Stardust On the Beach
Lights, camera, action! The 7th Annual Fort Myers Beach Film Festival begins next Thursday, April 25th! From one end of the island to the other, the whole town will be coated with a bit of Hollywood stardust for those four days and, while a complete list of the actual stars who will be coming to our emerald shores was not available at press time, we can tell you that Sal Richards, co-star of last year's Film Festival winning film, 'Crackers', will be here for the event, as well as JoMarie Payton, star of the hit television show 'Family Matters'. Payton will be serving as Master of Ceremonies alongside Elizabeth D'Onofrio.
Those who did not get the opportunity to meet Sal last year should definitely make plans to be at the Beach Theater on Saturday, April 27th for the showing of a documentary about his life – 'Mr. Laughs'. Sal is the quintessential showman – an actor, comedian and entertainer, his biography reads like a Hollywood movie: Born in 1940's Brooklyn, he caught the entertainment bug from his father who used to put on shows to entertain sick children at neighborhood hospitals. Signed to a record deal at the tender age of 18, Sal got a chance to fill in for a sick comedian one night – thus launching him into that role as well. Over the years he has successfully conquered all three of his fields, being named 'Entertainer of the Year' numerous times and appearing in films such as Rounders, Fighting Back and co-starring with Steven Segal in 'Out for Justice'. His television credits are far too numerous to list all of them but include Law and Order – Criminal Intent, The Dean Martin Show and The Sopranos.
Richards has two films showing in this year's festival. The first one, 'Gus' - directed by Joe Pomarico – shows in the 'Shorts Package 2' at 7pm on Friday. 'Gus' is a true story about a youngster amazed by his grandfather’s ability to paint. When given a chance to learn, it changes his life forever. As he matures, so does his artwork which expands into the field of filmmaking.
Richards' other film - 'Mr. Laughs' – is a must-see documentary that chronicles the life of Richards himself. Directed by Gregory Principato and narrated by Vincent D'Onofrio, this film
"Is really a love story, about a boy from Brooklyn who had a dream to be in show business,” Mr. Principato explains. "It’s also about how the love from his family has helped him to strive and be the acclaimed performer he is today.”
JoMarie Payton grew up in the Miami suburb of Opa-Locka. Inspired by her hard-working mother, she left for California at the age of 24 as part of the national touring company of the musical comedy "Purlie” with Robert Guillaume. When the show ended, she worked hard to break into showbiz, living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and driving an ancient Chevy she named Betsy. Her turn finally came in 1977 when she was cast as a forties-style jazz singer on the 'Redd Foxx Comedy Hour'. During the years since Payton was guest-starred and had recurring appearances on "Silver Spoons,” "Small Wonder” and the "New Odd Couple” with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson just to name a few. She also did small film roles in such motion pictures as "Body and Soul” Deal of the Century: with Gregory Hines, "Colors”, Cross my Heart”, "Crossroads” and Troop Beverly Hills” with Shelly Long and Craig T. Nelson.
Payton is also a dedicated human rights activist – working on human causes in and out of the United States, The Royal Children’s Hospital in Australia, and Thembiso Children’s Home in Zimbabwe. She established the Frankie Payton Scholarship Fund at Albany State College in honor of her mother and the JoMarie Payton Celebrity Classic which for almost ten years raised funds for scholarships. She is a four-time NAACP Image Award nominee, has been given the keys to quite a few cities and was even named woman of the year by the City of Los Angeles - who also honored her with her own day. Quite the amazing lady!
The wonderful thing about our Film Festival is that it not only attracts big names, but small local filmmakers as well. As folks will see next weekend, southwest Florida has an abundance of talent, many of whom are self-taught artists who produce some amazing films while operating on a shoestring. One such person is Naples man Mitch Glass, whose short film, 'Gary', recently won the Fort Myers Film Festival. We caught up with Mitch on Wednesday afternoon to hear about the making of Gary and another short he's entered into the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival, 'Stuck'.
"I started making videos when I was about 11 because I was a skateboarder and I wanted to film my tricks,” said Glass, who told us he grew up in south New Jersey and moved to south Florida in 1998. "I really liked it, so I got into editing, and from then into making films.”
Mitch says he is self-taught, and currently works for the Naples Daily News making commercials for them as well as other companies. He gets the inspiration for his films from the people around him and ideas that come into his head – sometime without warning.
"For my latest film, 'Stuck', I kind of wanted to do a take on the 'Breakfast Club' because John Hughes has always been my biggest inspiration,” Glass told us. "Since I was on a budget, I wanted to have everything take place in one location with as few people as possible.”
'Stuck', a 20-minute short film, is a story about four strangers who become 'stuck' in a parking garage after one of them loses her keys. The film – which features a 'Breakfast Club' style soundtrack of 1980's songs running off and on in the background – shows what can happen when four random people are forced together for a long time with nothing else to do but talk to each other.
"We did this in three nights in a parking garage off of 5th Avenue in Naples,” Mitch said. "Because the actors were from all over the state and none of them wanted to return to do voice-overs, my friend Dan Layton – who's trained in audio – ran the boom and we used the real audio from those three nights.”
Glass told us the film took about three months to edit, much less time than the other film that will be shown in the festival – 'Gary'.
"'Gary' is much sadder, much more of a hard-core drama,” he said. "There's really only one actor, and since he didn't live here we had to shoot it for a couple of days, wait a week or two, then shoot it again for a few days. This one took me about six months to edit.”
'Gary', a rather heartbreaking and intense film about a down-on-his-luck middle-aged man who desperately wants his wife back, won best local film in the Fort Myers Film Festival.
"For this one, I wrote something that one man could do, and most of the story is told by that actor – Gary Sandler – in his expressions and the things he does,” said Mitch. "'Stuck' is much lighter – that's why I submitted both films, to show another side of what I can do.”
Expect to see more submissions by this young (Mitch will be 24 years old in August) and talented filmmaker in next year's film festival, only don't expect to see any more short films.
"I've got some feature films I'm working on right now,” Glass said. "I decided it was time to graduate from the shorts.”
Both 'Stuck' and 'Gary' will be shown along with four other films made by local filmmakers on Sunday, April 29th at the Beach Theater as part of 'Local Films Package B': 'Lover's Key – A Journey Through Florida's Carl. E. Johnson State Park', 'The Right Friend', 'The Plan Has Changed' and 'Love Letter'. At the same time, seven more local films will be showing in an adjacent theater as part of 'Local Films Package A': 'Tommy and Theresa', 'Dear Danielle', 'Loose Ends', 'The Siren', 'With These Hands', 'Killer 3D' and 'Miss Conception'.
`Check the insert in this week's paper for synopsis of all the films and come down and rub shoulders with the stars!
Keri Hendry Weeg