of Historic Places and prominent stomping grounds for soldiers and spies during the Revolutionary War. There will be docent-led tours through the historic structures and their premises, and visitors will be free to roam each church’s expansive cemetery, where some of the weathered gravestones stacked alongside each other belong to those who helped win our independence.

While the congregations have a good relationship these days, and together co-own and maintain the Setauket Village Green that separates the two sites, there was a time when the churches couldn’t have been more opposed. In fact, the conflict of the American Revolution was represented quite well, on a local front, by the two Setauket buildings.

Caroline Church of Brookhaven

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven. Photo by Anthony White

The Caroline Church’s congregation began in 1723 and was officially erected as a building six years later in 1729. Aside from some modern renovations, including the installation of colored glass windows around the interior of the church in the late 19th century, in terms of what it looked like during the war, “What you’re looking at was here,” Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell tells church tourists when they inevitably ask upon enter the historic building.

“The original wood beams are still here,” said Russell, pointing out the hull-shaped ceiling of the beautiful and age-scented church. “I think it’s important to say that we’re still a church. Believe it or not, there are people who walk in here on Culper Spy Day thinking we’re just some kind of museum and we’re not. We value our historic building, but we’re still an active Episcopal congregation.”

“This is a special place,” Russell continued. “We’re coming up on the congregation’s 300th anniversary. Our country isn’t even that old yet!” According to the town historian, the Episcopalian church was an Anglican one before the Revolution, and was the house of worship for Loyalists in the area, those American colonists who remained supportive of the British crown during the fighting.

In fact, the original congregation’s staunch loyalty to Britain gave the building its current name. It was originally Christ Church, but, according to Russell, it is alleged that someone wrote to Queen Wilhelmina Karoline of Brandenburgh-Anspach, queen of George II throughout the early 18th century, informing her of the church when it was brand new, compelling her highness to send its members a silver communion service.

Barbara Russell outside the Caroline Church of Brookhaven. Photo by Kevin Redding

Although Russell said the royal gift is nowhere to be found within the church, there are Vestry minutes that record the unanimous decision “…that this Church and parish Shall in honour of our gracious Queen, her most Serene Britannic Majesty be hereafter called Caroline parish and Caroline Church, and this be entered upon record in Our Vestry books ad futuram rei Memoriam.”

A portrait of the queen hangs on the wall of the church’s lobby, on the left side when you enter. Also in that first room, encased in plexiglass, is a musket ball that was found embedded in a wall near the building’s southwest corner when the church was being restored by philanthropist Ward Melville in 1937. Assumed to be a remnant of the Raid of Setauket in 1777, the single, approximately 69-caliber projectile was, according to historians at the site, most likely fired from an American soldier’s French musket during the raid.

“It was either somebody firing at the church steeple or a soldier that didn’t have very good aim,” Russell laughed.

Among the gravestones in the church’s cemetery is one for Mary Longbotham Muirson, wife of Dr. George Muirson, a Setauket resident, physician, Loyalist and worshipper at the church. Although he was a medical doctor, Dr. Muirson was not welcome to stay in the town after the war due to his Loyalist beliefs; his lands were confiscated and he was banished. It’s not clear what happened to Mary Muirson, but there’s a letter that was sent to her from her husband in April 1784, so it’s most likely that she remained in Setauket.

The grave of Patriot Samuel Longbottom at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven

Most interestingly, Muirson’s son, Heathcote Muirson, from a previous marriage, fought on the Patriot side; he took part in the raid on Fort St. George in Mastic in 1780 under the command of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge — of course, East Setauket’s most famous hero and leader of the Culper Spy Ring — and ultimately died from wounds suffered at Lloyd Neck.  Muirson’s other son was a Loyalist.

“So there was a father and son on either side of the conflict. We saw that happen again and again, right?” Russell observed, overlooking the gravestones that include Revolutionary War veterans and Suffolk County Militia soldiers.

