Best of the Best at LIIFE; John Amos was in the House

DOUGLAS FINLAY

Veteran actor John Amos, who catapulted to stardom playing Toby and the older Kunta Kinte in the seminal 1977 TV series “Roots” and played father James Evans Sr. in the mid-‘70s half-hour TV sitcom “Good Times” with J.J. Walker, received the Long Island International Film Festival LIIFETime Achievement Award on Thursday at the Bellmore Movies during LIIFE’s irreverent and fun – if sometimes bawdy – annual awards ceremonies for his body of work that has spanned decades.

John AmosJohn Amos (photos courtesy LIIFE)

Ramos’s work reads like a who’s who of American film and TV, and includes “Die Hard 2” opposite Bruce Willis, “Bad Ass 3: Bad Asses on the Bayou” with Danny Glover, and recurring and single roles on such TV hits as “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Maude,” “Love, American Style,” “704 Hauser,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” opposite Will Smith, “The West Wing” opposite Martin Sheen, “Men in Trees,” “Two-and-a-Half Men” opposite Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer, “30 Rock” with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, and more.

Now in pre-production of the film “Farewell Party,” in which he stars, Ramos is also traveling the world producing and presenting his play “Haley’s Comet.”

Passing it forward, he took a turn at the end of the evening to present the Best Director, and Best Short and Best Feature Film awards to respective winners Elias Plagianos for “Man from the City,” and “The Devil Goes Down” and “Wildlike.” [See a review of “Wildlike” in Thursday’s magazine, coming to  your mailbox.]

Randy Edelman ComposerRandy Edelman, composer

Also winning the prestigious LIIFETime Achievement Award for Film Scoring Composition was musician/composer Randy Edelman, as presented by LIIFE legal counsel Marc Jacobson. Edelman is a winner and nominee of many awards, including those presented by BAFTA, BMI and IFMCA. His body of work includes “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Dragonheart,” “The Mask,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Twins” and other fine scores, including an Olympics score and the weekly NBC NFL opening theme. Edelman also scored “Leaves of the Tree” in this year’s Long Island International Film Expo line-up. (See the entire winners list at the end of the story.)

Ramos – introduced by Kevin Brown, the evening’s awards host actor/comedian  who played Dot.Com in the award-winning TV sitcom “30 Rock” – told a riveted audience a compelling tale of an actor who was meant to be – an actor. “I got kicked out of every school I ever went to, for acting up at the wrong time. I got kicked out of high school, lost my football scholarship in college because I chose to be a performer when I should have been practicing football. But I overcame that desire to perform at the wrong times when I finally got a job in the industry and realized that was my calling.”

He called the award gratifying, inferring he had now covered virtually every base in film with the award.

AMOS TALKS

Amos thanked all “for supporting me through the course of my career, it’s been a wonderful ride for me, for a kid from East Orange, New Jersey, who got lucky and found something I liked to do that people enjoyed watching me do – and so far so good.”

He faced head-on those who suggested he receive this award as being perhaps a bit – anticipatory? “This lifetime award might be a little premature because, hopefully, my life isn’t over!” The audience roared its approval.

He clearly acknowledged those he thought had been instrumental in the development and continuation of his decades-long career. “My favorite people have always been the writers, because without them nothing happens. No matter how talented you are as an actor or director, you can’t do anything without a good script. So I love the writers that I have worked with most.”

Elaborating on a theme, he revealed to the audience what he considers his strength. “Mine was a very circuitous route to get to where I was going as an actor. For a long time the only way I thought I could make a living was through professional athletics, and I found that after being cut from 13 football teams that I obviously had the calling, to be a performer and a storyteller, which is what I consider myself.”

He said audiences showing appreciation for what he performs “is probably the greatest gift that anyone can hope for, and I’ve been blessed in that respect. “
He spoke briefly of his on-going project, which has taken him around the world. “For the past 20 or so years I have been around the world performing in a play that I was inspired to write, called ‘Haley’s Comet.” It’s the story of an 86 year-old man who lives long enough to see Haley’s comet come twice during his lifetime.

He called the play pivotal because it gives him the opportunity to address issues he believes need to be addressed, “without people throwing rocks at me because I was an actor and a needed to keep my mouth shut.”

He also believes his career ride is still in forward gear, saying “Haley’s Comet” is in the process of becoming a number of things, including a children’s book to be published later this year featuring illustrator Joe Tracy, “grandson of the immortal Spencer Tracy.”

