2012-09-07 / Community

NYU Filmmaker Directs Rockaway-Based Film

By Debbie Fleury

Actress Audrey Tommassini, in a scene from “Rockaway.” Photo by Jordan Schiele. Actress Audrey Tommassini, in a scene from “Rockaway.” Photo by Jordan Schiele. The last time Rockaway had a movie based on its boardwalk life and aesthetics, it was a documentary about the bungalows. But the peninsula has reestablished itself out of the documentary narrative and into a fictional story in “Rockaway,” the short film directed by NYU filmmaker Melanie Schiele.

It is about a young woman with a mysterious past, who is left to her own devices and takes shelter in her grandmother’s house.

The film premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival and was screened with a “Future of Film” notary mention at the TriBeCa Film Festival.

As a location setting, Rockaway is an acquired taste. Common perceptions dictate that New York City is made up of skyscrapers, 42nd Street, and maybe the Brooklyn Bridge.

Life in the New York coast has a reputation of being alien. It’s “boring” and unattractive to the outsiders looking in. But Schiele, a Brooklyn native, uses that to her advantage by keeping the memory of her grandmother, Florence Kalish, and her old house in Rockaway.

Not a director by hobby, Schiele had her academic start in filmmaking at NYU’s three-year MSA program in Singapore, where she also developed her skills in screenwriting.

She has consistently produced and directed four short-films since 2008, but “Rockaway” appears to be her most challenging feat yet.

It runs for 18 minutes, longer than her previous shorts. And Schiele admitted that she wanted to push herself with the film and try something new.

There is a winning lead performance by Audrey Tommassini, the actress behind the challenge of embarking a troubled teenager in “Rockaway.” Tommassini – as Teresa – has a routine of visiting the playground, the Last Stop Gourmet Shop, and the beach as she involves herself in immediate relationships without the intimacy.

In 18 minutes there is a progression of Teresa’s passive-aggressive behavior. She’s upset about something. She’s selfdestructive. And she wants to be noticed.

One of the most memorable scenes in the short occurs when Teresa sits by the bar in PJ Currans. The bartender, played by Zachary Le Vey, develops an instant affinity for serving “an old man’s drink” to someone who, according to him, appears as though she’s unable to swallow even a glass of water.

There’s a special amount of care given to the awkward beginnings of the relationship between Teresa and the bartender.

There’s no ambiguity to the amount of chemistry they had. It’s the sort of “nice surprise” that makes moviegoing interesting again.

Schiele expects viewers to experience “Rockaway” by empathizing with Teresa’s means of coping. She says, “There are times in our lives where we feel lost and we take shelter from the places where we feel safe.”

The sincerity in the comments she made about her work reflect her personal connection with filmmaking – it’s about baring your soul while thickening your skin through the uphill battle of the industry.

“Rockaway” will be screening again at the Los Angeles Indie Film Festival on September 9.

The showing is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the screening event will end on Thursday, September 13.

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