By JULIE MCCULLOUGH
After spending several years with Hoboken International Film Festival – and over 30 years in the film and TV industry – I wanted to reiterate my evaluation of this event. It’s a one-of-a-kind.
In a 2018 review, I noted that filmmakers have an opportunity at Hoboken International Film Festival that they do not with any other film festival. The town who hosts Hoboken International Film Festival has an opportunity 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, going into its 15th 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 a 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. It’s that simple: people make up an event. People choose the content. People run the live action. People work with you. HIFF has had a storied past, with its roots, of course, in Hoboken, New Jersey. It travelled to the Teaneck, NJ, Jersey City, NJ, Middletown, NY, and, most recently, Greenwood Lake, NY. 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. Now, HIFF will be coming to a new location in 2020 – who it is will be determined in the near future – and that venue, and the people who live there, will be getting something priceless. The HIFF Video Highlights Reel shows it all.
HIFF, hosted by Emmy Nominee GILBERT GOTTFRIED (Problem Child; Alladin; “Saturday Night Live”), gets major movie stars to attend. Here is a short, incomplete list, of some of the attendees who have attended HIFF over the years: Academy Award & Emmy Winner LOUIS GOSSETT JR (An Officer and a Gentleman; Diggstown; Iron Eagle; “Roots”); 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); MARTIN KOVE (“Cobra Kai”; The Karate Kid; Rambo); TIA CARRERE (True Lies; Wayne’s World; Lilo & Stitch; Rising Sun); JOYCE DEWITT (“Three’s Company,” Snapshot; Rock Story); STEVEN BAUER (Golden Globe nominee; Scarface); JOELY FISCHER (“Ellen”; “’Til Death”; Inspector Gadget); 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.
HIFF is indeed a very rare film festival. I have been to hundreds. And HIFF is superior because of so many different elements, including having had many top national and regional corporate sponsors (Anheuser–Busch, CBS, Coca-Cola, FOX, TD Bank, Shoprite, News 12 to name a few).
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.
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. 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 the host town gets 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. The host town gets an anomaly of substantial attention through all these marketing matters. The ads, the ads, the ads – in newspapers, radio, TV, and on posters – everywhere the name of the host town is plastered, along with a large logo for the town. The social media is coming out of Facebook’s, Instagram’s and Twitter’s pores. And the media attention. Again, watch the HIFF Video Highlights Reel and see one great TV report after another. Also, see this video scrapbook from a few years back, which has one newspaper article after another, reporting on what HIFF is all about; It’s quite compelling. And here are a selection of news articles from 2018 and 2019 that I asked the HIFF publicist to cull together.
Back in May, Empire State News published an article about HIFF, describing the significantly wide range of praise for the festival; it was rather amazing – and I am providing quotes from that article below:
A roster of celebrities who attended the 2019 HIFF all had great things to say about the event. Watch them here, during interviews on the 2019 HIFF red carpet. Just some of their red carpet quotes include:
When asked why she returns to HIFF every year, iconic TV actress Joyce DeWitt replied, “It starts with [HIFF Chairman] Kenny Del Vecchio. Ken’s passion for film, and his passion for all the people it takes to put together a good piece. That passion and love that he has is so infectious. And we became friends working together, and after that, becoming involved with the festival really had to do with what he and his wife Francine have birthed in this marvelous situation. There are films here from across America, and also from 24 countries. So this has become one of the largest film festivals in the world, and the very core of that reason is Kenny Del Vecchio.” DeWitt presented the Best TV Pilot award at the festival’s gala show on the last night this year.
Weird Science starlet Judie Aronson, who presented an award at the HIFF Gala Awards Ceremony, declared that she’s “having such a fun time here. So many people…I’m going to be presenting the Best Documentary Award this evening. There are quite a few really wonderful documentaries this year, so I’m really excited to be a part of this. The movies are amazing, all different movies, and I’m having a great time here in Greenwood Lake…I’m just so excited to be here, and for all the winners. Everybody did such a great job on their films this year.”
Martin Kove, a fan-favorite who is right now one of the most visible silver screen actors with his show “Cobra Kai” being in the top three rated shows nationally, stated this before he accepted the HIFF Hall of Fame Award on Opening Night: “I’m here really to support my friend Ken because Ken supports all these young filmmakers…And Ken mentors a lot of these kids who have a lot of dreams…People like Ken really allow these dreams to become a reality for all these young filmmakers.”
