Tawny Sorensen’s experience starring as a cow in her original play about two farmers and their animals at West End Elementary School in the late 1980s helped spur her lifelong interest in acting. She went on to take classes at the Fantasy Playhouse, above the former Lynbrook movie theater, and was cast in its production of “Broadway Babies.”
Now the 38-year-old Lynbrook native is coming home with her film “As One,” which will be shown at Lynbrook’s Regal Cinemas 13 on Aug. 2 as part of the Long Beach International Film Festival. Sorensen wrote, starred in and produced the film, which follows a couple dealing with loss and grief who find strength by joining a running team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I cried when I found out,” Sorensen, who now lives in New York City, said about hearing the news that the film would screen in her hometown. “My whole support system is still out in Lynbrook, East Rockaway and Rockville Centre.”
After graduating from the New School with a master’s degree in 2007, Sorensen decided to return to her writing roots, and has since produced three of her original short films with her production company, Over the Moon Productions. The first one, “The Cat’s Cradle,” premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in Minnesota on Oct. 24, 2014, and was screened at 30 festivals in 21 states and three countries. It won six awards and garnered five other nominations along the way.
She started working on her newest project about two years ago, based on her experience as a member of a charity running team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Sorensen joined the Team in Training squad with her husband, Peter Traversa, who is also a Lynbrook native, five years ago, and has since learned more about the cancers, which affect nearly 176,200 Americans each year, according to the society’s website.
“So many people in our lives were affected by blood cancer,” she said, adding that there were “more people than we know who became directly affected.”
The seven characters in her script are based on people from her team, and she continuously edited and revised her script to ensure that all of their stories were accurate. “They’re all very different, but the hearts are all the same,” Sorensen said.
Then, once the script was completed, she spent six months fundraising for it while working as a photo double and stand-in for Natasha Lyonne on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” where she met Nick Dillenburg, who plays corrections officer Ryder Blake on the show. She told him that she would like him to co-star in the film, and sent him the script, which he said he felt a connection to.
“I feel like short films are really tough to do,” Dillenburg said. “I felt this one was appropriate in scope and it went somewhere, so I was inclined to do it.”
He added that he related to the project because his cousin, Matt, was diagnosed with spinal cancer when they were both 10 years old. Fortunately, Dillenburg said, they lived in Minnesota at the time, and his cousin was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Matt is now doing well, Dillenburg said.
“I’m really just excited for people to see it,” he said of the film. “This is really just a beautiful, simple story that touches a lot of people.”
“As One” premiered last month at the New York City Downtown Short Film Festival, where Sorensen was awarded Best Actress in a drama. It has also been nominated for Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor at the Brightside Film Festival in Jersey City, N.J., and will screen at IndieWorks in Sunnyside, Queens, and at Skyline Indie Film Fest, in Virginia, in addition to the showing in Lynbrook.
Sorensen submitted the film to the festival four months ago, and Program Director Steve Shor was first to see it. He said it stayed on his list of movies to screen throughout the programming process because he liked that it could tell such a compelling story in a short format.
“It’s a very strong sentimental story that has a payoff,” Shor said. “It’s inspirational, [and] it’s positive.”
“As One” will screen at Regal Cinemas 13 on Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. as part of the festival’s “Shorts on the Beach.” Tickets can be purchased at www.LongBeachFilms.com/Films.