There is a certain synchronicity, he said, a magic that happens if you stay in the business long enough, and he feels genuinely grateful to LIIFE for recognizing his full body of work. “I have to be, as the late Lou Gehrig once said, the luckiest man that’s ever lived.” And so far, he concluded, “the people haven’t found me out. Thank you.”

Host Brown, humbled by the speech, said matter-of-factly after continued applause, that “People such as John Amos paved the way for me to be here.”

Jackie Martling

Jackie (The Jokeman) Martling had the audience calling for more of his bawdy humor

A HISTORIC THEATER
During opening remarks Long Island Film and Television Foundation president and owner of the Bellmore Movies, Henry Stampfel thanked movie-goers and aficionados for attending, saying the Bellmore Movies building was the perfect place to hold such an awards event. “While we’ve been hosting the event for 18 years, the energy and interest for it keep increasing, and the building is one of the oldest theaters on Long island, with photographs dating back to 1912 and 1918.”

He said the building came into existence to show silent films, then progressed to showing “talkies to color to cinemascope, and it is an exciting place to have this event.” He said that with the Bellmore Movies being around for over 100 years, “it’s all about supporting small businesses.”

PRESENTERS
There were several presenters in the house who provide a lineage, if not outright historicity, to theater and to film. Presenter Lukas Hassel, a Norweigan who became an American citizen two months ago, is known as Mr. Melk (milk) in Norway for his TV advertising campaign to spread the good word on milk. He has acted in independent films such as “In Montauk” and “Minions,” both having screened at LIIFE.

Host Brown congratulated and welcomed Hassel to his new role as American citizen, asking him if he had yet been to his first union meeting. “Because, if you have, you’ll may want to go right back home to your country by now,” he said to laughter.

Presenter Sandy Faison created the role of Grace Farrell in the Broadway musical “Annie,” starred opposite Jason Robards as Alice the Broadway production of “You Can’t Take it with You,” at 17 was cast by Alan Pecula to play opposite Lisa Minnelli in the “Sterile Cuckoo” and also worked with Sidney Lumet in “Prince of the City.” She is currently assistant principal of drama and technical theater at LaGuardia High School for music and the performing arts (the FAME school).

Faison remarked on the awards ceremony, “It’s been a very moving evening. I love the fact there is a category for first film, what a lovely thing to do, we don’t expect to win our first time out, and to have people recognize it’s your first film and to be recognized was very moving to me.”

She added, “I’m going to tell more people about this film expo and get my students to make more films!”

Presenter Marilyn Chris is a multiple-award winner for her work in theater, has been on ABC’s “One Life To Live,” and is producing the Short Film Festival at North Short Towers for the third year. As a first-time presenter, she offered, “This is my first time at anything, so thank you very much.”

MONEY TALKS?
Chris presented the Best Animation Award to student producer/director I-Cheng Lee, who began an unwitting chain series of humorous references from host Brown and other award winners when she thanked her “mom and dad for the money to make the film.”

Kevin Brown- HostKevin Brown (“30 Rock”) was sole host of this year’s awards. He kept the ceremonies moving

“Whoa!” said Brown at the end of Chris’s presentation. “That was the greatest shout out ever from that young lady for thanking her mom and dad. Not that mom carried her for nine months, or that they fed her her entire life, but for the money!”

Director of the Best Student Film, “Open 24 Hours,” continued the laughter, saying it was a “Hard film to make because we were so young, in school and didn’t have any money to make it.” It’s the hardest thing in the world to get money for movies, Brown answered.

The producer/director of the Best Foreign Feature Film then added that “Day Release,” a Spanish film, was made for young people, and dedicated to “my grandfather, not only for his money” (to several cheers) but to trust those who have it to do the best thing with it.

Brown exhorted all winners to get used to giving acceptance speeches, because their talents would endear them to many more awards in the years and decades ahead.

Brown also thanked the judges for their virtuous patience in sitting through some 165 films to provide what they judged to the best of competition. “I judged during the Soho Film Festival one time and I wanted to smack the director so bad for a film that shouldn’t even have been made,” he said to amusement. “I wanted to get out of the role of judge at that point,” he said, it was that bad.

Presenter and comedian Jackie (The Jokeman) Martling needed no introduction, but was given one anyway. He was the former head writer for both the Howard Stern radio and TV shows, appeared in the award-winning documentary “The Aristocrats,” was featured in Fred Carpenter’s masterpiece “Send No Flowers,” a former LIIFE award winner, and wrapped production recently on Debra Markowitz’s film “By Blood.”