Russell said there are a total of six Patriot graves in the Caroline churchyard including Israel Bennett, Robert Jayne, Samuel Jayne, Benjamin Jones, Vincent Jones and Samuel Longbottom, all of which can be visited on Culper Spy Day. Participants are encouraged to walk through and explore the area on their own. However, docents will be in the church and in the church’s History Center on the lower level of the Parish House for tours and to answer questions.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Anthony White

High among the list of helpful experts on the premises is Art Billadello, a longtime member and past president of the Three Village Historical Society and the Setauket Presbyterian Church’s go-to representative. He’s been a member of the congregation since 1986 and, for more than 30 years, Billadello has taken great pride in preserving and sharing the history of the Federal-style church — as well as debunking any and all myths that surround it, of which there have been plenty.

Many of these falsities can be linked to “TURN,” which has been a blessing and a curse for the site, according to Billadello.

“When that [mini-series] was running, if I had 30 people on a Revolutionary History Walking Tour, the first thing I’d ask as soon as they got out of their cars was, ‘How many of you watched ‘TURN’?’,” Billadello recalls. “Out of those 30 people, 20 hands would go up. Then the second thing I’ll say to them is, ‘Well, I’m gonna turn you around 180 degrees to the truth …’ because they would believe everything on the show, which isn’t all accurate … that’s Hollywood.”

Despite letting down some faithful viewers of the AMC program by dispelling the “sexier” and more fabricated aspects of the show in favor of what really happened, Billadello agrees with Arceri that “TURN” has been beneficial by bringing hordes of visitors from all over to the church.

Art Billadello inside the Presbyterian Church. Photo by Kevin Redding

The truth is, the Presbyterian Church that stands at 5 Caroline Avenue today is not the one that was there during the American Revolution. “The new church,” as Billadello calls it, is at least the third structure on the site. The Revolutionary-Era Church, built circa 1714, looked more like the Caroline Church. It was destroyed and fortified in 1777 by the Loyalists who worshipped across the street and looked down on the Presbyterian, a congregation that was occupied by supporters of America’s independence.

In fact, Benjamin Tallmadge’s father was a pastor at the church from 1754 — the year of Tallmadge’s birth — until he died in 1786. His father and mother are among those buried in the church’s graveyard, along with Abraham Woodhull, another leading member of the Culper Spy Ring, whose commemorative monument is one of the most impressive on the property.

Arceri’s hero, Anna Smith Strong, is buried in the neighboring St. Georges Manor Cemetery in Strong’s Neck. According to Billadello, she once used her Loyalist connections to get her husband, Selah Strong, released from the prison ship where he was confined. The two lived in Setauket for the duration of their lives following the war.

“This history is so important because it was ordinary civilians, from this town, doing extraordinary things,” Billadello said. “All school kids know about George Washington, but these regular people who helped win  our independence are virtually unknown.”

Indeed, Woodhull was a farmer and Caleb Brewster was a blacksmith while Austin Roe was a tavernkeeper. “They could’ve been caught and hung,” explained Billadello.

The Presbyterian Church was built back up around 1781, but in 1811, it was struck by lightning and most of it burned down as a result. The structurally sound beams, which were exposed to the fire and appear charred, were re-used in the steeple of the church and remain on the property.

By the end of 1811, the church was rebuilt for a third time and was officially dedicated in the spring of the following year. While, as in the case of the Caroline Church, there have been some modern renovations of its interior, like carpeting, rail and pew replacements, the Presbyterian Church is irrefutably historic inside. There’s even a pew door from 1811 on display.

During Culper Spy Day, docents will be on hand to give tours of the historic church and cemetery.

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these different organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and I would really love to put that on the forefront of people’s minds.”

Tickets are $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12 and may be purchased in advance at the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), 93 North Country Road, Setauket, by calling 631-751-3730 or by visiting www.tvhs.org. Veterans and children under the age of 6 are free.

Tickets may be picked up at the TVHS from Sept. 10 to 14. At that time, participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 21 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets may be purchased at the historical society on the day of the event.

