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Filmmakers gather in Bellmore for International Film Expo

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On July 12 in Bellmore, dozens of actors and filmmakers were ready for their closeups, as the Long Island International Film Expo kicked off a week of movie screenings and public panel discussions.

The annual event in Bellmore was a friendly affair. The Bellmore Firemen’s Benevolent Association building, attached to the Fire Department, was transformed into a “filmmakers’ lounge,” and it was packed. Filmmakers young and old, independent and affilated, newcomers and old hands, took part.

This year, the event showcases more than 180 films, ranging from short to feature-length. They were created by a wide variety of artists, some who have been in the business for decades, and others fresh out of film school.

“It’s inspiring to be here,” said Christian Hurley, a 20-year-old student at Chapman University in California. “There are so many things you can draw from.”

Hurley’s film “The Translator” was only one example of a 10-minute indie film submitted by a young filmmaker. His inspiration, like that of many other auteurs at the expo, was real-life experience.

Some of the films, rather than being independent projects, were full-on family affairs. “Family Obligations,” a Long Island-based project, was the expo’s opening-night feature on Friday. Shawna and Brett Brandle, its producers, shot it close to their hometown of Merrick.

Giving her brief synopsis of the film, Shawna described it as a story of “a man who realizes that people are actually worth investing time into.”

“It was made with love,” she added, recounting that her daughter and husband, Ken Frank, worked on the film together.

“Family Obligations” was filmed mostly in Rockville Centre and Long Beach, inside the transformed apartments of family and friends. Although it started as a low-budget passion project, it grew into a festival favorite. It premiered at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival on June 6 to positive feedback, Shawna said.

“We’re hoping that the local flavor will appeal to people, that people would appreciate that we’re doing this here and that we’re part of the local film scene,” Frank told the Herald last month.

Even more stars were on the scene: Brian Donohue promoted the documentary in which he stars, “The Guy: The Brian Donohue Story,” with exuberant confidence. And Laura Sweeney and Teresa Bolz had a story to share with mothers in “Mommy Mafia,” an episodic comedy in which a group of mothers “rub elbows with the actual mafia.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran helped preview the event on July 11, when she held a press briefing touting the influence of films in the county. “Last year, ‘John Wick,’ TV shows like ‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Billions,’ [and] ‘Homeland’ are filmed here and have been filmed here,” she said.

“In Long Island as a whole, about $400 million of economic activity is generated by the film industry,” Curran added.

At the start of the first screening, the crowd poured into the Bellmore Movies, ordering popcorn and soft drinks. From behind the counter, Henry and Anne Stampfel, owners of the Bellmore Movies, served the guests.

“It’s always a great event,” Henry said with a smile.