North Shore gets its close up

Ricahrd Tedesco

The inaugural Gold Coast International Film Festival is a wrap and all indications are that the festival was a hit.

Festival organizers were pleased with attendance that exceeded their expectations at the five days of screenings and festival events from June 1 through June 5 at Clearview Cinemas in Great Neck, Herricks, Roslyn, Manhasset and Port Washington. And the first year success makes it certain that there will be a sequel.

“There will be a next year,” said Regina Gil, Gold Coast festival founder and executive director. “I think we had low expectations for attendance and we got a great response.”

Gil said participating filmmakers were also pleased with the way the festival was run, and Gil said that will help to draw directors for next year’s screenings.

“I think the buzz will get out to the film community,” she said.

West Islip native Keirda Bahruth won the audience award for best documentary feature film “Bob and the Monster,” a profile of indie-rock star Bob Forrest, whose struggle with drug addiction led to his transformation into one of the most prominent drug counselors in the U.S. today. The strong audience response to her documentary earned her a prize of $30,000 in post-production services from Deluxe to be used for a future project.

“To be from Long Island and to win this award is everything,” Bahruth said at the closing reception in the former Chrysler Mansion at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point on Sunday night. “It’s a high honor and I thank you so much.”

The winner for best narrative feature film was Jean Becker for “My Afternoons with Marguerite,” a French film about an illiterate man who befriends a well-read older woman. Becker’s prize is $60,000 in equipment rentals from Panavision.

The winner for short documentary film was director Megan O’Shea’s “In the Spirit of Laxmi,” a film about a man who raises an injured leopard cub in India with the objective of releasing the leopard into the wild. “Noreen,” a film by Domhnail Gleeson about two policemen who have a life-changing experience on a house call in rural Ireland, was recognized as top narrative short in the festival.

A jury of directors and producers selected the best narrative feature and short documentary.

The setting for the announcement of the festival’s audience award winners was expressive of the festival’s theme, reviving the spirit of the Long Island north shore Gold Coast of the 1920s. The view across Long Island Sound of the Triborough Bridge and the bright lights across the water vividly suggested the perspective of the area F. Scott Fitzgerald described in “The Great Gatsby.”

Sean McPhillips, the festival’s senior programmer, had said that he sought to put an emphasis on films based on written narratives for the 42 Gold Coast festival films selected for the screenings. McPhillips, who seemed omnipresent at the screenings and events, said he was also pleasantly surprised at the results.

“I was happy and surprised that people knew about the films and were showing up,” McPhillips said. “Attendance kept rising over the four days.”

McPhillips said certain screenings had no advance sales, but drew walk-up traffic from film buffs. There were lessons learned about scheduling, according to McPhillips, who said attendance was sparse for daytime screenings on the weekdays leading up to the festival’s climactic weekend.

The Town of North Hempstead was among the festival’s co-sponsors and Town of North Hemptead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said he saw the desired economic impact on local businesses

“It increased traffic to local businesses and in so doing, laid the foundation for the economic success of future festivals,” he said.

No hard numbers for attendance at the festival are yet available. But the count on the volunteers who helped out was 300, and Gil said their efforts were invaluable.

Some late night screenings drew small crowds as well. Only a handful of music fans attended the Friday night screening of “Rejoice and Shout,” a vibrant documentary about gospel music and its influence on the blues, soul music and rock and roll directed by Don McGlynn and featuring interview segments with musical luminaries including Smokey Robinson and Mavis Staples.

But one of the biggest draws of the festival was “Chasing Madoff,” which had a packed house for its screening at the Manhasset Clearview Cinema earlier last Friday night.

The story of how whistle blower Harry Markopolos and a team of investigators persisted in their decade-long quest to bring Madoff to justice was a compelling narrative that raised serious questions about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s failure to investigate the Ponzi schemer sooner than it did. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Great Neck) angrily redressing members of the commission during a House of Representatives hearing was among the highlights in the film.

“It’s continuing to unfold. It’s not over yet,” director Jeff Prosserman told an attentive audience during the Q&A sessions that followed the film.

Those Q&A sessions with directors were a bonus for festival audiences, particularly in the case of director Seth Swirsky, whose “Beatles Stories,” 80 minutes of musicians, celebrities and studio engineers relating an eclectic mix of poignant and funny recollections about the Fab Four.

Swirsky credits his teachers in the Great Neck school system for encouraging his creativity and said it was a “great experience growing up there because it was so open.”

Asked why he chose to include stories that put John Lennon in a less than positive light – described as “a lazy bastard” by one sound engineer and an irrascible character with conservative tendencies years beyond writing “Imagine” – Swirsky said, “John was about truth. He just put it out there.”

Throughout the festival, there were memorable stories from directors and actors. Bruce Dern spent 90 minutes spinning memorable Hollywood yarns on the opening night (see story on page 15). Port Washington native Ryan Silbert, who won an Academy Award for “God of Love,” an offbeat short film about unrequited love, told a story about how he nearly didn’t get to the Los Angeles theater on the big night.

Silbert also produced “Holy Rollers,” a morality tale about a Hasidic Jew who gets involved in Ecstacy smuggling directed by Great Neck native Kevin Asch. The two films were screened together with Asch relating aspects of the real people the characters represented after the screening.

There were memorable lines from the films themselves, like rock star Moby describing the scene in Manhattan’s Limelight club in the documentary “Limelight” about the rise and fall of notorious club entrepreneur Peter Gatien: “It was like ancient Rome. It was a cross between a soccer riot and a rave.”

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Ricahrd Tedesco

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