2008-10-31 / Community

Sarnoff Honored At Queens Festival

By Susan Hartenstein

Robert Sarnoff Robert Sarnoff Rockaway's own award-winning filmmaker, Robert Sarnoff, is being honored at the Queens International Film Festival on Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 p.m. The Tribute will include screenings of his three gritty Rockaway films and a preview of the fulllength documentary on which he is now working.

We sat down recently for a revealing conversation about this major accolade in his career and the journey

that has brought him there.

I asked Sarnoff, if he were a panel member at the QIFF Tribute, what would be the first question he would ask himself? He thoughtfully replied, "Is there a constant, a thread running through your work?" In answer, he said that the collaborator on his present opus, "The Romeows," commented that Sarnoff seems to focus not on the celebrity, but on the person struggling, the underdog. Sarnoff agreed, and as example he cited "No Rooms Lobby" (20 min.). His first film, shot primarily in and around a hotel on Beach 116 Street in Rockaway Park, is a "portrait of a modern day Ulysses living on the fringe." So realistic is this eloquent, scripted piece that, among other awards and honors, it received the Best Docudrama Award in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was nominated Best Documentary at the 2005 Queens International Film Festival. "The Irish Ropes" (40 min.) captures the grit, drama and sweat of ten struggling Golden Gloves aspirants at a boxing gym on a dead end corner in Far Rockaway. The work focuses on John Duddy, who battled his way up from the rubble of civil war in Belfast to become an undefeated middleweight titleholder. This film aired on MSG and was celebrated at the South Street Seaport Museum. "Dispatch" (40 min.) exposes the trials and tribulations of the drivers of a local car service struggling to make a living, and their sometimes humorously poignant passengers. Both these films were recognized with a variety of important accolades.

Sarnoff's latest effort tells us much about the man himself, in ways that go beyond the storyline. It is probably the most personal of his works, as revealed in the intimacy with which he speaks about it.

"The Romeows," as conceived of by Sarnoff, is a documentary that explores the relationship among and passions of men whose friendship began a half-century ago as students at Brooklyn College and still stands today. The Romeows is an acronym for Retired Older Men Eating Out Wednesdays. These friends reunited 12 years ago and formed the group that includes Sarnoff. They continue to meet on … well you guessed it. Exploring each individual, it is a very human story of strength, bonding, the reexamination and reevaluation that eventually descends upon all of us after a certain age, and of the hoped for possibility of resulting wisdom.

In discussing this most immediate step in his life's journey, the filmmaker more than once utters the adage, "Be a teacher and by your students be taught." Kevin Raman was a film stu- dent of Sarnoff's at John Dewey High School. He presently edits and produces for CBS Television. Recently the two met again. Former student told former teacher what a great influence he had been and that "it would be an honor to work with you." Sarnoff was "very touched," and inspired to collaborate. "The director-editor relationship is a very important, sensitive one. There has to be give and take, respect." In working together, "there wasn't a moment without these elements." Raman serves as editor and director of photography. Proudly, Sarnoff states that he is in awe of this young man's talent. Teacher is learning much from student. "I see the whole," explains Sarnoff, "and some specifics, as well. With this excellent editor, we get to the specifics so clearly and cleanly …. seamlessly."

"The Romeows" looks forward to a 2009 release date. But you can get a sneak peek at the ten-minute trailer, and see screenings of Robert Sarnoff's Rockaway films at the Queens International Film Festival on Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 p.m., at theCrowne Plaza Hotel - La Guardia, 104-04 Ditmas Boulevard, East Elmhurst, NY.

For info: 718-457-6300; www.queens filmfestival.com. Contact Robert Sarnoff: royalfur@ yahoo.com .

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