Funny thing happened on way to film fest

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The Gold Coast International Film Festival ended its week-long series of screenings, performances and celebrity appearances with closing ceremonies in Port Washington and Great Neck Sunday night.

The festival, which shone a spotlight on both comedy and Israeli film, was a great success, Great Neck Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil said. 

”With every year that passes it’s becoming more and more of an established and anticipated event,” Gil said. “We had more audiences – in other words, we had so many filled to capacity and sold-out screenings.”

The festival handed out film awards to a range of domestic and international movies. 

The Alexander Payne-directed “Nebraska,” whose star Bruce Dern won best actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, took the audience award for best narrative feature along with Israeli/American drama “Foreign Letters.”  

“Comedy Warriors,” about the stand-up performances of injured veterans, and the Israeli film “The Prime Ministers” shared the audience award for best documentary, with “Dancing in Jaffa” and “Commie Camp” earning honorable mentions. 

Sci-fi short “Plurality” won the audience award for best short film, and social media cautionary tale “Noah” won the jury’s best short film award.

“It was the kind of excitement and glamour we promised,” Gil said.

That glamour was on display at the festival’s gala Wednesday night at The Space at Westbury, a new venue that provided a theater atmosphere for the gala’s awards presentations and comedy performances.

The gala, which honored comedian Susie Essman, “Goodfellas” star Paul Sorvino and arts center sponsors the Mindel family, was attended by hundreds of supporters and public officials.

“This is the launch of the rest of the season.” said arts center Executive Director Regina Gil, whose organization is in the process of rebranding itself as the Gold Coast Arts Center following the sale of its Middle Neck Road headquarters to the Town of North Hempstead. “There’s a lot enthusiasm and excitement and anticipation.”

Head of live comedy programming Jeffrey Gurian, an industry veteran whose film “The Business of Comedy” and book “Make ‘Em Laugh” were both featured at the festival, said this year’s focus on comedy was a response to the challenges faced by Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.

“There was so much devastation on Long Island that we decided to make it laugh-Island,” Gurian said. “It’s a film festival but the focus is on comedy.”

Part of that focus included awarding Essman, a star on Larry David’s HBO sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” an Artist of Distinction Award.

“I wound up as the head of live comedy programming and I called Susie Essman, who’s a dear old friend of mine,” Gurian said. “It’s so hard to get people – it’s so wonderful I got Susie to take the time.”

Essman, who accepted the award with a gracious and largely unprintable speech, drew applause and laughs with a short stand-up set and fielded questions from the audience on her career and work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Essman also noted her ties to Great Neck, where her aunt lived when Essman was a child.

“We used to come to Great Neck for holidays,” she said.

Sorvino, whose film “How Sweet It Is” was screened at the festival, accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award and urged young actors and film makers to practice their craft.

“I have put in over half a century at this, doing the best that I could, studying hard, working hard. I wanted desperately to be an actor,” Sorvino said. “I feel privileged to have been able to do it and to have touched many people apparently, and to touch their lives in a way that only film can really do. So I thank the Gold Coast Film Festival for honoring me and once again reconfirming the fact that my work has not been in vain.”

Gil also presented the Mindell family, owners of the Inn at Great Neck and other local hospitality ventures, with the Honorary Founders Award.

Alan Mindell praised Gil for her work in founding the arts center and said its programs provided important education and cultural activities for diverse communities across North Hempstead.

“The truth is, the arts center didn’t begin at a cocktail party. It didn’t come from privilege. nor does it just casually serve privileged people,” Mindell said. “It does a lot more than teach a couple of classes.”

The festival ran from Oct. 21 through Oct 27 and highlighted character actors and comedians including Joe Piscopo, Jackie Martling and Paul Provenza.

In addition to film screenings, the festival featured stand-up comedy performances. The festival will also highlighted themes including women in film and Israeli cinema, according to  a press release.

The arts center scored a high-profile screening earlier this year with a private advance showing of blockbuster “The Great Gatsby” that featured an appearance by director Baz Luhrman. 

Last year’s Gold Coast Film Festival featured a pre-wide release showing of “Silver Linings Playbook,” which would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards and see star Jennifer Lawrence win Best Actress for her performance.

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