2010-10-01 / Community

Sarnoff 's 'Romeows' To Be Screened

By Susan Hartenstein

Members of Lord House in 1959. The men who are the subjects of “The Romeows” first became friends in this house plan at Brooklyn College in the 1950s. Members of Lord House in 1959. The men who are the subjects of “The Romeows” first became friends in this house plan at Brooklyn College in the 1950s. Denis Hamill raves in the Daily News, “A love letter to enduring friendship.” “A movable feast; a collection of culinary gabfests and individual interviews.”

His glowing review and that of Anne Barnard in the New York Times are for Rockaway filmmaker Robert Sarnoff’s movie “The Romeows.” The rest of us will get to see this “love letter,” this richly textured gem about a half century of enduring friendship on Monday, November 1, 4 p.m., at a major screening in the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College in the 2500-seat Walt Whitman Theater. A ‘Q and A’ will follow with some of the Romeows present.

Sarnoff is a director who thrives on telling personal stories of real people in real situations; exposing the humor, the joys, the bumps, the bruises, the intimacies of the inhabitants and circumstances of these stories. He did so in his three previous award-winning Rockaway-themed films: www.robertsarnoffilms.com. “The Romeows,” Retired Older Men Eating Out Wednesdays, is an intimate, highly personal documentary about a group of septuagenarians (Sarnoff is one of them) who get together every week to eat at a rotating list of restaurants (usually highly seasoned).

The men first became friends 50 years ago as members of a house plan (think ‘fraternity’ without the indignities of hazing) at Brooklyn College (think City University without tuition). Brilliantly edited by Kevin Raman, the viewer can taste the salinity of the pickles, the graininess of the hummus; smell the tomato sauce; feel the pace of clever humor and facile conversation, and the pleasures and strengths of decades-long bonds in which the truth often lingers in the unspoken. A child of the ‘work ethic,’ Sarnoff says, “It takes work – to choose a restaurant, send e-vites, etc. We schedule our lives to try to keep Wednesdays free.” It’s important, this friendship thing. “It’s become something of a ritual, as close as one can come to a religion. We meet, break bread together, talk about the world – health care, Obama, the Mets, personal matters.” A movable feast of ideas and feelings.

When asked what most excites him about the film, Sarnoff replies, “There’s a buzz about it.” There are those in California who are talking about turning “The Romeows” into a sitcom; others have discussed translating it into a reality series. Someone is contemplating distributing videos. Sarnoff believes “The Romeows” is TVworthy and is looking to get it on PBS or HBO. He is also entering it in various film festivals.

Story Corps heard about the film. The interviews they did with Sarnoff and his fellow “Romeows” are now housed in the Library of Congress. All very exciting and gratifying for Sarnoff.

But all these accolades have a larger significance for the Rockaway resident with a world view. While trying not to overestimate the film’s influence, he can’t help but wonder aloud. “Is it a legacy, a time capsule, a portrait of friendship?” as others have deemed it. “I don’t know.” But Sarnoff has specific hopes for it. “[This has become] a virtual world. Twitter and Facebook have become substitutes for real oneon ones.” There are young people, Sarnoff reports, who come to screenings and comment that they don’t have much social contact in schools. They envy the closeness, the sustained relationships they see in the film. Two even said they would now work harder at building such friendships. The filmmaker hopes “The Romeows” will affect others in the same way.

Sarnoff is also hoping that, in a society that doesn’t honor people of a certain age, if younger viewers see older people who are still witty, funny, vibrant and have the wisdom of experience to pass on, perhaps perceptions will change. As one of the Romeows says in the film in regard to passing on the baton of experience, “If not us, who?”

For those who want to attend the screening: Brooklyn Center Box Office: 718-951-4500, Tuesday-Saturday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m.

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