Raymond De Felitta

Film Director and Jazz Pianist Raymond De Felitta will be honored at the Coronado Island Film Festival, which runs from Nov. 9-12, 2017. De Felitta, who will receive the Festival’s Director Award, will have his films “Madoff, City Island,” “Two Family House” and “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” shown during the festival. The Raymond De Felitta Jazz Trio will perform at the Coronado Library’s Winn Room at 12 noon, Saturday, Nov. 11.

‘Multi-Hyphenate’ is a show biz term, originally coined by “Variety,” the leading publication for all Hollywood news. Few people personify the term better than New York native Raymond De Felitta, who is, perhaps in order of importance, a Director-Musician-Author-Composer-Screen Writer-Blogger. He is also clever, with an often-humorous point of view. De Felitta said of his career, “Yes, I do a little of each, and I should do more of one or two of them. If there is no money to be made in it, I’ll do it.”

De Felitta will be appearing at the Coronado Island Film Festival, which runs from Nov. 9-12, 2017, with four of his films and the Raymond De Felitta Jazz Trio. The films to be displayed include “Madoff,” “City Island,” “Two Family House” and “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story.” The Jazz Trio will perform at the Coronado Library’s Winn Room at 12 noon, Saturday, Nov. 11. De Felitta will also be a recipient of the Festival’s Director Award.

De Felitta had a bi-coastal youth, largely because his father Frank De Felitta was also in show business. Raymond said of his father, “I lived in Manhattan, although we moved to Los Angeles when I was a kid. I went to North Hollywood High School, although I didn’t finish there. I came back to New York when I went to Bard College in the 1980’s. I still live in Los Angeles part of the time. My father had a few different careers. He was a writer during the Golden Age of Television, and a documentary filmmaker. He was a writer and producer of the movie “Audrey Rose” in 1977 and “The Entity” in 1982. My Dad’s influence was enormous, and he was nothing but encouraging of my career. The first time I was ever on a filmset was for “Audrey Rose” when I was 12 or 13 years old. I saw the set and thought, ‘I’m comfortable here.’ I have heard other directors say the same thing. I need to be that guy in the middle of it. He was a wonderful man and he let me see the production of the whole movie, was came at the end of the Classic Era in Hollywood. They shot for weeks and weeks, with a very luxurious shooting schedule. My movies are very different. We shoot 13 or 14 hours a day with a short shooting schedule.”

De Felitta was a Literature major at Bard College, but didn’t confine himself solely to that field. “Bard was a wonderful place at that time,” De Felitta recalled. “In general, I took a lot of different classes and they were encouraging. They let you follow your nose. There was no competition and it was a great place for me.”

The competition level was ratcheted up considerably at De Felitta’s next educational stop, which was the American Film Institute’s Directing Program. “It was interesting. When I got there as a directing student, they handed us three dates and said, ‘This is when your films are going to show.’ What films? The dates were Oct. 10, Jan. 15 and April something. The first year of the directing program there were 30 students and there was a cut process for the second year, where only five or six students were chosen to continue. The second year we had to create our ‘calling card’ movie. It was intense, and we worked as hard as we could; it was all work and immersion, with not too much time to think. Also, sometimes a filmmaker will have to jump off the bridge and get involved in things that seem imperfect, like making a dream project without the money. You have to have faith in yourself and some backbone.”

It would be fair to say De Felitta’s thesis short entitled “Bronx Cheers” was well-received, as it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action in 1991. De Felitta wrote and directed the movie. When asked if that was a stepping stone in his career, De Felitta said, “Yes and no. It was obviously a great thing to have happen, but in a way and this goes back to thinking too much, inadvertently it slowed me down. I thought, ‘I just can’t direct anything now.’ It took me two or three years to get started. Young directors are offered sequels, which are essentially director-proof. Good directors start by doing that and I didn’t want to do that. That is when I really started writing in earnest. I didn’t conceive of myself as a writer-director, but I started developing my own material into independent films and I wanted to do what I was passionate about, which is what I was writing. The Oscar Nomination will be in my obit, but it had a double edge to it.”

De Felitta had film success in 2009 with the movie City Island, which won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, a process he described. “It was made independently and Andy Garcia (‘The Godfather: Part III’), got the film made. He and I hooked up and even with him on board it took two years to piece together the financing. Andy is an amazing partner. We shot the film and pretty much assumed we would go to the Sundance Film Festival and they turned us down. We had won the Audience Award there for “Two Family House.” We just kept looking forward and the next festival was Tribeca. “City Island” is a New York movie and has a New York sensibility. They took the film, which delighted us. During the festival they kept adding screenings, which means they were selling out. We would go to the Q-and-A sessions and hear true laughter. I got a call the last night of the festival to come to the awards party. That was one ceremony I decided to go to and we got the Audience Award. The movie played for 20 weeks and it was probably my best experience as an independent filmmaker.”

Although it’s not being shown during the Coronado Island Film Festival, a sneaky good De Felitta flick is “Rob the Mob,” which was released in 2014. Garcia teamed with De Felitta again, but the actor who stole the movie is Nina Arianda. She had a great role in the Amazon Prime production of “Goliath.” De Felitta said of Arianda, “Nina is one of the most amazing actresses I have worked with. She is so great and such a genius that she is going to be around forever.” The movie’s cast includes Ray Romano, Frank Whaley, and Michael Pitt and can be watched on Netflix.

