By JULIE MCCULLOUGH
Filmmakers have an opportunity at Hoboken International Film Festival that they do not with any other film festival. Greenwood Lake, New York has an opportunity with Hoboken International Film Festival that nearly no other town, anywhere, has.
Known as HIFF, Hoboken International Film Festival, became a top tier film festival in its very first year, all the way back in 2006. Now, in its 13th year, HIFF has been called by FOX, Time Warner and other major media, “One of the 10 biggest film festivals in the world” – and there are over 2,000 film festivals worldwide. This designation is certainly impressive, but it’s not designations that make a film festival one of the best.
I was driven to become part of the HIFF family (I am now the “HIFF Festival Ambassador”) because of people – and location. HIFF has had a storied past, with its roots, of course, in Hoboken, New Jersey. It travelled to the Teaneck, NJ, Jersey City, NJ, and Middletown, NY, before stopping in Greenwood Lake. Each of these locations delivered something special to HIFF in its growth. Each location added an additional base of fans, and added to its rich history. Greenwood Lake caps it all off, with a beautiful setting in a small village that has its own nostalgia.
Last year, I spent the entire festival week in Greenwood Lake. I wasn’t just impressed with the town, I was enamored with it. This year, I am again enamored. I have stayed the full festival week, and my feelings of excitement and praise have remained constant. I rise and shine at a fantastically charming lakefront hotel, the New Continental Inn. I feel comfortable, at home, at this cool, private-feeling hotel, and I am treated with the highest degree of professionalism and kindness by its owners and operators.
Every festival day, I spend my time travelling from screening location to location: Thomas Morahan Waterfront Park, Cove Castle Restaurant, and the Elks Lodge. Each screening location has something special to offer. Thomas Morahan is the Greenwood Lake public beach. And boy, it is one beautiful setting. Massive, majestic tents serve as the HIFF main theater and box office. And it is all situated on a sandy beach, with the State of New York’s most beautiful lake at the beach’s end. Boats stream by. Beautiful skies stand above. Fresh air all around. Yes, a traditional theater is the backdrop of most film festivals, and that’s fine. But as a filmmaker and actor, would you want that norm, or would you want what I just described – a gorgeous, one-and-only setting? The answer is obvious. Filmmakers, in droves, want to be at HIFF in 2018, for its setting alone.
Cove Castle Restaurant, a new addition to the Greenwood Lake venue lineup in 2018, is a hot spot eatery in the town. The food is top-shelf. The interior is sharp, sophisticated, yet endearing to its waterfront locale. And, again, we have a venue that sits right on the lake. It is wonderful. The Elks Lodge delivers via its steep history with the town, a location that serves as a congregation for residents of Greenwood Lake, who have a deep caring for their community. The Elks Lodge provides the air of pride and love for Greenwood Lake, nestled right in the heart of the village’s cheery downtown. At both Cove Castle and the Elks Lodge, festival goers can enjoy cocktails and a meal—something that most film festivals do not offer.
While HIFF has many top national and regional corporate sponsors (Anheuser–Busch, CBS, Coca-Cola, News 12 to name a few), it’s local sponsors standout as well, with outstanding product and personnel. I know because I have eaten and drank their delicious food and beverages: Greenwood Lake Bagels, Greenwood Lake Roasters, Jean-Claude Bakery, and Sara Victoria Custom Cakes. Hopefully, more local establishments will continue to join in. Local media, such as the Times Herald-Record (daily newspaper covering the Hudson Valley region), Warwick Valley Dispatch (weekly newspaper), Mid-Hudson News (daily internet publication), and WTBQ (radio network) have been key sponsors of HIFF. The Greenwood Lake Chamber of Commerce has been involved, helping out the Village in preparations. Orange County has been an integral sponsor as well, with its economic-growth-savvy leader, County Executive Steve Neuhaus, personally on-hand at every year of HIFF since it hit the county. Neuhaus is considered one of the state’s rising stars; his commitment to the success of Orange County is obvious in his development plans.