Participating organizations:

The fifth annual Culper Spy Day is presented by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in collaboration with The Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Boy Scouts, Brewster House, Campus Bicycle, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Country House Restaurant, Custom House, Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter, Discover Long Island, 1750 David Conklin Farmhouse Museum, 1795 Dr. Daniel Kissam House Museum, Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield Museum & History Center, Frank Melville Memorial Park, Fraunces Tavern Museum, Gallery North, History Close at Hand, Huntington Historical Society, Joseph Lloyd Manor House, Ketcham Inn Foundation, Litchfield Historical Society, Old Methodist Church, Paumanok Tours, Preservation Long Island, Raynham Hall Museum, Rock Hall Museum, 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, Setauket Elementary School, Setauket Harbor Task Force, Setauket Neighborhood House, Setauket Presbyterian Church, Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Special Collections Stony Brook University Libraries, Stirring up History, Stony Brook Grist Mill, Three Village Community Trust, The Three Village Inn, The Thompson House, Times Beacon Record News Media and the Underhill Society of America.

By Kevin Redding

Seven score and 18 years ago, in 1861,  a battle between the Union soldiers of the North and Confederate soldiers of the South began, setting off one of the most tragic, bloody and integral events in American history.

Under an overcast sky Saturday, May 4, the Farmingville Historical Society brought members of the local community back to that time period with its Civil War Encampment on the grounds of the 1823 Terry House and 1850 Bald Hill School House on Horseblock Road in Farmingville. Visitors to the site were transformed to the 1860s to experience what life was like for soldiers during the Civil War, re-enacted in authentic garb by members of the 67th New York Company, the 9th Virginia Infantry, Company C, and 30th Virginia Infantry, Company B. 

The soldiers showed how meals were prepared over an open fire, ran military drills, fired muskets from the era and demonstrated a skirmish on the battlefield, a.k.a. Farmingville Hills County Park. 

Guests were also treated to Civil War-era candy and other period-accurate sweets and the one-room schoolhouse was open for business. Schoolteacher Sandra Marshak, of Patchogue, led discussions on what it was like to attend school in the 1800s. 

Jim Carrick, an Oakdale resident and member of the 9th Virginia Infantry who demonstrated how soldiers cleaned and loaded their muskets, said of the event, “It’s important to me to make sure that people will remember what this history was and what it was all about. It’s about keeping history alive and the younger generation are our future historians.”

For more information on the Farmingville Historical Society and its programs, visit www.farmingvillehistoricalsociety.org.

All photos by Kevin Redding

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Reviewed by Kevin Redding

L.L. Cartin

Ever since she was a young girl, L.L. Cartin has dreamed of living in a haunted, three-story Victorian house.  The specificity and macabre nature of her ideal living arrangement was perhaps shaped by early family trips from West Hempstead to the North Shore for realtor-guided roams through abandoned waterfront mansions. She recalls walking down the long hallways and into empty rooms and being suddenly overcome with lingering feelings from former owners. She could feel parties and celebration, fights and anger and sadness in the child’s bedroom.

“I think it was the beginning of awakening that side of me,” recalled Cartin, a former instructor at St. Joseph’s College who is ordained in metaphysical studies and for many years has taught the subject from inside her gothic-style, 1890s-built, Victorian home in Port Jefferson. “I was always very intuitive and never really shut that part of me down.”

Her house, which she moved into in the early 2000s, is filled with paranormal entities and has been the site of a few major investigations from local professional ghost-hunting groups.

“My very first night here was a very strange and frightening experience — I ran out of this house so fast I didn’t even know my legs could move that fast,” she says with a laugh, speaking of her ghostly visitors with the calm, matter-of-fact tone one might use to talk about a leaky faucet.

But for Cartin, the supernatural energy that fills her home is not only the basis of her teachings and studies, it’s also the inspiration behind her first published book, entitled “Daphne’s Web,” a “paranormal romance” fiction from Divertir Publishing.

Tell us about the plot of the book.

A woman raises her two young children in the house, but the actual story takes place once the children grow up and move out. Once the woman is alone in this house, she is met with some kind of being, a male energy she has no control over. He can foist his will upon her and she can do nothing about it. This ghost has an agenda and he has to weave through her and more people to accomplish his agenda. The various characters center around a school, which is not too terribly far-fetched from how I use the house and how the house is haunted. So that’s the melding of the history of the house, the energy in the house, the work that I do — which is metaphysical, and my passion for writing. I’ve always loved writing, so it all came together like that.

