2007-04-13 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

by Stuart W. Mirsky

by Stuart W. Mirsky

Bob Sarnoff is a retired school administrator with the old Board of Education, living in Rockaway. But it doesn't take long to realize he's a great deal more than that. As readers of The Wave will know, Bob is the paper's resident cartoonist who often shares his rather trenchant political views with readers in these pages (views that don't always agree with mine, by the way). He's also a painter, author and filmmaker who has made a number of award winning documentaries including his most recent tale of a young prizefighter who nearly died in a motorcycle accident on a dirt road in West Meade, Ireland, and who went on to remake himself as proprietor of a gym in Arverne, finding and developing young talent in the boxing game.

The Irish Ropes recounts how one-time boxer, turned coach, Eddie McCloughlin, produced ten Golden Gloves aspirants and an undefeated middle-weight contender, John Duddy, who recently won the IBA belt. Sarnoff, who taught film at Brooklyn's John Dewey High School before retiring, has developed television and film treatments, and written scripts, plays and articles for Time magazine, Super 8 Filmmaker , School Arts, Playbill and High Points.

He recently put the finishing touches on a full length version of The Irish Ropes which debuted on Saturday, March 17, at the Regal 18 Cinema in Florida's Del Ray Beach at the Second Annual Del Ray Beach Film Festival . The day before the film's debut, John Duddy, who was designated 2006 Fighter of the Year and is the film's protagonist, successfully defended his IBA title on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. An earlier, thirty minute version of The Irish Ropes was an official selection of the Queens International Film Festival in 2006.

Sarnoff notes that last year another of his films, No Rooms Lobby , "a portrait of a modern day Ulysses living on the fringe," was an official selection at The First Annual Del Ray Beach Film Festival after having previously received an award for Best Docudrama at The Bare Bones International Film Festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was also nominated Best Documentary at The Queens International Film Festival in New York.

Both the "North of Little Italy" International Film Festival in Manhattan and the Queens Museum Film Festival made it an official selection at their events. The National Coalition for the Homeless and the Queens Cinema Collection have each requested copies for their archives. Like The Irish Ropes , No Rooms Lobby was made right here in Rockaway, "at the Baxter Hotel on Beach 116 Street," notes Sarnoff.

Sarnoff adds that he is now working on yet another locally based documentary, Dispatch , about the car service culture of the Rockaways. "My goal is to stay as close to home as possible," he says , "creating movies right here in my own backyard. In fact, I'm seriously contemplating changing my movie production company's name from Sarnoff & Associates to Five Mile Radius, LLC. There are stories right here in River City."

This erstwhile Wave cartoonist and filmmaker came up the hard way, having waited tables, from the time he was fourteen, in Brooklyn and later in the Catskills, and having put in a stint selling shoes in the fifties. He took an accounting degree from Brooklyn College but never lost his passion for the creative side of life.

After trying his hand selling accounting systems and Muzak, he made the fateful decision to go back to school for an MA in the Arts from NYU. Afterwards he took up filmmaking at both the New School and Columbia University. "My movies," says Sarnoff, "seem to take on a life of their own, spinning on their own axis, taking me into their orbit. I allow the actors to do the same, which makes for some wonderful travel time."

Sarnoff's influences include the film oeuvre of directors like John Cassavetes, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorcese as well as the work of Arthur Miller (Death Of A Salesman) and J. D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye. Without stopping for breath he reels off a few more: "On The Waterfront, Raging Bull, maybe Tale of Two Cities, and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey."

As for Rockaway's role in his creative life, Sarnoff, who is also a painter of some local renown, has this to say: "My artwork has been tremendously influenced by Rockaway's environs. The beach, the ocean, the waves and weather, people sunning and surfing and just walking in the streets, children playing, their pails and shovels, the dripping wet sandcastles, the day trippers - all are models I've used in my work. In 2004, my painting, ' Ye Olde Jetty,' was selected by The United States Postal Service to become Rockaway's official matted print and cachet stamp. I've also written a short book, You Got To Ring Them Bells , extolling the virtues of our wonderful beach town."

Sarnoff will be one of the featured filmmakers at the upcoming Rockaway Literary Arts Festival on April 22nd. He'll be showing a clip from his Irish Ropes documentary and talking about the trials, tribulations and, of course, the pleasures of filmmaking. rockirreg@aol.com

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