The active role of Greenwood Lake Mayor Jesse Dwyer, and the village council, has been impressive. I have seen Mayor Dwyer, on site, assisting in organizing the grounds that the Village is responsible for setting up. He is both a thinker and a man who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves. I hear the passion and pride in his voice, when he talks about his hometown. He’s young, dynamic and smart. These are characteristics that I don’t often see in elected officials, during my travels throughout the country. Festival attendees talk with praise about Mayor Dwyer’s efforts. Movie and TV star Martin Kove told me, “I can’t tell you how much I love Greenwood Lake. It has so much to offer. Peace and tranquility, yet fun and excitement. Jesse Dwyer really captains a beautiful ship. He’s so bright, and has such outstanding foresight to bring Hoboken Film Festival here. The enormous – and so very rare – benefits that this amazing film festival brings is salient. This is a festival that can be anywhere, and it chose Greenwood Lake. Kudos to the mayor for getting this done for his community!”
HIFF is indeed a very rare film festival. I have been to hundreds. And HIFF is superior because of so many different elements. HIFF Chairman Ken Del Vecchio – who is also an acclaimed filmmaker of over 30 movies, a best-selling author (novels and legal books), a regular analyst for major news networks, an attorney, and former judge – will tell you that Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, Toronto and a few others are in a league of their own. Ken provides this recognition because those film festivals have studio support, and they are supported with millions of dollars by their host locations and corporate sponsorships. This makes HIFF that much more amazing because it doesn’t have a scintilla of the resources of festivals like Cannes and Tribeca, yet HIFF truly is in that category right after them.
HIFF gets major movie stars to attend. Here is a short, incomplete list, of some of the attendees who have attended HIFF over the years: CHARLES DURNING (2-time Academy Award/4-time Golden Globe/9-time Emmy Winner and Nominee); JANE SEYMOUR (7-time Golden Globe/5-time Emmy Winner & Nominee); ROBERT LOGGIA (Academy Award and Emmy Nominee); MELISSA LEO (Academy Award and Nominee); BILLY DEE WILLIAMS (Return of the Jedi, Empire Strikes Back, The Ladies Man); CYNDI LAUPER (Emmy Winner and star recording artist); JONATHAN SILVERMAN (Weekend at Bernie’s; Swinging with the Finkels); PAUL SORVINO (Goodfellas, The Cooler, The Firm); CLORIS LEACHMAN (Academy Award Winner; 19-time Emmy Winner & Nominee); BURT YOUNG (Academy Award nominee; Rocky; Back to School); MICHAEL BIEHN (The Terminator; The Seventh Sign); DANNY AIELLO (Academy Award Nominee); Moonstruck, Do the Right Thing) ; ARMAND ASSANTE (2-time Golden Globe/4-time Emmy Winner & Nominee); STEVEN BAUER (Golden Globe nominee; Scarface); DOMINIQUE SWAIN (Face/Off; Lolita); JASON LONDON (Dazed and Confused; Jason and the Argonauts); COSTAS MANDYLOR (Saw Movies; The Pledge); MICHAEL PARE (Eddie and the Cruisers; Streets of Fire); ARTIE LANGE (“The Howard Stern Show”); MARION ROSS (“Happy Days”; 5-time Emmy Nominee); MIKE STARR (Dumb & Dumber; Ed Wood; The Black Dhalia); and CARROLL BAKER (Academy Award Nominee; Golden Globe Winner).
Less than one percent (1%) of film festivals (or any event, anywhere) have a roster of star power in that league.