What prompted you to want to write it?

During classes I was holding at the house we were seeing paranormal activity. It became fascinating enough to actually write about. The ultimate purpose of the book is for us to see ourselves in some of the characters’ behaviors and realize we can change. The intention was that this “Law of Attraction” information, this metaphysical information, is so powerful and so peaceful and helpful — how do we get more people to study this? So I said, let’s put it in parable. Let’s make a story.

Then we ended up getting two paranormal companies, Babylon Paranormal and Katonah Paranormal, at the house to document things. Not only were things found related to the previous people who lived here, but they were validating content that was already written in the story.

Who is the best audience for this book?

I do think it’s very good for young adults because it’s a very clean book. I think on Twitter it’s called a “clean romance.” The setting is in the 1960s so there are no cellphones, no computers … From what I read of people’s comments, young people sometimes want a break from the fast-paced, in-your-face technology world and many have even said they love the music and books of the 1950s and 1960s. If they can escape this current world, teleport for a little while, through this book, they can go back to a gentler time.

What do your metaphysics students think of the book?

They’re enjoying it and relate to the imagery in the house, and are certainly aware of the teachings. By studying metaphysical science, I have made myself a better person. And I’m so much happier and have more peace, and my desire to share that is so strong. So how do I share it? I have classes here. Anyone is welcome, but on any given night, there’s just a handful of people. I don’t advertise, it’s just word of mouth; they’ve been coming for 20 years to these classes, but I wanted to reach a bigger population. I’m hoping the book will help. I hope to start speaking and doing readings in local libraries.  My goal is to bring this wisdom, the universal wisdom, outside of the four walls of my house and into a larger community.

Did you encounter any paranormal interferences during your writing process?

The previous owner was deceased from the time we purchased the house and I kept getting mail from him and kept going to the post office and telling them this person was deceased. Long deceased. But I kept getting their mail. It didn’t just come at a regular basis, it came at a random basis, and it came with strange messages on the envelope like “WATCH FOR MARCH 21st” and, lo and behold, on or around those specific dates, I would get a call from the publisher or got the book with corrections needed. We were being led to just keep going. I thought that was very paranormal. And since it was published, I haven’t gotten a thing.

In my heart of hearts, I feel that the energy in my house did have unfinished business. That’s what the book is about. The ghost began to use the live beings living in the house to finish his business, which he does complete in this book.

And I felt like the previous owner of my house must’ve had some unfinished business in some nature and that in a way I was being used to write this. I felt very inspired throughout the whole time.

‘Daphne’s Web’ by L.L. Cartin is available online at Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Book Depository.

‘Come for the film, stay for the talk’

By Kevin Redding

It began more than 15 years ago with a group of film lovers gathered around the television on Oscar night. Lyn Boland, a former lawyer and adjunct professor from Setauket, was among them, and as she and her friends gushed over clips from the year’s Best Documentary Feature category, she wondered: Why can’t we ever see any of these powerful films?

‘Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story’ will be screened at Theatre Three on May 20.

Around this time, she was called on by her law partner, and a fellow cinephile, to help rebuild the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council’s faltering film program. Boland had just recently watched “Spellbound,” the Academy Award-nominated doc about a group of eight young students competing in the Scripps National Bee; it was exciting, artistic, moving and it made Boland cry. It seemed obvious what to do with the local cinema program.

“Let’s make it a documentary series,” she recalls saying to her friend. While the initial concept was to hold screenings around the work primarily of local filmmakers, this proved to be difficult and limiting. So, members of the program’s board decided to pluck documentaries straight from the source: high-profile film festivals, from the Hamptons International Film Festival to DOC NYC to Tribeca Film Festival to Stony Brook Film Festival, and more, where new, important works are debuted, and the voices of blossoming filmmakers are heard for the first time. 

And thus, in the fall of 2005, the first Port Jefferson Documentary Series was born. “The idea was to make a place where we can actually see these films while they’re still very current,” Boland, one of three co-directors of the now-14-year series, said. “I think that this particular area on Long Island has a well-educated population, people who want to stay up-to-date, and, for some people, watching a documentary is a great way for them to go into depth on an important issue for a couple hours.”