“Baywatch” star and best-selling author Gena Lee Nolin, who presented the Best Supporting Award at the HIFF Gala Awards Ceremony, proclaimed, “I’m here to support indie films. I am just so thrilled at some of the nominees and the films I’ve seen over the course of the last few days. It is truly inspiring. And the talent, the raw talent that’s out there…I appreciate good filmmaking. I got into town two days ago, and I love it.”
Star news anchor David Shuster explained, “We’re here because Ken Del Vecchio hooks us up with cool people…everybody seems really nice and excited to have this sort of event. So it’s amazing. It’s great.”
After receiving the 2019 HIFF Excellence in Acting Award at HIFF’s Gala Awards Ceremony, Dazed and Confused star Jason London posted on Facebook that he was “Catching up with great friends and enjoying this beautiful town.” Before the Gala Awards Ceremony, he said, “This festival is so important to independent filmmakers from everywhere. It’s an incredibly well-run event, with great people behind it. Ken knows what he’s doing.”
Walking into the Gala Awards Ceremony, Oscar nominee Danny Aiello stated: “It’s incredible, the crowd here. So many people. I’ve always been glad to be a part of Hoboken International Film Festival.” A sentiment Aiello has expressed before.
The praise for HIFF, however, doesn’t end with celebrities. The filmmakers, fans, and local residents were also thrilled, en masse. And they weren’t shy about it, making public statements and sending written notes to HIFF.
The following Facebook posts are a sampling of the enormity of the social media applause for HIFF, that occurred during and directly after the 2019 HIFF:
“An incredible experience! It was wonderful to see so many great films and spend time with such fun and greatly talented people! Thank you Ken Del Vecchio and everyone for a fantastic festival!!”
– Lizet Benrey
“We had a wonderful time! Thank you for the all out effort to put on an amazing festival!”
– Joe Whelski
“Thank you Ken, Julie and all the great people that made it happen. The festival was so well run, elegant, fun…with lots of great films and cineaphiles. And the setting….gorgeous!”
– Victoria Guthrie
“The Hoboken International Film Festival was an amazing experience with such wonderful people which I found to be all True Class. The Founder Kenneth Del Vecchio and the entire HIFF crew were totally professional and honesty did a remarkable job! Thank You for having us and for giving us the opportunity to be a part of this moment in the Festivals History – The Wiseguyz.”
– Freddy Tenore
“It was a wonderful time! I can’t wait until next year! It’s so great to see the event evolve bigger and better with each year. Thank you Ken for shinning a spotlight on the area for independent artists and businesses… to the many that is known, the 14th annual Hoboken International Film Festival happened this past week and last night wrapped up with a star studded gala and awards. The buzz is STILL in the air on amazing performances and witnessing something AWESOME.”
– Charles Marinaro
“Great time…thanks to everyone see you next year.”
– Wes Anderson
“Loved it! Thanks as always for a fantastic time… Wow I’m psyched to now be an award-nominated actor (Best supporting actor in a feature film) and even better that it happened at one of the biggest and best film festivals in the world, the Hoboken International Film Festival! …Thank you to Kenneth Del Vecchio and the wonderful crew of the festival for another incredible year. I’m already looking forward to next year!”
– Anthony Gagliardo
“The amount of planning and work it takes and expense no one can realize but those like me who also do things like this. Its a credit to all involved. CONGRATS TO ANOTHER GREAT FESTIVAL…”
– Billy G Lippolis
“I hope you come back next year.”
– Courtney O’Brien
“Was soooooo fun!!!”
– Oriana DAgostino
“You’re a genius! This Film Festival is terrific. Love Danny. A real gentleman…”
– Kevin M Hudson
“Glad to be part of Hoboken International Film Festival with Greek short film IVAN…
– Panagiotis Kountouras “
“ … you are not going to want to miss this outstanding film festival with unbelievable talent and honorees….”
– Michael DeGennaro
“Awesome! Love this festival.”
– Laura Shapanus
Thank you Hoboken International Film Festival for being amazing!
– Mike Flowerz
“Opening Night at the Hoboken International Film Festival was a success! The feature film I’m the lead of A Karate Christmas Miracle opened the festival (also starring Julie McCullough, Martin Kove, Eric Roberts, Mario Del Vecchio) , Martin Kove received a Lifetime Achievement award, and Governor Jesse Ventura received a Humanitarian Award. And I got to reunite with a lot of my cast and crew, which was a treat!! Thanks for putting it all together Kenneth Del Vecchio, and for casting me in your film! Looking forward to the Awards Gala on Thursday.”
