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LI director relives his childhood with 'Rockaway'

East Rockaway native John Budion's directorial debut will close the Long Beach International Film Festival.

Keidrich Sellati, standing, and Maxwell Apple play brothers

Keidrich Sellati, standing, and Maxwell Apple play brothers with an abusive dad in "Rockaway," from Long Island filmmaker John Budion.   Photo Credit: Rockaway Film

You may not know John Budion’s name, but you’ve probably seen his work. Remember the E-Trade commercials with the talking baby? Budion directed those.

Though popular, they didn’t get Budion much closer to his long-term goal of directing feature films. "I did all the E-Trade commercials but then I'd get scripts for Pampers," Budion, 36, recalls. So he took a gamble. He wrote a screenplay, raised money from friends and shot a movie in 25 days in July 2016.

The result was “Rockaway,” a coming-of-age story based on his childhood in East Rockaway and largely filmed there. It has become a hit at small festivals in Florida, Rhode Island, California and Georgia, walking away with an award each time. On Aug. 4, “Rockaway” will celebrate a kind of homecoming as the closing night selection of the Long Beach International Film Festival. Its two screenings sold out several days in advance.

Inspired by “Stand My Be,” “The Goonies” and other childhood-themed classics, “Rockaway” is set in 1994 and follows 8-year-old John (Maxwell Apple) and preteen Anthony (Keidrich Sellati), as they plot revenge against their abusive father (Wass Stevens). Meanwhile, the siblings find emotional support in a tight-knit group of friends played by Colin Critchley, Harrison Wittmeyer, James DiGiacomo and Northport native Tanner Flood. All the main characters are based on, and named after, real-life counterparts.

“Really, we were not acting half the time,” says Flood, 15, who became fast friends with his young castmates. For two weeks, they stayed on the same floor of a Lynbrook hotel, playing blackjack and Pokémon Go in their rooms. “We really bonded on the first day, it was amazing,” Flood says. “I had never met any of those people before and now we hang out all the time.”

Budion says it’s been gratifying to see audiences applaud his film, and to see it sell out at the Long Beach festival. The first screening, at the newly rebuilt Regal 13 theater in Lynbrook, will have special significance for him.

“It’s the theater we grew up going to as kids,” Budion says. “We saw all our favorite movies there.”

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