“I thank LIIFE for my latest award” Martling said upon arriving on stage, where no one moved forward to offer him a gold statue. Laughter ensued as he looked around for an award to grab, though he quickly composed himself. “This is a great event, and Kev (Brown, the host) should be here every year,” he continued.

“You can’t put me in front of a sea of faces and puts lights on me and not expect me to tell a joke,” he said during his presentation. And tell the jokes he did:

“A senior wife asks her senior husband, ‘Let’s go upstairs and make love.’ The husband says, ‘It’s either one or the other.’”

“A man goes for an interview, and the interviewer asks him, ‘What do you consider your weakness?’ The interviewee answered, ‘I think it would be my honesty.’ The interviewer then responded with, ‘But honesty is not a bad thing,’ to which the interviewee then responded, audibly, ’I DON’T GIVE A DAMN WHAT YOU THINK!’ “

There were shouts for more Martling jokes from the audience. “A husband goes outside to hear his wife saying ‘I Iove you’ while she was drinking a glass of wine. He looks over with a smile, and asks, ‘Is that the wine talking, honey?’ She shoots back while fondling the bottle. ‘No! It’s me talking to the bottle!’ ’’

Regarding one-time Rockville Centre resident Fred Carpenter, who has won multiple awards for his work, he accepted his latest award, Best Audience Award for Best Feature Film, for “DISCO.” “I’ve done 21 independent films, I’ve signed with HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, United Artists, Public Television and two of my movies are shown on pay-per-view, on Time Warner Cable, and Comcast,” he shared with the audience.

He continued. “All those films, what they all have in common is that they all premiered at the Long Island International Film Festival. I’m very grateful because this is a great film festival. You are exposed to every nationality, cultural background and religious belief, and it is a very positive thing that the film festival” can expose such international culture to everyone.

As always, LIIFE producer and director of the Nassau Film Office Debra Markowitz took such recognition of the festival she has overseen and produced for 18 years in comfortable stride.

Indeed, feted by Martling, Brown, Amos and a host of actors, actresses, directors and producers and others throughout the evening for her commitment to film festival excellence, she is known by those close to her to be equally energetic toward her own film production efforts now, having shown two at this year’s festival.

Presenter Ann Stampfel was ready for a barrage of “compliments” from Brown when she casually informed the audience she was sleeping with the president of LIFTF, because “he rings my chimes.” Brown quickly responded, asking if this is what one has to do to finish getting a movie done on Long Island, but quickly recovered, reminding the audience out loud that, with everyone getting their films done for the film festival, “Everyone is sleeping with the president!”

Finishing fund grants went to the producers of “Stand Up” and “Leaving.”

THE 2015 LIIFE
WINNERS!
www.LongIslandFilm.com

Best Feature Film
Wildlike

Best Short Film
The Devil Goes Down

Best Music Video
Savant: Kali 47

Best Trailer
Junkie Heaven

Best First Film
Living with the Dead

Best Student Film
Open 24 Hours

Best Animation
Nowhere

Best Documentary
Angel of Nanjing

Best Long Island Film
Halina

Best Foreign Short
I Arrived

Best Foreign Feature
Day Release

Best Director
Elias Plagianos – “Man from the City

Audience Award for Best Feature Film
“DISCO!

Audience Award for Best Short Film
Grace

Best Story
Falling to Pieces

Alan Fortunoff Humanitarian Film Award
Memory at Belsen”

Jury Award for Best Short Film
“Sun Devil and the Princess

Jury Award for Best Documentary
Lords of BSV

Jury Award for Best Student Film
“My Friend John”

                                     ACTING, TECHNICAL AWARDS

The Best Acting Awards at LIIFE were:
Best Actor in a Feature Film
Jesus Lloveras – “Day Release”
Best Actor in a Short Film
Joseph Halsey – “Junkie Heaven”
Honorable Mention for Best Actor in a Short Film
Konstantin Lawysh – “Against Night”
Best Actress
Sally Kirkland – “Tom in America”
Honorable Mention for Best Actress
Eve Korchikov – “Against Night”
Best Supporting Actress
Hannah June McMurray – “Halina”
Best Supporting Actor
Paul Dewdney – “Crossroads”

Technical Awards for the 2015 LIIFE include:

Best Art Direction
“Against Night” – Mollie Alexander
Best Cinematography
“The Devil Goes Down” – Chris Scarfile
Honorable Mention for Best Cinematography
“Night of the Demons (Nacht Der Daemon)” – Jordyn Gatti
Best Editing
“The Devil Goes Down” – Christian Vogler
Best Original Score
“Restoration” – Duncan Thum
Best Original Song
“Look Around” – Eclecticism Publishing

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