Local writer and director John J. Budion’s coming of age film “Rockaway” continues to pile up hardware.
The film, set in 1994 and based on Budion’s experiences growing up with his friends in East Rockaway, made its Florida premiere at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg on April 27. The movie chronicles characters based on Budion and his brother, Anthony, as they plot revenge against their abusive father and spend time with their friends in East Rockaway.
At the Sunscreen Film Festival, Keidrich Sellati was awarded Best Actor for his role as Anthony.
“I started freaking out, man,” Sellati said after learning he won the honor. “I was so excited.”
Sellati, 16, who has a prominent role on the FX drama “The Americans,” was selected by Budion and casting directors Billy Hopkins (“Good Will Hunting”) and Ashley Ingram (“Mudbound”) to play Anthony.
Budion said that Sellati has a lot in common with his real-life brother and was able to channel a range of emotions during his auditions. Because the movie is mostly about Anthony protecting his younger brother, Budion said, Sellati did a good job of portraying the character’s feelings.
“Keidrich had to wear a lot of emotional hats in this film, and he nailed it,” Budion said. “He carried the film and he sets the tone for everybody else in this film, who are all amazing and wonderful.”
Sellati’s win is just the latest of many awards for “Rockaway” since it made its debut last year. The film beat out eight others to win the Best Feature Film Award after its West Coast premiere at the Catalina Film Festival in California last September. The feature made its debut at the Flickers’ Rhode Island Film Festival last August and won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. It was also honored at the Hollywood Film Festival as the Most Impactful Film by Paramount Studios.
Budion and Sellati each had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the Florida festival, and shared their experiences about directing and acting, respectively. Budion said having the movie premiere in an actual AMC theater was “a thrill,” and added that it continues to receive positive feedback.
“They were laughing, there were some people crying,” he said of the audience. “There were people clapping. It was a great response from the Florida crowd.”
With the Florida premiere behind them, Budion said, he is still trying to arrange for a New York premiere and, eventually, a theatrical release and to get “Rockaway” on a streaming service. Though many of the film’s supporters have likened it to “Stand By Me,” a favorite of Budion’s, the director said he is still looking for a distributor for it.
Sellati said he too is hopeful that the whirlwind of success will continue. He said Budion has become a family friend to him and vice versa, and that he remains close with his young cast mates.
“My favorite part of the entire project was getting to meet the guys and doing the work with John and all of them,” Sellati said. “I’ve made what I feel like will be some lifelong friends.”