This year, alone, here are some of the stars attending: Academy Award & Emmy Winner LOUIS GOSSETT JR (An Officer and a Gentleman; Diggstown; Iron Eagle; “Roots”), Grammy Winner TIA CARRERE (True Lies; Wayne’s World; Lilo & Stitch; Rising Sun), Legendary Screenwriter KAREN MCCULLAH (Legally Blonde; Ella Enchanted; 10 Things I hate About You; The House Bunny), Emmy Nominee GILBERT GOTTFRIED (Problem Child; Alladin; “Saturday Night Live”), Golden Globe Nominee JOELY FISCHER (“Ellen”; “’Til Death”; Inspector Gadget), JOYCE DEWITT (“Three’s Company,” Snapshot; Rock Story), DAVID SHUSTER (i24 Anchor; former MSNBC Anchor); DAVID BANNER (Lee Daniels’ The Butler; Black Snake Moan), AMY STILLER (Zoolander 2; Reality Bites), and MARTIN KOVE (The Karate Kid; Rambo; “Cagney & Lacey”).
When I asked Tia Carrere and Karen McCullah (no relation to me!) to be HIFF award recipients, I received an immediate “yes!” And that’s because HIFF is an internationally recognized, top tier film festival. Being honored by HIFF is of great prestige for leading celebrities (almost no film festival has that type of cache).
What makes HIFF even more rare is the fan and filmmaker participation. At every year that I have been to the festival, it has had completely sold out Opening Night (first night) and Gala Awards Ceremony (last night) attendance. That’s over 1,000 people each night. Then, there’s five days of movies playing in between those two nights; people are coming and going all week. At Opening Night 2018, bars and restaurants, who stayed open, were packed with festivalgoers after the ceremony ended. The same as it will be at the Gala Awards Ceremony tomorrow (and the same as it was last year and every HIFF year). Throughout the week, the local establishments are getting crowds who ordinarily would not be in town. Hotels have guests who normally wouldn’t be there during this week. People have to stop and get gas, get basic supplies, etc – thus, boosting this local economy in so many different ways.
So smart of HIFF is making this a week-long event. If it were just a 3-day event, it would be a big “wham bam, thank you mam.” You would have your sold out Opening Night and Gala Awards Ceremony, with a jam-packed Saturday of screenings, and the perception to all would be a nonstop, awesome frenzy for three days. But in having it seven days, you give filmmakers (who are arriving from all across the world) a chance to schedule coming to the festival. You give festival fans numerous options to attend screenings and events, over the seven days. You get the obvious: more movies in the festival (a lot more). You get the intangible (which is oh so very important): the fact that it is a 7-day event, which is the only way for a festival to be recognized by filmmakers and the industry at-large, as well as media, as a top tier festival. And Greenwood Lake and Orange County get seven days of attention (via advertising, publicity, social media, etc) directly aimed at it. The big nights get the biggest attention, and everything else that happens in between is beautiful gravy. So smart!
Now to that publicity, advertising, and social media. All of these items are building blocks—I have lived a career of it, and understand it so very well, having seen the ups and downs of so many shows and events. HIFF brings a massive history of notoriety and recognition. And each year, it adds to it. In the short term, Greenwood Lake and Orange County get the immediate, substantial attention through all these marketing matters. The ads, the ads, the ads – in newspapers, radio, TV, and on posters – everywhere it is plastered “Hosted by Greenwood Lake, NY”, with large logos for Greenwood Lake and Orange County. The social media is coming out of Facebook’s and Instagram’s pores. Everything says “stunning Greenwood Lake, NY.” And the media attention. After watching HIFF Chairman Ken Del Vecchio talk about HIFF on one of the world’s largest news networks (i24) last week, I asked HIFF Publicist Lisa Munjack to cull together some of the TV coverage and news articles, to date (for the 2018 festival)—here’s a sampling:
All screams “Greenwood Lake, NY!” “Greenwood Lake, NY!” “Greenwood Lake, NY!” “Greenwood Lake, NY!” It’s a domino effect, where one thing builds on another. Yes, in the short term, it is magnificent. And all keeps building and building, where in the long term it just keeps getting better and better for the locale.
