Catch Westchester’s Best Home-Grown Cinema at YoFiFest
We sit down with local director Mike Castaldo, screening 'Ascendency Transmission' at this year’s Yonkers Film Festival.
Every year we look forward to red carpets, gala receptions, and a steady flow of talented actors, filmmakers, and producers screening their latest masterpieces. No, not the Oscars or even Cannes, we’re talking about YoFiFest — or “Yonkers Film Festival” for the hoi polloi.
Past years’ Fests have included shorts and features by local student and professional filmmakers, and every year’s playbill is a slate chock-full of incredible, locally-filmed art. In 2017 we were lucky enough to get a chance to speak with directors like Mr. Muay Thai Nation’s Rishi Gandhi and Jeana Reilly of Danni.
This year we’ve got two big releases to put on your watch list. First up, No Alternative, the grunge and rap-driven semi-biographical picture out of Yonkers returns home from a successful festival run. Writer-director William Dickerson’s feature was both set and filmed in Yonkers, and we’ve been looking forward to a wider release for a long time now. Area residents with a love for music will especially adore this angsty family drama. No Alternative screens Saturday, November 3 at 6 p.m.
Next up, on the ‘short circuit,’ is a cool and creepy little piece premiering as part of the Westchester Wednesday Shorts Showcase on November 7 at 6 p.m. Ascendancy Transmission comes to us from Westchester native Mike Castaldo, an adjunct professor of the Communications Department at Manhattanville College, and was actually filmed on the campus by real students.
The film centers around Sean, a conspiracy buff radio host who gets more than he ever dreamed of when his show receives its first ever on-air caller. Professor Castaldo was nice enough to sit down with us ahead of the showcase to talk conspiracies and cinematography.
What was it like working with the school not as an employee, but as an artist?
It was interesting because it came about really over the summer. Me and a few students were working on campus and just wanted to make a film. We kind of just went about it with no intention of it really going anywhere or doing anything with it.We wrote it in two days, shot it in two days, and it took almost a year to edit. Just because of time restraints and all that kind of stuff. But, one of the things I tell my students a lot too is write and try to produce something within your means. It was a low-budget film. We just worked with the space we had, the availability we had, and tried to create from there. It was a very interesting situation to go around, because it sort of waltzed around what was available to you.
So, how did you get in touch with YoFiFest originally?
I submitted to a handful [of film festivals], Yonkers Film Festival being one of them, and I think only a couple of weeks ago they announced who was selected and all that. I heard great things about it. I submitted to a lot of smaller, genre-based film festivals that focused on suspense/thriller and along those lines, and I had a few, bigger than those, that I wanted to get into in Yonkers, and Yonkers Film Festival was one of them. So, I’m very excited to see it there.
You were a professional filmmaker, both commercial and personal, for years before you began teaching. What’s it like to be back on your “home-turf” so to speak, mentoring young filmmakers?
One of the things I really like about it is showing an alternative perspective to Hollywood filmmaking. In Hollywood, everything is regimented. Everything is very specific. There’s a way of doing it, and that doesn’t mean that filmmaking can’t be something else. I think that a lot of students are trying to replicate certain things and they don’t quite get to the level that they’re happy with in a lot of cases, and what I try to really explain to them is that there’s no wrong way of doing it. I think a lot of students benefit from that specifically and have more open doors are far as the creative process goes.
One thing that I really enjoy too is that it’s intro-level, so I tend to get students that aren’t ‘filmmakers.’ I get some students that are really energetic and excited about the filmmaking world, but we also get a lot of students who are, for example, biology majors and math majors … it’s interesting to see the perspective that they bring to the table. It’s all stuff that I don’t think about on my own, because of where I’m coming from, and that’s what I really love; just seeing different student’s perspectives, across the whole campus. Being a small school really helps in that sense.
What is one conspiracy theory that you wish was actually real?
I think that, a lot of times, we don’t want conspiracy theories to be real. I think we find a lot of things wrong with society and we decide to create these crazy ideas to make them seem less real. And I think the notion of a conspiracy theory makes it a little bit easier to process in certain cases.
People were thinking for years that the government or government agencies were doing things behind their backs. They had all these weird situations that presented themselves, and then eventually when those documents were released, people realized that it was real, in how it was crafted and how people do things without the general public knowing. It’s just scary to think about in itself. So we create these ideas of conspiracy theories to cope with those ideas. For example [my film] is based on the idea of surveillance and technology and the overall loss of control, and I think that people who respond to that, especially in certain climates—of political change or society always being watched and this idea of social media being so present in our lives—and conspiracy theories provide a way for people to cope with that.
Do you have anything new in the works? We hear you’re a big time travel buff.
I actually am in the process of working on a short film that’s based on a short story I came into contact with about a year or two ago. I’m in my pre-production stages. It’s about a detective who gets to the end of his rope, and the idea of crossing through time to find the people that he needs and the many conflicts and issues that manipulating time causes him and his family. It’s like a ‘one scene’ kind of film, it’s very short. But that’s what I’m working on now; it’s been written, and I’m basically working on pre-production and finding filming locations and all that kind of stuff. That’s my next project that I’m working on and hopefully it comes together.
YoFiFest 2018 runs from Friday, November 2 through Sunday, November 11. Use discount code WESTMAG20 for 20 percent off your purchase of full festival, opening weekend, and commuter Saturday or Sunday full day passes!