'Rockaway' cast hopeful for sunny reception

Local director's film about East Rockaway to make Florida premiere

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“Rockaway,” a coming-of-age film about writer and director John J. Budion’s youth in East Rockaway, will premiere at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 28. Above, Budion, far left, with the cast.
“Rockaway,” a coming-of-age film about writer and director John J. Budion’s youth in East Rockaway, will premiere at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 28. Above, Budion, far left, with the cast.
Courtesy John J. Budion

Local writer and director John J. Budion’s coming-of-age film “Rockaway” is set to make its Florida premiere at the Sunscreen Film Festival on April 28.

“This is a small story from the tiny village of East Rockaway that we’re going all the way down to Florida with,” Budion said. “We’re resonating with people who — they don’t even know us.”

The film chronicles Budion’s experiences growing up and forming friendships in East Rockaway. It was one of 16 feature films selected out of thousands to screen at the film festival. In total, there will be 130 films at the event.

“Rockaway” is scheduled to premiere on April 28 at 4 p.m. at AMC Sundial 20, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The movie has already generated a buzz, beating out eight others to win the Best Feature Film Award after its West Coast premiere at the Catalina Film Festival in California last September. It received a standing ovation from the audience after it was screened.

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 said he is tempering his expectations for Florida, but is very excited the film is being screened in the company of many that were featured at the Sundance and South by Southwest festivals.

“Every film is such high quality,” Budion said of the festival. “To be in that company is really validating that we have a great product that people are responding to.”

Budion, 36, a 1999 East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School graduate who now lives in New York City, spent nearly three years writing, filming, directing, editing and tweaking the film, which is set in the summer of 1994. In it, characters based on John and his brother, Anthony, spend time with their best friends Brian, Sal, Billy and Dom, and devise a plan to take revenge on the Budions’ abusive father.

Talented young actors carry the film, Budion said. He cast Maxwell Apple to play the younger version of himself, and other young actors in the film include Keidrich Sellati, of FX’s “The Americans,” who plays Anthony, James DiGiacomo (Dom), from the CBS sitcom “Kevin Can Wait” and Tanner Flood (Brian), of Huntington, who is featured in Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Veteran actors Wass Stevens (“The Wrestler”) and Marjan Neshat (“RoboCop”) play Budion’s parents.

Budion said that members of the cast and crew, his parents, and his friends and family members would accompany him to Florida.

Though the film has had early success, it still doesn’t have a distributor. Budion said that he hopes to have a late-summer theatrical premiere in New York and Los Angeles, and to eventually find a distributor for a larger theatrical release and to land a streaming deal with services like Netflix or Hulu. “We will continue to look for a distributor,” he said. “The film resonates with people from all walks of life.”

Budion said he is very excited to see how the audience responds to “Rockaway,” and added that he is thrilled to have it shown in an AMC theater. “I’m excited to see the crowd’s reaction to the way that it plays back in a true theater,” he said. “I’m not going in with any expectations, but it would be really great to walk away and win something, especially with the films that we’re in there with.”

To keep up with the latest news about “Rockaway,” visit Facebook.com/RockawayFilm or www.instagram.com/rockaway_film/. To learn more about the Sunscreen Film Festival and to purchase tickets, visit http://sunscreenfilmfestival.com/festival-2018/schedule/.