LIIFE Opens Tonight, Celebrates 20 Years


One of the coolest 25 film festivals in the country and the largest film festival of its kind in Nassau, the Long Island International Film Exposition adds another distinction this year as it celebrates its 20th year as the premiere film exposition bringing independent film front-and-center as a critically acclaimed art form that exposes independent filmmakers and actors to an exceptional avenue and outlet for creativity in which to explore their muses and succeed.

The film exposition officially opens tonight with two showings: one beginning at 7 p.m. and the late showing beginning at 9:45 p.m.

North Merrick resident Debra Markowitz, who has directed the film expo for 20 years as director of the Nassau County Film Office, expressed excitement on the occasion of the exposition’s 20th anniversary. “There is no way we thought at the time we developed this festival that it would be a 20-year project,” she remarked.

HenryLIIFE co-founders Henry  Stampfel and Debra Markowitz

She added that “we are very proud of the work we have accomplished” in providing the opportunity to both expose the independent film industry as a creative and viable outlet for filmmakers, and to offer dozens of independent filmmakers a chance to create and show their work on the screen for potential wider audience distribution – and household recognition.


Markowitz revealed to Your NewsMag that the film exposition “…actually started with a call from both Robert Hansen and Martin Cohen of the Long Island Film/TV Foundation. They had made a presentation to the Nassau County Film Commission, then chaired by Alan Fortunoff.

“We saw it as a way to draw attention to Nassau County as a great place to film,” she said.  “But,” she added, “There was also a need, at the time, for places in which people could screen their independent films.”

She said Nassau County liked the idea of bringing filmmakers from all over the world to the area, because “They spend money at our hotels, eat in our restaurants and can learn that they can actually film here as well.”

These early visions – and subsequent meetings – quickly spawned the Long Island International Film Expo, which caters to both local and international directors looking for ideal locations to shoot – while providing an essential avenue for independent film to become exposed and receive bona-fide recognition.

Indeed, 167 films will be shown during the 2017 exposition, among them those from countries such as Iran, several from Australia, India, Turkey, German, Hungary, Armenia, New Zealand, Russian Federation, UK, France and China.

Anne and Henry Stampfel, owners of the Bellmore Movies, which hosts the lavish annual LIIFE, were also on the ground floor of the film exposition’s development. Ann told Your NewsMag, “Deb’s office gave us a call and we met with them and whoever was interested at the time.” She added that it actually began 20 years ago at the Stampfel’s other art house movie theater, the Malverne Cinema.


It stayed all of three years at the Malverne Cinema before it had to be relocated to Bellmore Movies, which the Stampfels also owned. “We moved to Bellmore because [the exposition] outgrew Malverne. We had to start turning people away.  In Malverne we have five intimate auditoriums and even if the festival took the largest auditorium we very often had to turn away film goers simply because we ran out of seats.”

She said that even in the Bellmore theater, where there are well over 300 seats, film goers have to be turned away, but only once in a while. “It is with far less frequency,” she said.

Anne added that parking at Bellmore is always plentiful with the rail road lot across the street and the municipal lot in the back.  “Plus, we’ve partnered year after year with the railroad. They put up a lot of our posters around their stations.  Then there’s Piccolo’s Ristorante, a huge consistent sponsor of the event.  “We didn’t have anything like that in Malverne,” she concluded.

Contrasting LIIFE with other local film festivals and expositions, Markowitz maintained that LIIFE offers a full schedule of films for up to eight days, and holds several panel discussions for meeting directors and lawyers; getting involved in roundtable discussions; learning about the good, bad and ugly of filmmaking; learning screenwriting techniques;  and learning how to finance and distribute films.

Two new panels this year include one on getting an agent, and another on the pros and cons of hiring or working with persons from the Screen Actors Guild.  While most panels are held in the filmmakers lounge, see page … for times.


Markowitz also said that LIIFE has seen a wider variety of and more celebrities than other local film festivals have featured. It is a Who’s Who list of actors that has included Ally Sheedy, Cathy Moriarty, Robert Vaughn, Steven Bauer, Ed Burns, William Sadler, Kevin Brown, Brian O’Halloran, Nestor Serrano, Bob Clohessy, Armand Assante, Sean Young, Ralph Macchio, Steven Guttenberg, and a host of other accomplished actors who are eager and have reveled in acting for the independent screen.


This year’s Long island premieres include Shoot Me Nicely, written and directed by Elias Plagianos, which has won awards all over the world and stars John Behlmann, Linda Hamilton (The Terminator), William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption), Jackie Martling (formerly of the Howard Stern show) and Josh Burrows (Captain Morgan).  Also premiering is New Hyde Park writer/director Bianca Jamotte LeRoux’s short film Flush the John and her new webisode series Real Mommy Confessions.

