By Tony Sanders
From left, Filmmaker Amanda Bedula, Best Actor in a Short winner Bill Sorvino, Best Director/Best Short Winner Sam Borowski, Best Actress in a Short Nominee Samantha Tuffarelli, Filmmaker Michael Ringston, Best Actress in a Short Winner Maria Rusolo and Best Actress in a Short Nominee Wanda O’ Connell strike a group pose on the Red Carpet at the Northeast Film Festival.
The Northeast Film Festival recently wrapped its inaugural edition, with several locals making a big splash at the Awards Gala on September 15th. One of those locals Sam Borowski, whose movie “Maniac,” was previewedÂ in theÂ ObserverÂ last month, took home the top honors for Best Director of a Short and Best Short for the aforementioned film. His actor Bill Sorvino, a Jersey City native, also took home Best Actor in a Short honors.
“This was an amazing festival,” Borowski said afterward. “There were not only many great films competing, but Oscar-Winners, Oscar-Nominees and multiple Award-Winners in many of the categories. Festival Director Larry Rosen did such a wonderful job of putting this together.”
The festival, run by Teaneck’s Larry Rosen and Jersey City’s Tamara Thelander was held over three days at the Maplewood Theater in Maplewood, New Jersey.
“This is the kind of festival that I imagined,” said Rosen. “It had an intimate feel with some of the best quality independent films on the circuit, all packed into an exciting weekend.”
Another Jersey City resident,Â Mara Lesemann, was a big winner with herÂ film, “Surviving Family,” which she wrote and produced, and which played at the Golden Door International Film Festival of Jersey City last year. Surviving FamilyÂ took home six awards – most of any feature film. Lesemann received the Best Screenplay and Best Picture awards, while her actors Sarah Wilson (Best Actress), Vincent Pastore (Best Supporting Actor) and Tara Westwood (Breakout Performance) all took home trophies. Laura Thies also was honored as Best Director.
Several other major names were involved with films in the festival such as Oscar-Winner Olympia Dukakis (Birds of a Feather), Phyllis Somerville (Surviving Family), Edie McClurg (Theresa is a Mother), Federico Castelluccio (Pollination *), Joey D’OnofrioÂ and David Harris (Maniac).
Harris won the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his 16 appearances in major films such as the iconic 1979 Walter Hill offering, “The Warriors,” and the 1984 Oscar-Nominated Best Picture “A Soldier’s Story,” where he played the supporting role of Private Smalls opposite 2-time Oscar-Winning actorÂ Denzel Washington, as well as his 30-plus appearances in episodic and television movies.
Many other notables turned out for the festival,Â including Â C. Fraser Press (Writer-Director and Best Actress Nominee) and Darren Press, whose film, “Theresa is a Mother,” was up for 7 awards and wound up taking home the Director’s Choice Award given by Thelander. In addition, Sloan CopelandÂ screened his film, “Wet Behind The Ears,” which was up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and he was awarded the other Director’s Choice by Rosen.
Others included Bronx ingÃ©nue Samantha Tuffarelli (Best Actress in a Short), nominated for Michael Ringston’s “No, You Ain’t Alright,” and Best Actress in a Short winner Maria Rusolo (“Ma In Her Kerchief”).
McClurg triumphed in the Best Supporting Actress category over the aforementioned Academy-Award Winner Dukakis and legendary actress Phyllis Somerville. They also competed against talented newcomer Jessica Piervicenti, the Wet Behind The Ears actress, who was humbled enough by the honor to joke afterward.
“I might have come home empty handed tonight from (the festival), but I lost to the very funny and talented Edie McClurg!,” she quipped. “I’m assuming Oscar-Winner Olympia Dukakis and I are equally bummed.”
The festival seems to have found a permanent home in Maplewood, as both the theater and local community embraced it. Most of the out-of-town filmmakers and locals agreed that there is tremendousÂ potential for growth.
“I think this could be like another Telluride Film Festival,” said producer B.D. Gunnell, whose film, “Birds of a Feather,” won Audience Choice Award. “There certainly is a the makings of something special here.”