She continued, “We used to travel to Cinema Arts Centre [in Huntington] to see documentaries, and it seems like there was this giant hole in our ability to see independent films like these in this area. Our criteria now is that the film is new and not available elsewhere, has critical acclaim, and tells an important story.”

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, the spring 2019 season of the award-winning documentary series begins March 4 and will run until May 20. The seven-film lineup will be spread across several local venues, including Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson; the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook; the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook; and Robert Cushman Murphy Junior High School, 351 Oxhead Road, in Stony Brook. 

Each of this year’s emotional and thought-provoking films will be followed up by  a Q&A session with guest speakers involved in the documentary, like directors, producers, the movies’ subjects and outside experts. 

They include the compelling journalism-focused “The Panama Papers”; “Under the Wire,” about a heroic Sunday Times correspondent who was killed while covering the war in Syria; “Weed the People,” in which medical cannabis is posed as “a human rights issue”; as well as “Liyana,” “City of Joel,” “Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story” and “Emanuel,” about the Charleston church shooting.

As is the case every year, the documentaries are selected by the series’ seven-member film board, or “The Film Ladies,” as they are called — made up of Boland, fellow co-directors Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg, as well as board members Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein. 

Each member sees upward of 100 documentaries during the preliminary film festival blitz, and whittle their favorites down to 10 or less to present to the board. Out of that batch, seven films, one from each person, are selected to be screened. From the get-go, the board member assumes responsibility for “her” film, presenting it to the board, writing press releases and making sure the venues have all the right equipment for a proper screening. 

“The earlier we get the film, the better it is for us because then we can actually help the filmmakers and expose their film    we like getting them early in their emergence,” said Boland. 

“There’s also the discovery aspect of it. For example, we just saw a film we’re considering for the fall that hasn’t been anywhere, no film festivals so far, but we saw it and it was great. The idea that you could see somebody’s first documentary, really help them along in the huge process [is rewarding],” she said. 

Because of the series’ longevity, its members have developed a relationship with the many distributors of the films, as well as their directors, most of whom are just pleased to have more eyes on their work. 

Last summer the Port Jefferson Documentary Series held a special screening of “RBG,” which focused on the life and career of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and which was recently nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.  

In the early years of the series, they showed “Taxi to the Dark Side,” a film that went on to win the Oscar in 2008, and in 2017, Daniel McCabe, the director of “This Is Congo,” an immersive, and brutal, examination of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, discussed his film after the screening.

The board, supported by ticket receipts and a grant from Suffolk County, routinely pays filmmakers to come out and discuss the film in their Q&As, but McCabe actually donated his fee back to them that night, saying “You are the people that really make this happen … You’re the ones who really deserve this money.” 

“We have a responsibility to curate really well,” Boland explained. “Because we get public funds, we can’t just run anything … it’s a high bar to get to be one of the seven documentaries we select.”

Among the upcoming films, Boland is particular excited about “The Panama Papers.”

“Our series reflects the value of journalism,” she said. “[The director] is very good at taking a complicated topic and turn it into a very exciting film. It has you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what’s going to happen next.”

Sverd’s favorite is “Under the Wire,” which will be shown at Stony Brook University and will involve the college’s School of Journalism. 

“Over the years, the documentary has become an extremely important and effective tool for information and social change,” she said. “All of these are very special films to whoever chooses them.”

Feinberg, a retired teacher who joined the board in fall 2014, recognized a highlight for her this year: the closing night music film “Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story,” an “interesting, educational, heartbreaking”  film about a blues harmonica player who formed an interracial band. 

“Other than being a cinephile, I love music and love music of such varying genres,” Feinberg said. “I try to always push for one music documentary, and I’m usually successful when I see that the audience really responds to the film. I remember we had one gentleman say to me, ‘Every time you screen a film, every one is better than the one before, I don’t know how you do that.’ Feedback like that warms my heart, and confirms that we’re doing something good and lasting.”

Boland agrees and encourages community members to show up and help grow the series. “These films compel us and can introduce you to a powerful, personal story you might not ever have heard,” she said. 

