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LI Film Expo unreels a world of movies

"True to the Heart"director Mitch Kase operates the camera as Andrew Ruth (Drew Taylor) plays out a scene. Credit: Handout

From a war drama based in Bosnia to a crime flick shot in Bellmore, the movies at this year's Long Island International Film Expo once again juggle the far-flung and the close-to-home.

Now in its 14th year, the Expo offers 116 shorts and features, including 29 documentaries -- up from 18 last year -- all showing at a single venue, Bellmore Movies. It begins with Thursday's "warm-up" screenings and ends July 14, when a Creative Achievement Award will be given to guest of honor Ed Burns, the Valley Stream filmmaker whose credits include "The Brothers McMullen" and the recent "Newlyweds." There will also be panel discussions on moviemaking and screenwriting.

"We want to bring the best and most important films we can to the public," says Debra Markowitz, co-director of the Expo as well as director of the Nassau County Film Office. "It's also bringing people in from out of the state or out of the country and letting them see what we have here."

Following are some highlights of this year's schedule. Features are typically preceded by several short films; each block of films runs roughly two hours.

COME HELL OR HIGH WATER Thursday at 5 p.m. Massapequa Park psychotherapist and filmmaker David Grand chronicles his efforts to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

AS IF I AM NOT THERE Friday at 7 p.m. The festival's official opening-night film is an Irish-Swedish-Macedonian production about a young Sarajevo woman imprisoned in Bosnia and left at the mercy of local soldiers. Based on Slavenka Drakulic's novel.

DEFINING BEAUTY: MS. WHEELCHAIR AMERICA Saturday at 1:30 p.m. This documentary follows five women competing in a pageant that rewards achievements over looks. Narrated by Katey Sagal.

LONG ISLAND UNCOVERED Saturday at 7 p.m. A look at the blood, sweat and tears shed by some of the region's hardworking cover bands. Sal Del Giudice, of Bellmore, directs.

FORDSON: FAITH, FASTING, FOOTBALL Monday at 2:30 p.m. A documentary about the football team of a Michigan high school whose student body, once largely white, is now nearly 100 percent Arab-American.

TRUE TO THE HEART Monday at 5 p.m. From Plainview filmmaker Mitchell Kase comes this romantic comedy about a rock musician (Andrew Ruth) and the critic (Meghan Grace O'Leary) who wrecks his career.



Bellmore has a starring role in 'Jesse'




Of all the locally made films at this year's Long Island International Film Expo, Fred Carpenter's "Jesse" may be the most, well, local.

Shot largely in houses, bars and alleyways in and around Bellmore, "Jesse" aims for the gritty look and feel of a 1970s vigilante film. Despite small roles from well-known actors like Armand Assante, William Forsythe and Eric Roberts (as a sleazy mixologist at K.J. Farrell's Bar and Grill), the cast is mostly homegrown. Amityville wrestler-stuntwoman Stephanie Finochio plays the title role, a Nassau County police detective hunting down her brother's killer; various thugs and meatheads hail from Baldwin, Great Neck and Merrick.

"I try to make it as street as I can," says Carpenter, a Shirley-based filmmaker who counts "Jesse" as his 16th movie. "I try to bring that camera there in the room with you."

Shot for roughly $150,000 with a crew of less than six, "Jesse" has the ring of truth in at least one scene: While Carpenter was staging a robbery scene at a Cool Stop convenience store in the spring, about 20 police officers stormed in, responding to a call from a passerby. "It's a movie!" one of the actors yelled; Carpenter recalls that at least some of the officers had their hands on their guns.

"Eccentric is the easy word -- maybe just crazy," Finochio says of her director. "But you have to be. It's a low-budget film and everyone is doing a bunch of different jobs. I was doing my own hair, wardrobe, makeup, memorizing my lines. And he was doing twice as much."

Carpenter, who won't reveal his age, says that over the years he's learned several tricks to making movies on the cheap. One is not serving breakfast or dinner -- "you'd be surprised how much money you save" -- and another is keeping his shooting locations close together and close to home, which cuts down on travel costs.

"Long Island has every location to offer the filmmaker," Carpenter says. "It boggles my mind that somebody who has a lot of money will go to Chicago or something. Why would you go there when you have everything here?"

"Jesse" plays at the Long Island International Film Expo Friday at 9:30 p.m.


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