It’s a real tribute to a director/screenwriter when he finds his feature-length film invited to open a festival dedicated to short films. That honor has been bestowed on talented filmmaker David Rodriguez, whose dramedy “Last I Heard” will be the opening night presentation at the 9th annual HollyShorts Film Festival on Thursday night (August 15). The eight-day festival will include more than 300 short films in competition, with the opening night presentation solely Rodriguez’s.
“Last I Heard” follows a Mafia capo (Paul Sorvino) after his release from federal prison for health reasons, where he served 20 years. As he reconnects with his daughter (Renee Props) and tries to develop a relationship with his neighbor (Michael Rapaport), he realizes life has changed markedly in his Queens neighborhood during the time he was in the joint. Chazz Palminteri, Andrea Nittoli and Lev Gorn round out the all-star cast.
“It’s nice to be the first feature film to open HollyShorts,” Rodriguez said during a telephone interview for ON and BEYOND from Los Angeles. “It’s certainly an honor to open any festival, let alone a festival here in town. There’s such a wide variety of films to choose from.” Festival co-founder and director Daniel Sol said in a release that, “We couldn’t be happier to have such a talented filmmaker and superb cast be the first feature to open HollyShorts.” And Theo Dumont, also co-founder and director of the festival, added that Rodriguez’ film “is a prime example of how HollyShorts stands apart. We strive to create fun and imaginative platforms for our filmmakers to network and advance their careers.”
Though he grew up in the Bronx, Rodriguez did not spend much time in inner New York City. His parents moved to Long Island, and eventually enrolled him in the New York Military Academy. There, he met a long-time friend who did live in Queens, and thus, “I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood, getting to know a lot of guys like Paul’s character. Everybody says you should write what you know—or what you’re most compelled by. What I felt I should do to really break out as a filmmaker was to write and direct something in that arena that I indisputably knew. I know this world and these characters better than most people. I’m also a great listener, as writers should be.”
He had no trouble assembling his talented cast for the 18-day shoot, one with limited rehearsals and limited budgets. As he has done with his other films such as “Push” and “The Blue Wall,” Rodriguez strived for “a human story, not a blockbuster. The business has catered to a very small fraction of what moviegoers want to see, in my opinion. They want those human connections.”
It’s a frustration for many filmmakers—striving for real storytelling in an industry where many of those scripts aren’t green lit by financiers. He hopes to see that change, and to be part of it. Independent films like “Last I Heard,” which Rodriguez is looking for a distributor to help open it wide, are the best way to accomplish that goal of pure storytelling without relying on lots of explosions and CG.
“It still boils down to the script, on how good it is,” he said. “I’d like to see us get back to the roots of filmmaking, like what it was in the 70s and 80s. I hope the studios start to become more indie-friendly. They need to understand the dynamics of making an independent film—how everyone gets in the trenches and rolls up their sleeves. At the end of the day, this is our job as directors. It’s not a royal title where you sit there and people just bring you things. Actors work their butts off to memorize their lines and get their parts right. We need to do the same as directors, like a general contractor who’s also a carpenter when needs be.”
He’s particularly pleased with “Last I Heard,” and the amazing performances by his cast and the work of his crew.
“It was a very collaborative environment,” he said. “There was so much emotion and so much work and focus, and very little room for error. At the end of the day, we were able to produce something we are all proud of. I think that will resonate with our audiences when they see the film.”
That starts Thursday night, and hopefully, soon in a theater near you.