“Rob the Mob” is an interesting case study of how movies come together. De Felitta said, “Michael Pitt was the first one in and he loved the character. Screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez and I worked with Michael and we developed the movie around the Rosie and Tommy characters. Originally it was more about John Gotti and the mob. The movie is about the two kids and it’s both a love story and a tragedy. Andy Garcia came in next and that role was developed for him. He wanted to do something that hadn’t been seen before; he was the gentleman mafia don with really good taste and a philosopher. We started working with him on that. And Nina Arianda came in after that and I admired her. Ray Romano and I met about another film. We brought him the Griffin Dunn role and Ray said he really liked the reporter, the guy with a real life behind him and an impact on the story. There is always the moment with a movie that it has to happen now, because the people are too invested. The wheels are squeaking on the runway. You have the dates, you have the money and people are committing. The term is ‘Flight or Fight.’ They called our bluff and we have to do this movie now.”

Since De Felitta has a history of exhibiting his film in festivals, his thoughts about the role of festivals in the movie industry are instructive. “Well, if you’re not being released by a major studio, it’s a way to present your film so people can understand what it is. It’s a way for people to contextualize your work and a way to step above the crowd. Where is it in the scope of this year’s work and is it commercial or awards worthy? Most festivals do that. The problem with “Rob the Mob” was the company that bought the film purchased it before it was finished. They guaranteed us a theatrical release. They set a release date between Sundance and Tribeca. I said we should premier the move at one of the festivals. They said no. The problem is if you don’t know what the movie is about, you might think it’s a low-rent mob piece or a caper movie. The movie is romantic and dramatic, plus it’s a true story with a lot of comedy behind it. They didn’t want to go to the film festivals, so the movie suffered, and it did no business. When that happens, distributors blame the movie or say there was no word of mouth and it didn’t catch on. It’s good for independent films to begin at a festival.”

De Felitta has a direct connection to the Coronado Island Film Festival through Honorary Jury President Leonard Maltin. “I’m there because of Leonard, who has been a big supporter of my work over the years, which is very moving to me. When I was a kid, Leonard wrote some great movie history books and then he moved on to have an expansive presence in filmmaking. It’s great that he grew to such stature. I am glad he likes my work enough that he asked me to participate in the festival.”

As for the future, De Felitta is just finishing a movie with his editor David Leonard entitled “Stano,” which stars the real-life husband-and-wife couple of Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello. “We just finished it,” De Felitta said. “The title is one of the characters’ names. It’s another indie movie and now it’s all about ‘How do we sell it?’ It’s about a baseball player and it’s a New York story. This is very much Joe’s passion project and Sofia’s support is great. It is a very audience-friendly independent film. It’s real and human, with uplifting emotions.”

As for his music, De Felitta said of his influences, “It’s always been jazz. Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, and Duke Ellington, that’s my kind of music. I’ve largely been a jazz head my whole life and I have played the piano since I was seven or eight years old. In the early 90’s you could still scratch out a little bit of a living in the L.A. jazz scene. When you play jazz now, you’re losing money. Our trio just finished a CD that we put together and we’ll be doing a little concert at the Festival. We’ve been a rehearsal band for three or four years. There are no gigs out there, so we just record. It’s wonderful to work out once a month and run through tunes. Jazz is a great art form, it’s expressive, and it has precision. It has a format you have to get right before you get free of it. When you play in a trio, you are speaking a private language to each other.”

De Felitta is also the author of “Too Much Information About the Making and Selling of Two Independent Films,” which contains the screenplays for “City Island” and “Two Family House.” It is a how-to regarding independent filmmaking, down to the actual budgets for both movies. De Felitta will definitely be worth your time to watch and listen to at the Coronado Island Film Festival.

A film being recommended for viewing by Documentary Film Head Juror Ira Wohl is “Perfectly Normal for Me,” directed by Catherine Tambini, an Oklahoma native and current New York resident. Tambini described the movie she co-produced with Elizabeth Hemmerdinger. “The film is about wonderfully charismatic, gorgeous children, who we first meet in an after-school dance program. And they all have physical disabilities. They are great spokespeople for themselves and their community. You will fall in love with them in their daily lives. The topic is a bit of a departure for me and I was inspired a bit by Ira Wohl.”

Tambini, who was nominated for both an Academy Award and an Emmy for previous projects added, “The run time of the film is about an hour. We have a licensing agreement with Latino Public Broadcasting to air the film and we are expecting it to be run in 2018. One of our four families featured in the movie is Latino. People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world. In the United States, one in 33 babies is born with a disability. It touches so many people and it kind of amazing that it hasn’t gotten more attention.”

Tambini’s film “Perfectly Normal for Me” will be shown during the Coronado Island Film Festival Saturday at 1 pm at the Village Theatre. Wohl won an Academy Award for his documentary film “Best Boy” in 1980, which he wrote and directed.

A ticket update as of Tuesday morning was supplied by Coronado Island Film Festival Executive Director, Artistic Director and Founder Doug St. Denis. “The VIP Crown City passes are sold out, but we have Ocean View and Bayside tickets remaining. Ocean View Passes cost $395 each, while the Bayside Pass goes for $195.”

To order your tickets, go to http://coronadoislandfilmfest.com/passes/. A complete list of benefits for both types of passes is listed.

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