'Rockaway' coming home

Film about East Rockaway to debut at Long Beach International Film Festival next month

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Director John J. Budion still recalls the many nights he spent with his friends at the old Lynbrook movie theater. On Aug. 4, at 8 p.m., more than 100 people will fill the new Regal Cinemas 13 & RPX theater in Lynbrook to see his debut film, “Rockaway,” as it makes its New York premiere as part of the Long Beach International Film Festival.

“It’s time to come home,” Budion said. “I’m just excited that people are finally going to get to see what everyone else has been reacting to, and it will manifest into something that they can form their own opinion on to see if they feel the same way.”

When tickets for “Rockaway” went on sale July 6, they sold out in 15 minutes, and online demand was so high that the festival’s ticket website crashed. Because the theater seats about 150 people, Budion said, he is exploring the possibility of adding more screenings. All feature films at the festival will be screened at Lynbrook’s new theater, which opened to much fanfare last month.

Steve Shor, the Long Beach festival’s program director, said his committee received hundreds of submissions from more than a dozen countries, and chose 52 films, documentaries and shorts to show, including “Rockaway.”

“‘Rockaway’s’ talented, youthful cast reminded me of ‘Stand By Me,’” Shor said, “and the back story, although heavy, is relevant.”

Budion wrote, filmed and directed “Rockaway,” which is set in 1994 and is based on his experiences growing up with his friends in East Rockaway. The film chronicles characters based on Budion and his brother, Anthony, as they plot revenge against their abusive father and spend time with characters based on friends they grew up with in the village. Most of the movie was filmed in East Rockaway during the summer of 2016. Since then, Budion said, many of his friends and family members have been eager to see it on the big screen. 

Budion, 36, graduated from East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School in 1999 and then studied film at New York University. He began writing “Rockaway” in 2014 after spending 15 years in the movie industry as a visual effects artist, working on films such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Adjustment Bureau.”

To finance the film, Budion had many investors, including his childhood friends Neal Barbiero and Billy Glynn, who served as executive producers.

Barbiero met Budion when they were in middle school, so there isn’t a character based on him in the film, but he has played an instrumental part in its development. 

“We’re all very proud of him,” he said of Budion, who was the best man at his wedding and his NYU roommate. “I think we’re excited to be able to show all of our friends and family and have the New York debut at a location close to where we grew up, and where the film was filmed, and where the story was based.”

“Rockaway” is a coming-of-age film that has been likened to “Stand By Me” and “The Sandlot.” It has earned accolades at film festivals across the country.  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 as the Most Impactful Film at Paramount Studios before the Hollywood Film Festival last December. Most recently, Keidrich Sellati, who is perhaps best known for his work in the FX drama “The Americans,” was named Best Actor at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 27. Sellati, 16, plays Budion’s older brother, Anthony, and Maxwell Apple, 9, plays a young Budion.

Budion praised the actors for carrying the emotional weight of the film, and said he was pleased to see how they bonded on set and remained close after filming, noting that the six main characters became close, much as he did with his own childhood friends. 

He added that little has changed between him and his friends. “We spent days in Long Beach and East Rockaway just bonding and getting close,” he said, “and we’re still very much like that.”

The Long Island premiere will be a homecoming for actor Tanner Flood, 15, of Northport, who plays the character Brian in the film. “I don’t think there could be any other way to premiere it,” Flood said. “It’s a Long Island film. We filmed in East Rockaway, which was a great and natural environment for me since I live [on the Island]. I think all of John’s passion is going to pay off.”

In addition to the Long Beach festival, “Rockaway” will be showcased at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, at the Synchronicity Theatre, on July 21 at 2:30 p.m. It will also be screened twice at the Jersey Shore Film Festival. The first showing will be on Aug. 8 at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Monmouth, at 8 p.m., and the second on Aug. 10 at the House on Independence in Asbury Park, at 7 p.m.

Budion said he learned that his film had made the Long Beach festival on June 20, which happens to be his brother Anthony’s birthday. John said he had planned to post a birthday message on social media, but instead had to announce the big news about “Rockaway” making the Long Beach festival. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but the posting for your birthday is going to get steamrolled by the fact that we just got into Long Beach,’” he said with a laugh.

With the Long Island premiere date nailed down, Budion said his long-term goal is to find a distributor for the film that will show it widely in theaters or on a streaming service. For now, he is preparing for the many friends and family members who will flock to Lynbrook next month to see his creation. 

“We’re coming home as we’re wrapping up our festival run,” he said. “It makes sense to be back where it all started.”

At press time, more shows had not been added for the Long Beach festival, but check www.liherald.com for the latest ticket information. To purchase tickets for the Jersey Shore Film Festival, go to bit.ly/2L49SF8. To purchase tickets for the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, go to bit.ly/2L8r3FE.