Other premieres include the New York premiere of animated film Church of Superman from Pete Bune, with former MTV and VH1 Host and VJ Jim Shearer as the voice of Superman, who has no problem with being the Savior of Metropolis; the world premiere ofThe Last Letter – winner of the 2017 Locust Valley High School Student Film Festival from Alec Miranda of Lattingtown, and the New York premiere of documentary Where Have You Gone, Lou DiMaggio?  from director Brad Kuhlman. Also being premiered is the short film Runaways from Wantagh’s Ryan Campbell, which was filmed in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The New York premiere of Pinch from Jake Lloyd joins the world premiere of Long Island documentary short Pay It Forward from Nugent Cantileno. In the world premiere of Tess from LIIFE award-winner Russ Camarada, a hired hit man gets more than he bargained for attempting to eliminate and beautiful but damaged thief, and the world premiere of Like Me from Hempstead’s Larry Strong deals with young women and high school bullying and the everyday challenges that teenagers face.


While themes such the advancements of image capture and technology to more cowboy-friendly films have defined the exposition throughout the years, Markowitz maintained that this year’s theme continues to lean toward the emergence of younger woman directors.

An accomplished writer/producer/director whose film “Chosen” starring Cathy Moriarty and written by Bellmore resident Shari Umansky is now making the rounds of the national film festival circuits, Markowitz said “women are making their own work, and if it’s good, they can’t easily be ignored!”

She said organizations such NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and TV – of which she’s a member) help women with networking and resources. There are also incentives for hiring women directors, she said.


“I think the independent film market had everything to do this. We have our training and proving ground by making our own work. “

Webisodes are also showing up more at the exposition, she said. “Webisodes are another trend, which is why we opened up a category for webisodes/TV/New medium” she said.

One interesting webisode she pointed to is called High Road: Season Three, which features Emma Thompson as a foul-mouthed sister to an aged-out rocker.

And then there is Real Mommy Confessions, based on funny Mommy stories re-enacted for the screen, and Shoot Me Nicely, a comedy by alumni Elias Plagianos that features Linda Hamilton (Terminator) and William Sadler (Shawshank Redemption).


Last year’s film expo featured an up-and-coming group of filmmakers from the local area who heeded the words of expo director Deb Markowitz when she said LIIFE is a “calling card” to independent filmmakers to consider getting exposure to their chosen artistic field through the film expo.

This year, again, there were two local filmmakers from Bellmore and Merrick, as well as three within immediate range of the Bellmore Movies, who heard the call.

First-time director Jonathan Leiner of Merrick – along with cinematography partner Daniel Wolff, debuts his One Take More, a five-minute comedy-parody on filmmaking that turns the camera on a frustrated film crew slowly bursting into song as the long day nears its end.

The Calhoun High School graduate, who was part of the school’s On Tour Company and now studies at Hofstra, told Your NewsMag that “I was working on the set of another short film for a friend. It’d been a really long day and to keep myself entertained I started singing show tunes and twisting the words around. So, One Take More came to be in order to stave off the exhaustion and frustration that filmmaking can create.”

Brian Stieglitz of Seaford produces and directs DIYLI, a roughly 15-minute film that explores a devoted group of Long Island musicians who spend their time and money making music. They don’t expect profit or fame, but merely play because they love it. This documentary looks into the hectic lives of several of these musicians, most of which jump from job to job.

Edward Anderson, also of Seaford, directs and produces Jungle Jutsu, a 21-minute film about MMA fighter Vic Torres, who retires after two losses and a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, only to find he has one more fight left in him. What is it?

Wantagh filmmaker Ryan Campbell’s short 18-minute film he produced and directed, looks at the aftermath of a rash decision by  Emma – and its consequences, and how she must now reach out to her boyfriend, Lucas, to help resolve her predicament.

Meanwhile, veteran Bellmore filmmaker Leslye Abbey, whose previous award-winning LIIFE film, Buffalo Nation  is in general distribution over and through the Film Media Group, brings her love of making independent film to the music genre for this film exposition. She took her time – 16 years – making an exquisite documentary of Long Island blues musicians that profiles them as it follows them from blues house to blues house in Nassau, Suffolk, New York City and other environs, always in search of an audience that knows and lives by the blues. Call the blues Happy Music, as John Lee Hooker once did.

“My mentor and inspiration for the film is David Patrick,” Abbey said recently, “and all the other blues musician friends I listen to.” Indeed, the film kicked off the annual Long Beach Blues and Jazz Festival in late June, followed by a tribute to the late Long Beach blues master Michael Barnett, who died in May and owned Michael’s Music in Freeport.

