After making its world premiere in Rhode Island last August, “Rockaway” has been shown at film festivals across the country, and earned awards and high praise at each one.
For writer-director John J. Budion, however, winning Best Feature Film and Best Director honors at the Long Beach International Film Festival last weekend, before an audience that included family members and friends, was beyond anything he could have imagined, he said.
At the film’s New York premiere, the East Rockaway native received several standing ovations. “All of a sudden, 600 people turned and looked at me,” Budion said, recounting the moment the awards were announced. “I just kind of, with my arms, gestured to thank everyone, and I was getting a little emotional.”
“Rockaway,” set in East Rockaway during the summer of 1994, chronicles characters based on Budion and his brother, Anthony, as they plot revenge against their abusive father. Other characters are based on the friends they grew up with in the village. Most of the movie was filmed in East Rockaway during the summer of 2016.
After the film debuted at the Flickers’ Rhode Island Film Festival last August and was featured at festivals in California, Florida and Atlanta, “Rockaway” came home, showing at the new Regal Cinemas 13 theater in Lynbrook on Saturday, and at Molloy College on Sunday.
About 150 people attended the first showing, and 600 packed Molloy for the encore. Before Sunday’s screening, Festival Director Craig Weintraub announced that “Rockaway” had been selected for both top awards, and the audience erupted in applause. A question-and-answer session with Budion and some of the cast members followed. A red-carpet photo shoot preceded the Regal showing.
It was surreal, Budion said, to see his film screened in Lynbrook, at the site of the old theater that he frequented with friends when they were kids, and then to have hundreds of people celebrate the film’s awards at Molloy.
“It’s just something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate,” he said. “There are just so many variables that will never add up to all the emotion and all the positive vibes that were going throughout the entire building and the entire area throughout the whole weekend.”
Before the film was shown Saturday night, Steve Shor, the festival’s program director, said “Rockaway” had been on his radar for a long time. “When I saw it, I knew it was a slam dunk for this festival,” Shor said. “I love the acting in this film. It reminds me of ‘Stand By Me.’ It’s just a wonderful film.”
The mostly young cast members took on the roles of Budion, his brother and their friends. Keidrich Sellati, 16, who is perhaps best known for his work in the FX drama “The Americans,” plays Anthony, while Maxwell Apple, 9, plays young John. The weekend was also a homecoming for Tanner Flood, 15, of Northport, who plays the character Brian.
Sellati was named Best Actor at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 27. He was at a loss for words, he said, when “Rockaway” won its most recent awards, and praised Budion for winning Best Director, saying he was flexible in his directing, allowing actors to improvise along the way.
“It was so great to work with someone who was so willing to let us put our own flair on it while still keeping his story,” Sellati said. “He let us do our thing, while also making sure that we bring his dream to light.”
Before “Rockaway” was shown in Lynbrook, Budion addressed the audience at the Regal, and thanked the film’s supporters. “It’s amazing to be back here,” he said.
The beauty and newness of the movie theater, he said, added to the experience, as did having a larger audience at Molloy.
“Rockaway” previously earned its fourth Best Feature Film win at the Atlanta Film Festival on July 21. It also took home accolades in Rhode Island, Florida and California.
The film is now set to be screened at the Jersey Shore Film Festival. The first showing was scheduled for Wednesday at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Monmouth, and the second on Friday at the House of Independents in Asbury Park, at 7 p.m. At press time on Tuesday, tickets were still available at https://bit.ly/2M0VN05
Budion is also in talks with some major distributors, he said, and a deal is in the works to bring “Rockaway” to a streaming service, along with a small theatrical release, but he could not provide further details at press time.
“The energy, the excitement and the support was really humbling,” he said of his Long Island experience. “It was a really special feeling, and one that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to achieve again.”