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. on select Monday nights from March 4 to April 15 and at 7:15 p.m. on May 20 (see sidebar for locations). Tickets, which are sold at the door, are $8 per person. (No credit cards please.) If you would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5200. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule:

The spring season will kick off with “The Panama Papers” at Theatre Three on March 4. Leaked by an anonymous source to journalists in 2015, the Panama Papers were an explosive collection of 11.5 million documents, exposing the use of secretive offshore companies to enable widespread tax evasion and money laundering. Director Alex Winter speaks to the journalists who worked to ensure the release and examines how it reshaped our understanding of corruption in the highest tiers of government.  Moderated by Tom Needham, host of “The Sounds of Film” on WUSB, guest speaker will be Kevin Hall, chief economics correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning senior investigator for McClatchy newspapers in Washington, D.C.

“Under the Wire,” the chilling and inspiring documentary about Marie Colvin, the celebrated Sunday Times correspondent, and photojournalist Paul Conroy as they enter war-ravaged Syria in February of 2012 to cover the plight of trapped and slaughtered civilians in Homs, a city under siege by the Syrian Army, heads to the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on March 11. Deliberately targeted by Syria’s top leaders, Colvin was killed in a rocket attack that also gravely wounded Conroy, who eventually managed to escape. Co-sponsored by the Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting, guest speakers include Catherine Colvin (Marie Colvin’s sister) in person and Paul Conroy, photojournalist (via Skype). 

The season continues on March 18 at The Long Island Museum with “Weed the People.” Through the emotional stories of children fighting cancer, the documentary educates mainstream audiences about medical cannabis as a human rights issue and begets the unsettling question at the heart of the film: If weed is truly saving lives, why doesn’t the government want people to access it? Guest speakers include  director Abby Epstein and cancer survivor and co-founder of NYC Botanics, Jill Fagin. Screening will be held in the museum’s Gillespie Room, located in the Carriage House Museum. 

“Liyana,” which will be screened at Robert Cushman Murphy Junior High School on April 1, is a touching and unique film set in Swaziland (now Eswatini). Told by five children who were orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, this extraordinary film uses animation and narrative to illustrate their plight. Ultimately hopeful, this is a visually beautiful and unforgettable film presented in a poetic and creative style.  “Liyana” has recently been nominated for the prestigious 2019 Cinema Eye Honors Award for Nonfiction Filmmaking for the Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation Award. Guest speaker will be executive producer Susan MacLaury.

The series continues with “City of Joel” at Theatre Three on April 8. The town of Monroe, which lies 50 miles north of New York City and deep within the Hudson Valley, is one of the fastest-growing Hasidic communities in the country. Shot over several years with seemingly boundless access, Emmy-winning director Jesse Sweet’s documentary observes the simmering tensions that have come to define the community, and the myriad ways in which the town’s divide echoes the country’s as well. Co-sponsored by Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook, the guest speaker will be the film’s subject, B.J. Mendelson.

In collaboration with the Long Island Museum’s Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island exhibit, “Emanuel” will be screened on April 15 in the museum’s Gillespie Room. The documentary highlights the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015 and is a poignant story of justice, faith, love and hate. Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, this film examines the healing power of forgiveness. Sponsored by The Law Offices of Michael S. Ross in Smithtown,  Building Bridges in Brookhaven, the Bethel AME Church and the Multicultural Solidarity Group, guest speaker will be producer Dimas Salaberrios.

The series concludes with “Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story” at Theatre Three at 7:15 p.m. on May 20. The documentary follows the complex story of a man many call the greatest harmonica player of all time. The film features Butterfield’s music and words, along with firsthand accounts from his family, his band mates and those closest to him, with appearances by David Sanborn, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Bob Dylan and more. Co-sponsored by the Long Island Blues Society and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, the evening will be moderated by  WUSB’s Tom Needham with guest speaker executive producer/producer Sandra Warren. A prefilm blues concert with Kerry Kearney, Frank Latorre, Gerry Sorrentino and Mario Staiano will be held at 6 p.m. (Combo concert, film and Q&A ticket is $15.)

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In its first year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team takes part in state competition. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

In a little over a year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team developed from an idea by two high school students into a fully formed, competing group in the New York State Forensic League championship. And while team members admit they still have a lot to learn following their recent defeat in the state tournament hosted at Hofstra University April 28 and 29, they can’t argue with how far they’ve come.