– Mila Milosevic
“Last nights opening for the Hoboken International Film Festival was awesome!… Another amazing time at the Hoboken International Film Festival 2019 congratulations to all the winners!!!”
“…WHAT. A. FANTASTIC. NIGHT, seeing myself in the Opening Night Movie of The Hoboken International Film Festival! “A Karate Christmas Miracle.”
– Hugo Salazar
“Attending the Hoboken Film Festival last night in support of the movie A Karate Christmas Miracle was the bee’s knees!…”
– Candy Fox
“Great times great people.”
Fun Opening Night At The Hoboken International Film Festival. Can’t Wait To Be There Tomorrow!… The Hoboken International Film Festival Is Roaring With Excitement !!!!!!… The Evening Was Trilling , Filled With Unending Excitement.”
– Josephine Moon Bloomfield
“Absolutely thrilled that the World Premiere of our feature will be @ one of the biggest Film Festivals in the Universe.”
– Mike Vezza
– Sean Hoagland (filmmaker)
“Thanks Kenneth Del Vecchio for an awesome festival!”
– Joe Puglisi
“Congratulations Kenneth Del Vecchio for hosting the wonderful Hoboken International Film Festival and for the film – A Karate Christmas Miracle.”
– Lydia Fiore
“Great job on the festival as always Ken! It’s awesome that you created such a platform where so much talent can shine & be recognized. Keep it up.”
– Gregg Woods
“Ken Del Vecchio does an over the top job with his film Festival every year. Each one better than the last. Not only is Ken a friend, but, each year all of us that attend feel like it is a family reunion. So much fun. I come over from Bloomingburg, NY. I am the director and co-host of The Mr. Phil Show. We have had Ken on our show and he will be back soon on a post Hoboken show. Great job Ken and crew. Congratulations!”
– Mary Lent-Frost
“Fantastic screening yesterday of Catnip Nation at Cove Castle. Every chair taken. Lots of emotion. Looking forward to closing ceremony.”
– Tina Traster
“The Tarab team rocked it on the #redcarpet at Hoboken International Film Festival in the beautiful town of #greenwoodlakes NY!!! Thanks for having us!!!… Met some cool fellow #filmmakers at Hoboken International Film Festival !!! Saw the fantastic #documentary 21 Years -A Folded Flag directed by Richard A. Fitts Jr. and produced by @rudolphchilds .Can’t wait to meet more cool peeps at the Gala Awards on Thursday!”
– Tarab Filmmakers
“Last night at Hoboken International Film Festival was pretty special. After a year and a half of hard work, Mystery Mansion won the jury award for Best New Pilot! It was a surreal moment. I am impossibly grateful to the festival and everyone who made this possible.”
– Mike Handelman
“40th won the award for Best Short Short at the Hoboken International Film Festival! Guy and Kate got to make a speech. They were congratulated by Jason London who was there picking an award himself. Very fun night! Congratulations all!”
– 40th Filmmakers
“The Hoboken International Film Festival was just another amazing event to behold. I don’t know how they manage to make every year better than the last. It was truly a blessing and a honor to be invited to be a part of such a first class celebrity award ceremony. Among the hundreds of new and seasoned producers, directors, writers and actors were some of my favorites! Jessie the Body Ventura, Gilbert Gottfried and of course Joyce DeWitt, as Janet from Three’s Company. She really is as sweet and caring in person as her character she played on the show. I don’t have to tell you how much they all loved the taste of Antioxidant Alkaline water. We already received our invitation for next year… We had a blast at yet another very memorable event… So excited to be a part of this prestigious event another year!
– Alkaline Water King
“Good time again on the red carpet with icon Martin Kove during the Hoboken International Film Festival in Greenwood Lake, New York… On the red carpet opening night for the 14th annual Hoboken International Film Festival in Greenwood Lake, New York. Appreciate founders Kenneth Del Vecchio & Dr. Francine Del Vecchio for hosting me for another great year. Congratulations!”
– Joshn Carpenter, Head of Acquisitions – Green Apple Entertainment
What’s great, as noted in that article with all these quotes – is that you can actually find and read all of these quotes (because they come from published sources, such as on Facebook) and watch all the interviews described. That is indeed a rarity in today’s media world.
The bottom line is this: It’s clear that a lot of people look forward to Hoboken International Film Festival, and with the greatest of excitement.
Of the scores of towns I have traveled 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.”
HIFF is truly a rare event with rare people – it’s an A+
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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