December 2, 2021

A reel chance to shine

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Peter Hartsock, left, and Daniel Simoni, both senior film students at Syracuse University, co-wrote and co-directed a film made on location at Hartsock’s Homer home, above. They appear here April 12. “The House on Pumpkin Drive” will be shown at SUNY Cortland’s Blackbird Film Festival this month.

Peter Hartsock used his 1800-era home on South Main Street, Homer, to film “The House on Pumpkin Drive.”

The 15-minute movie, a horror in a comic setting, will appear at the Blackbird Film Festival at SUNY Cortland.

The annual festival, open to the public, features 83 films from around the world. Filmmakers are from California, Texas, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Russia, as well as Central New York, according to Amanda Polito, a SUNY Cortland intern working on the event. There are seven films made by students at SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College, said Polito.

The details

Blackbird 2019, April 26 to 28 Brown Auditorium, Old Main, SUNY Cortland. Tickets range from $5 to $20 and are available at or at the door.

“I think it’s great,” said Hartsock. I am happy that something like Blackbird exists. And to show the film that was shot down the street!”

Hartsock and Daniel Simoni, both seniors in the film program at Syracuse University, co-wrote and co-directed their movie. “We locked ourselves in the apartment and had at it,” Hartsock said. “We wrote it in one weekend,” said Simoni.

“It was shot in this very house,” said Hartsock, the son of Linda and John Hartsock. “We shot around Homer as well,” he said.

The two transformed two vast rooms into a set with a kitchen and bedroom and filmed on the expansive front porch.

“We built a ‘torture chamber’ in the basement,” said Simoni, of Miami.

“That was fun. That was our first experience building anything,” said Hartsock. And there’s a goat involved, Hartsock said.

“We brought in a goat for the torture setting,” he said. The animal (which was not harmed in the making of the film), came from 2 Kids Goat Farm in Cuyler.

“Filming on set was fun,” said Hartsock.

The film features Jerry, a caterer from Pepino’s Party Planning, who has to create a dinner party at a weird house on Pumpkin Drive. But staging the meal becomes the nightmare of his life.

There are two cuts: a festival cut of 15 minutes and a director’s 25 minute cut, the men said.

This is only one of the films to be shown at the Blackbird Film Festival April 26 to 28 at SUNY Cortland’s Brown Auditorium.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the local community to experience a world of great films, the film industry and get a little taste of what it’s like. I want the town to enjoy it,” said Griffin Smith, a new communications media major at SUNY Cortland and event coordinator. “We have a great curation of films that are really, really interesting.”

The senior, from Oneida, will debut his film, “Evergreen,” about a young man coming to grips with the death of his wife, shot in his hometown at a cemetery. He put 50 hours into his seven and a half minute film that starred his dad, uncle, second cousin and himself.

Griffin worked as an event coordinator at the festival this year so he could network with other filmmakers. He does video and editing for Sherrill Silver Studios and will return to that job after he graduates and concentrate on getting involved with the evolving Syracuse film community.

“Blackbird 2019 is coming together nicely!” said Sam Avery, a professor of film and video production at SUNY Cortland.

“The purpose of Blackbird is to help bring independent filmmaking to Central New York and Cortland specifically,” said Avery. “I want to create opportunities for my students to network with professionals and find their way into the complex world of film production.”

Avery works with a team of college interns to stage the event and makes a point to pull in the community.

Women filmmakers, for instance, will luncheon with YWCA G.E.M. teens, older girls who support each other and get a boost from YWCA staff.

The festival is also showcasing art by about 20 community and student artists this year, who created artwork themed around the films in the festival.

“It has been absolutely amazing to see all these beautiful and unique pieces come from the most unlikely places!” said Avery. The “Blackbird Art Gallery” will be on display at the main festival lobby in the Old Main atrium on the campus. Pieces will be for sale.

“I find that film festivals have a way of bringing communities together and fostering an environment of creativity,” Avery said.

A total of 1,800 films, which are no longer that 20 minutes, were submitted to this year’s event and two rounds of judges reviewed them from September to December. First round judges were students studying film production and or media criticism. Second round judges were award-winning filmmakers from previous Blackbird seasons, Avery said.

About 300 films made it through both rounds and then were whittled down again, according to possible themes. Judges were looking at technical expertise, story and character development, said Avery.

Hartsock and Simoni hired and paid five actors, including Nicholas Tucci, a prominent horror actor from New York City, for their $12,000 film. They were able to use SU film equipment for their movie.

They turned to Indiegogo, a crowd funding Internet source, to raise money for the
piece. Friends and family were big contributors. Kaelan Selbach and Corey Palmer filmed the movie. Hartsock and Simoni edited it.

“My favorite part was when we showed the film in the showroom,” said Hartsock.

The two showed their film before 100 people at the SU campus and they studied the reactions on people’s faces. They saw a lot of emotion there.

People yelled out during the credits. “That was fun,” said Simoni.