Of the scores of towns I have travelled to, none of them have anything like HIFF. The excitement, economic growth, attention, etc that HIFF brings to its locale is nothing short of amazing—what other towns and counties have this? Only a sad jealous person, or one with no mental faculties, would deny the wonderful and very rare impact that HIFF delivers.
Speaking of jealousy, that brings me to HIFF Chairman Ken Del Vecchio, who says that “jealousy” is the worst word in the dictionary. “I don’t understand the concept of jealousy,” Ken says. “It’s for insecure losers. I’m happy for others’ successes. And I hope for people to be happy for mine. People, out of weakness, often contrive battles with other people. Oddly, it’s rarely those who have big egos; it’s actually the people with no ego, with no confidence. I can figure out a jealous person pretty quickly, and I cut them out immediately. Jealousy usually goes hand-in-hand with disloyalty.”
And what does Ken say is the best word in the dictionary? “Loyalty.”
The last line of Ken’s first novel, the best-seller Pride & Loyalty, is “You can’t be loyal to everyone at once because then you’re loyal to no one at all.” I have often heard Ken say, “That’s the definition of loyalty. You can’t be everyone’s best friend. Loyalty is the most important – and best – word in my dictionary.”
It’s this type of thinking that has made HIFF such a success. Ken is loyal to all those who work with him, and he is never afraid to compliment them (something a jealous person is unable to do). He points out, publicly, the incredible efforts of his wife, Dr. Francine Del Vecchio, who I call a “unicorn” because of her amazing abilities. He publicly praises and thanks his staff, like HIFF Vice Chair Julie Kimmel and HIFF Talent Coordinator Christie Napurano, who work faithfully and tirelessly along with Ken and all the other HIFF staff. These human qualities, from the leader of the event – along with his continual pursuit for perfection and obsessiveness with organization and rehearsals (not to mention his very valuable industry relationships) – have been of the greatest of importance in HIFF’s success. And what can tell it more than the actual words about Ken Del Vecchio from some of the industry’s most famed figures (types of words that these people indeed choose very carefully and encompass the theme of this article “rare”):
Legendary actor Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas; Nixon) called Ken “an extraordinary man.” Two-time Academy Award nominee Charles Durning (Tootsie; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) exclaimed that “Kenneth Del Vecchio is excellent filmmaker and would make a great leader!” Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (The Expendables; The Pope of Greenwich Village) stated that “Kenneth Del Vecchio is the only judge I ever agreed with in personal conversation. He’s got some great views about freedom and liberty…and he’s a little bit nuts!” TV star Joyce DeWitt (”Three’s Company”) declared that Ken has “a vision and concept based on excellence and integrity.” Academy Award nominee Robert Loggia (Scarface; Big) said of Del Vecchio: “The man is honest. Hard-working. Talented. And oh so intelligent.” And U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer proclaimed, “Del Vecchio is a man you can see, with the movies he is involved with, with the friends he has, he has a great mind and he also has a big heart.”
Perhaps Louis Gossett Jr said it best, while sitting out on the deck of the New Continental Hotel, hours before he received his Lifetime Achievement Award at HIFF’s Opening Night Ceremony. Looking at the sun shining on the calm, beautiful lake, he remarked, “Coming here, seeing this…is so relaxing and makes it all worth it.”
HIFF in Greenwood Lake, New York – it’s an awesome combination!
Julie McCullough is a successful film and TV actress and standup comedian. Launching her career as a Playboy Playmate of the Month – where she was on the cover of one of the top-selling editions of all-time – she soon thereafter landed a regular role on one of the hottest TV shows of the late 1980s, “Growing Pains.” After that, she played prominent roles in numerous successful movies and TV shows, including, Sharknado, Max Headroom, The Golden Girls, Big Bad Mama II Superboy and the remake of The Blob. She also serves the HIFF Festival Ambassador.
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