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With Friends Like These

Filmmaker Vincente Stasolla finds helping hands in Pennsylvania for his Korean War drama

To make a movie, they say, it helps to "know somebody." But making a film these days can take more than just knowing people in an entertainment center like New York City. The thirtysomething Vincente Stasolla found contacts in rural eastern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh to be just as critical in completing his debut feature, The Forgotten, which premieres Nov. 7 as the opening-night film at the Three Rivers Film Festival.

Growing up in New York, Stasolla was a movie buff in an artistically inclined family. After graduating from Cornell with degrees in communication and economics --and a newly discovered love of writing -- Stasolla wanted to make a movie. He logged time on other people's film productions, and reading scripts at Warner Brothers. He wrote screenplays and shot a couple of shorts. Most importantly, he drummed up money for a war movie he had in mind, a smaller-scale drama reminiscent of Sam Fuller's minimalist but intense films.

Stasolla's original story was about trench-bound World War I soldiers. But after meeting with some war re-enactors in eastern Pennsylvania, he became interested in the Korean War as a backdrop. "A war drama can take place anywhere, but I chose to go with Korea because I thought it was a more interesting war. Because it's forgotten. It's the first time African Americans are integrated [into U.S. Army units]," says Stasolla. "And it's still haunting us. North Korea is on the front page every day. ... I re-placed everything that was supposed to take place in a trench into a tank. I spent about two weeks sitting inside the tank with a laptop, rewriting."

The meeting with the re-enactors proved more fortuitous than just a script change. "They had a warehouse full of military equipment which we basically used for free. It can cost three or four thousand dollars a day to rent a tank." To complete a feature-length film for just over $100,000, Stasolla hired actors fresh from university dramatic leagues (including Janan Raouf, a Carnegie Mellon graduate), and farms in Bucks County stood in for Korea. Through a colleague at a temp job, Stasolla met a man who had been stationed as a tank driver in Korea who offered to operate the tanks -- for free.

"We shot for 12 days in October 2000, then stopped," Stasolla says. Out of money, Stasolla went back to working two jobs. He borrowed a friend's New York apartment and rigged up an editing facility. He put together a trailer to interest more investors, re-assembled the team for more shooting, and wrapped the film in the wee hours of Sept. 11, 2001.

That fall, Stasolla relocated to the North Hills, and a local TV show provided the catalyst that would shepherd The Forgotten through its final stages. Watching NightTalk one night, Stasolla caught an interview with producer Adrienne Wehr and director Melissa Martin, who made the locally based film The Bread My Sweet. Stasolla tapped a New York connection to hook up with Martin: "Melissa saw the film and said, 'You need a producer to finish this.'" She introduced him to Pittsburgher Henry Simonds, who had produced a 2001 documentary on photographer Teenie Harris and was eager to tackle a bigger project. Simonds helped raise money to usher the film through post-production.

Stasolla and Simonds are now pitching The Forgotten to other film festivals, and are contemplating a self-distribution set-up should it find legs. In the meantime, Stasolla has a screenplay -- a high-concept comedy -- that he'd like to sell. Chances are he knows somebody who knows somebody.

Flamingo Fest at the National Aviary
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Flamingo Fest at the National Aviary

By Mars Johnson