After success in February’s qualifer, four students from the nine-member team — juniors Mahdi Rashidzada and Andrew Honold, and freshmen Jalal Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada — went up against more experienced debaters from various school districts across Long Island and the state.

“We were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate.”

— Mahdi Rashidzada

With a discussion topic of universal basic income implementation in various countries, Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada won one out of five debates while Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada lost all five of theirs. Every student competed in five rounds on Saturday, and, depending on how well they did, advanced to final rounds on Sunday.

Mahdi Rashidzada said though the team lost, he considers his team’s participation learning experience for the future.

“At first we were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate,” the junior said said, pointing out that the team was assembled at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

In February, the team began preparing for the state competition by meeting after school at each other’s houses two days a week, researching the debate topic, writing speeches and practicing counterarguments in front of adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy.

“We really wanted to go in there and win something, but we kind of knew that we shouldn’t expect a win since everyone we went against were amazing debaters [who have been debating since their freshman year],” Rashidzada said. “We hope to improve our rankings by working hard next year.”

He added that he and the rest of the Shoreham students had great camaraderie with other debate teams.

“We became friends with our rivals, so the atmosphere was very enjoyable,” he said.

Honold, who, during the qualifiers at Jericho High School Feb. 10, nabbed first place in the junior division by winning all four of his debates there, also hopes that last month’s competition will have a positive impact on the club moving forward.

“States was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

— Andrew Honold

“Frankly, we all learned that we have a lot to learn,” he said. “Our performance at states was disappointing, and we expected to do better. We faced a lot of really talented, experienced and disciplined debaters and, for the most part, they outplayed us. Really, states was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

And by already reaching this high level of competition within its first academic year, the odds are in Shoreham’s favor, especially with all the state qualifiers returning to the team.

In March 2017, two then-sophomores and later club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick brought their debate team idea to the board of education. They proposed that such a team, which was unanimously approved, would be beneficial to students with interests in political science or law. They said that by their senior year, they hoped to compete with other schools.

The club’s members, who span all grade levels, have said through debate they learn analytical and public speaking skills, and hone speechwriting and teamwork abilities.

“I learned how to better structure my debate, and overall I feel like I’ve learned how to become a better speaker this year,” Sawas said following the state competition. “I found it crazy that I was going up against the best kids in the state with honestly little experience, [but] I found it fun.”

Vinny Altebrando with his wife Kristie and their four daughters. Photo from Kristie Altebrando

When it comes to handling students, the teachers, administrators and faculty members at South Huntington school district have a new mantra these days: WWAD, or “What Would Altebrando Do?”

It’s a tribute to a man who, as a physical education and special education teacher and renowned varsity wrestling coach at Walt Whitman High School for the last 15 years, consistently went out of his way to make students and student-athletes’ lives better — particularly the “underdogs” that struggled in and out of school.

Vincent Altebrando was somebody who once bought a tuxedo and prom ticket for a wrestler who came from a broken home and couldn’t afford them, and then dressed in a tuxedo himself, picked up the teenager and chauffeured him to the big event. He was a beloved local whose nine-hour wake service last month drew a crowd of 3,000 people, where hundreds more had to be turned away.

Vinny Altebrando, who was Walt Whitman’s wrestling coach, on left, with state champion Terron Robinson during the state tournament. Photo from Terron Robinson

The renowned coach, a Miller Place resident who died April 20 at Stony Brook University Hospital after being diagnosed with HLH, a rare autoimmune disease, at 51, had a big heart and an infectious laugh, an affinity for belting out Beatles songs, and a tough-love competitive spirit that not only put the district on the map athletically, but helped his players beyond the sport. There really was nothing he wouldn’t have done to help his students, according to those closest to him.

“He was always about the kids,” his wife Kristie Altebrando said. “He was always doing things for them. And just when you thought it was enough because his plate was full, he found more room on it. He’s changed a lot of lives.”

Both in school and at home, she pointed out, referring to their four daughters, each of whom compete in sports, from lacrosse to volleyball and field hockey.