Abbey intimated to Your NewsMag the film has already garnered its first award.


One of the more endearing facets of the film exposition is the Closing Night Party and Awards Ceremony slated for Thursday, July 20, which begins with buffet in the Filmmakers Lounge (5-6:45 p.m.) before moving to the Bellmore Movies for the entertainment and awards ceremony, from 7-10 p.m.  An after party follows in the Filmmakers Lounge.

Expected to grace the Bellmore Movies hall this year are  Robert Clohessy (Blue Bloods, The Wolf of Wall Street, Broadway’s Pal Joey), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Jackie Martling (The Howard Stern Show,  Private Parts), Brian O’Halloran (Clerks, Dogma), Kevin Brown (30 Rock, Did you hear about the Morgans?), Katherine Narducci (The Sopranos,  A Bronx Tale), Ciarán Sheehan (The Waiting Room, Dinosaur), Ilene Kristen (One Life to Live, Ryan’s Hope), Gary Donatelli (One Life to Live, The Bold and the Beautiful), and others, as schedules permit.

The awards ceremony is a bundle of irreverent fun, as hosts get personal with their stories before bestowing golden statutes to the most important and/or deserving directors, producers, writers and actors at the exposition.

For information on when filmmakers can begin submitting new work for the 21st Annual Long island International Film Expo, visit, or call 571-3168.


 Several award-winning LIIFE films have gone on to garner wider channel distribution. One panel shows how to finance and even distribute your film.

The Last Taxi Driver,  Leaving and By Blood have all won multiple awards for writer/director Debra Markowitz of Merrick, and are all now on vimeo on demand  at, and

Stuff, by writer/director Suzanne Guacci from Huntington, is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, VuDo Movies & TV and DVD.

Living it the Dead, by writer/director Christine Vartoughian from Queens became available July 12 on Amazon USA, UK, Germany, Austria, Japan, with nore territories to follow.

Cigarette Soup by writer/director Damian Voerg and producer Larry Strong of Hempstead, is now available at Amazon, iTunes, Googleplay and VOD.

Bridge and Tunnel, directed by Jason Michael Brescia , was picked up by Gravitas Ventures, and was distributed in 40 different countries. It has also appeared as in-flight entertainment on Emirates Airlines.

Buffalo Nation by Bellmore resident Leslye Abbey is distributed by Amazon and First Media Group.


Last year’s LIIFE spawned a troupe of local filmmakers in the Bellmores and the Merricks the exposition hadn’t experienced in some time. Although one has returned, the others are working on other projects thanks, in part, to their experiences at the film exposition.

Shari Umansky: Bellmore – Umansky told Your NewsMag she doesn’t have a film at this year’s exposition. She has, however, along with producer/director Deb Markowitz, a short film starring Kathy Moriarty called Chosen, which was accepted into an Academy award nominated film festival  called LA Shorts. “I would have loved for it to be at LIIFE but that would disqualify it from being considered for qualifying festivals where it needs to be a world premiere,” she concluded.

Joe Ciminara: Bellmore – Award-winning writer-Director Joe Ciminera, who maintains a studio in Bellmore, will release his new film Me Familia, a New York City mafia tale. The film concerns Phillip Molinari Sr., who quietly built his organized crime empire in the decades between Prohibition and the Carter presidency. His reach extended far beyond the coal country of Albany, NY, and quaint hometown Queens, New York.

Molinari had a hand in global, national and local politics of the largest American cities, many of its major industries, and controlled the powerful Teamsters Union. His influence also reached the highest levels of USA government and halls of Congress, and his legacy left a culture of corruption that continues to this day.

 Lee Kolinsky: Bellmore, via Merrick –  Kolinsky and partner Joe Halsey have two projects they are working on. PEI Kids: Generation Change, is a documentary on at-risk youths, which has won a Broader Vision Award for community outreach. And a film Kolinsky wrote, called “Dick,” about corporate espionage, is currently being filmed on location in Canada.

Leslye Abbey: Bellmore – Leslye Abbey’s The Big Fish Blues, which was shown at Wednesday night’s opening, is a documentary revealing a genre and a host of incredible performances by top Long Island blues greats. Filmed in New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties, it features Little Buster and The Soul Brothers, Bo Diddley, Jr., Sam Taylor, Doug “Harmonica” McLean, Stevie Cochran, Toby Walker, Sandra Taylor with “A Band Called Sam”, Kerry Kearney, Gail Storm, and a host of others.

It recently opened the Long Beach Blues and Arts Festival in Long Beach, New York, to critical acclaim.
















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