Film fest features hometown talent



A sampling of feature films, shorts and documentaries, mostly by people with Mahoning Valley roots, will be screened at the inaugural Youngstown Film Festival, which will be this weekend.

The list includes “General Education,” the comedy co-written and directed by Tom Morris of Hubbard; and “Youngstown: Still Standing,” the documentary directed by Austintown native John Chechitelli and produced by Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

In addition, two short films by film students from the Valley — “Round on Both Sides,” by Marquette Jones and “Skunk” by Auggie Heschmeyer — are in the lineup.

Michele Simonelli is the film buff who launched the festival, which has been a labor of love. She is pleased with the lineup put together by her team. “There is lot of nice local stuff,” she said. “There are some films that have been around for a while that are finally getting a hometown audience.”

A total of nine films made the cut for the initial YFF. Screenings will take place at Stambaugh Auditorium, the Butler Institute of American Art and the Oakland Center for the Arts.

“General Education” is the most current of the bunch. The film was released this summer and — after a very limited theatrical run that did not include Youngstown — came out on DVD two weeks ago.

Despite its availability, filmmaker Tom Morris, who now lives in California, was excited about the opportunity to finally show his film on a big screen in his hometown.

“General Education” is a comedy starring Larry Miller and Janeane Garofalo. Although it was poorly reviewed by national critics, the film is amazing for a first effort from a film school grad who was only 22 when he made it — a fact that was probably lost on the critics.

“You would be surprised at the quality you can get from student films,” said Simonelli. She cited “Round on Both Sides,” which was written and directed by Marquette Jones while she was still in school. The gritty movie provides a glimpse into the life of a family on the city’s South Side.

“Youngstown: Still Standing” was released several years ago. Like “General Education,” it was also a no-brainer for selection for the YFF.

The brisk documentary tells the city’s story, with a heavy dose of mob lore, and a guest appearance by actor Ed O’Neill, a North Side native.

One short film on the lineup is “Ringers/Washers: A Youngstown Game.”

The title refers to the two names for a distinctly Youngstown game played in the city’s ethnic neighborhoods in the first half of the last century. The game utilized parts from the city’s mills and foundries. The very short documentary was directed by Ben Lariccia.

Rounding out the YFF are:

“Born Into Brothels”: This 2005 Oscar-winning documentary follows a resilient group of children in India whose mothers are prostitutes. Producer Alyson Winnick, a New Castle, Pa., native, will be on hand for a question and answer session after the screening.

“The Hellsworth Haunting: A thriller about a reporter who unleashes a curse while investigating a case.

“Dark Little Secret”: A 35- minute documentary about the U.S. prison system directed by Derrick Jones of Youngstown.

“631”: A short film, also by Jones, that explores four generations of a family that lived in one house in Youngstown.

All of the filmmakers have been invited to a public reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Stambaugh to kick off the YFF.

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