“With his attitude, grace, helpfulness and encouragement, it’s all made them who they are,” she said. “I just hope he’s looking down, knowing that while he was alive he was doing all this for people.”

Robin Rose, Walt Whitman’s head varsity football coach and childhood friend of Vincent Altebrando’s, said the wrestling coach had a myriad of accolades. He won the sportsmanship award at this year’s Suffolk County Wrestling Coaches Association ceremony.

 “The best compliment is that Vinny turned athletes into state winners and he helped non-athletes become winners themselves,” Rose said. “He’s a guy this district can’t replace.”

Altebrando also played a large role in launching adaptive physical education and a Special Olympics program for the district’s special needs students.

Vinny Altebrando and his youngest daughter Mirabella. Photo from Katie Altebrando

“It’s an amazing void that he leaves in the school,” fellow Walt Whitman physical education teacher and childhood friend Scott Wolff said. “He was this big, tough, sweet guy; this big center of life in the building and that’s gone now, so we’re all trying to fill a little piece of it — just by building up spirits, being nicer to each other, spending more time with the kids who are struggling. I can already feel the effects.”

Wolff and Altebrando, who was raised by his mother and older brothers after the death of his father at a young age, both went through the Middle Country school system; graduated from Newfield High School a year apart; and were hired at South Huntington Elementary School on the same day in 1994. According to Wolff, Altebrando has been the same since he first met him.

“Vinny was always the best guy to be around — fun, humble and knew how to make everybody feel comfortable and special,” he said.

Terron Robinson, 19, knows that about the coach perhaps better than anybody.

The 2017 Walt Whitman graduate first met his coach as an eighth-grader as a budding wrestler. Robinson said he’d long been cast aside by teachers and other students at school due to his family background — two of his brothers had been to prison, and he thought everybody assumed he’d wind up there as well. He lost his mother at a young age and by the time he was in ninth grade, his father and a brother died, too. It didn’t take long, however, for him to have somebody to turn to.

“In my eyes, that man [Altebrando] was like my father,” said Robinson, who, under the guidance of Altebrando, was a state champion wrestler by 11th-grade. “He saw the good side of me when nobody else did. He was always there for me no matter what. Without him, I’d probably be in a jail cell.”

Altebrando made sure Robinson always had food and clean clothes. He pushed him to do well in school and treat everybody with respect. He took Robinson to the doctor when he was hurt. The coach would even take it upon himself to drive every morning from his home in Miller Place to where his student-athlete lived in Mastic Beach, pick him up and take him to school in South Huntington — where the two of them often worked out together before classes started.

“There was no greater bond I’ve seen between coach and player than the one they had,” Walt Whitman high school athletic director Jim Wright said. “Vinny just saw him as a kid with potential, as a wrestler and also as a person. He brought out the good qualities in Terron and turned him into a citizen.”

Vinny Altebrando, on right, with his oldest daughter Anjelia, who will be attending his alma mater, Springfield College, in the fall. Photo from Katie Altebrando

Altebrando graduated from Newfield High School in 1984. He was a star athlete on football and wrestling teams, the latter being a somewhat lackluster sport in the district before he came along.

“Then it became an event to go to,” Wolff said, laughing.

Altebrando went to Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he wrestled and received a degree in physical education.

It was during a hectic commute from his first teaching job in Brooklyn that Altebrando bumped into an old familiar face — his future wife — from his high school days.

“We took the train home together and we were engaged within a month,” Kristie Altebrando said. “He was my lifeline, my go-to guy … and it’s overwhelming to see the outpouring of love from so many people for what he’s done and see how many lives he’s touched.”

Natalia Altebrando, 13, a North Country Road middle school student and goalie on a travel lacrosse team, said her father taught her on and off the field how to find courage and strength, and to be kind to others.

“He made such an impact on my life,” she said. “This has broken my heart in a thousand pieces, and the only one who would [normally] be able to fix that for me is him.”

Altebrando’s oldest daughter, Anjelia, 17, will be following in her father’s footsteps and attending Springfield College in the fall.

“He was my role model and really pushed me to work hard for what I want,” she said. “He let me know that anything is possible.”