Film buffs from all over Long Island ventured out to Bellmore Movies from July 9 through July 17, eager to partake in the 17th Annual Long Island International Film Expo. Also termed LIIFE, the expo is renowned for giving independent filmmakers a chance to get their work out there. Put together by Debra Markowitz, the festival director and director of the Nassau County Film Office, LIIFE has grown tremendously over the years, developing into a major Long Island event. From more than 500 submissions, 150 independent films were chosen and showcased over the course of the week. According to Markowitz, the judges chose films that they felt “were going to fit.” Story, picture quality, and sound were just some of the things taken into consideration when deciding which films would make it in.
The official opening night of LIIFE was on July 11, and the much anticipated film, The Historian, premiered that evening. Written and directed by Miles Doleac, The Historian examines the world of higher education in a new light. During his speech afterward, Doleac stated that he wished to address “the trouble in higher education of lowering the bar.” The Historian won several awards later in the week, including “Best First Feature Film” and “Best Actor in a Feature Film” (for William Sadler’s performance).
A variety of other films were shown between the opening and closing nights of the festival, with genres ranging from eerie horror films to romantic comedies. A number of foreign projects showcased this year as well, some focusing on global issues. After each viewing, audiences were asked to vote on the films they enjoyed the most. The closing night of LIIFE was an exciting one, allowing filmmakers to gather and celebrate their accomplishments. Preceding the ceremonies, individuals involved with the expo’s films were invited to have dinner in the filmmakers lounge. While they ate, the red carpet was rolled out in preparation for the award ceremony.
Several Long Island celebrities attended the closing ceremony, including movie stars, Robert Davi and Sean Young. Other notable appearances were awards ceremony host Brian O’Halloran ( Clerks), Taking Back Sunday’s John Nolan, former NFL player Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado, Marc Coppola (Apocalypse Now), actress/songwriter Noelle Yatauro, and Tom Pelphrey, best known for his roles in Guiding Light and As The World Turns. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano also joined the festivities, revealing his identity as a long-time film lover.
Once everyone filed into the main theater of Bellmore Movies, the ceremony commenced. After a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”, Markowitz called Ed Mangano on stage. Mangano spoke about how pleased he is with LIIFE’s growth over the years. “It’s great to have it here,” he said. Markowitz also acknowledged the sponsors of LIIFE, running a brief slideshow by way of thanks. Likewise, she congratulated the filmmakers and producers, without whom the expo would not be possible. Following Markowitz, Brian O’Halloran took the stage and turned the audience’s focus to the awards. “Not everybody’s a winner,” he said. “But not everybody’s a loser. You’ve all made it here, so that’s a great start.” Next to the speaker’s podium stood a table of trophies, waiting to be handed out.
There were numerous award categories, each with around six or seven nominees. Some of the earlier awards were “Best Student Film” (awarded to Tobacco Burn), “Best Documentary Film” (tied between Buffalo Nation and Shunned), and “Best Animation” (given to Rabbit and Deer). Due to the amount of foreign films displayed, awards were also given to “Best Foreign Short Film” and “Best Foreign Feature Film” (to Carry On and Tempo Girl, respectively).
Robert Davi was a special honoree this year, receiving the Long Island Filmmaker Achievement Award. This was presented to him by Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado, a good friend of his. Prior to Davi’s acceptance speech, clips from his best films were shown. Then Davi was called up to say thanks and speak about his own life and career. Davi stressed the importance of film and of “encouraging the voices of tomorrow.” He ended his speech by telling the audience: “Instead of tearing us apart, our culture brings us together. The arts are the most important thing there is.”
Awards and honorable mentions were also granted to the actors and actresses judged to have put on the best performances. Supporting roles, as well as leads, were acknowledged, with male and female winners. The “Best Director” award was also received by the director of the film Pretty, Alex Lubliner. Audience ballots were also taken into consideration during the ceremony, resulting in “Jury Awards.” Until Death and Hitting Home were accorded these awards based on the votes of the Long Island citizens who attended the expo.
Similar to Davi, Sean Young received an award as a special honoree. Given the “Creative Achievement Award”, Young talked momentarily about her interest in film and stated, “Being honored is a great honor”. Finally, the two biggest awards, “Best Short Film” and “Best Feature Film”, were announced. The best short movie was deemed Graduation, a piece about the involvement of both sides of the law in drug cases. The best feature was Cigarette Soup, a project looking at the soldiers in Afghanistan. The creators of Cigarette Soup wanted to “pay homage to people in the military”. The producers even worked with Craig Washington, a former soldier, in order to assure that they represented the army correctly. Larry Strong stated that he wanted to make these people’s stories memorable and that it was a “tremendous honor” to win best feature. Having attended three other film festivals, he stated this was “by far the biggest win”.
An after-party was held for filmmakers following the ceremony. As Henry Stampfel, co-owner of Bellmore Movies, put it: “It’s all about the filmmakers. They put time and money on the line, and we try to give it back to them.” Debra Markowitz, as well as Anne and Henry Stampfel, have succeeded at doing just this. Filmmakers had great things to say about LIIFE at closing night. Sean Dahlberg, creator of Until Death stated, “It’s probably one of the best festivals I’ve been to. I’m very impressed.” Robert La Rosa, a filmmaker of Return, echoed similarly positive thoughts on the expo, saying, “I love this environment.” We can only hope that LIIFE continues to grow even larger in its 18th year.