Your Neighbor: Hamilton natives bring Hollywood to Madison County with film festival
By Mike Jaquays, Dispatch Correspondent
HAMILTON, N.Y. >> For 10 years running, the annual Slater Brothers Entertainment’s Hamilton International Film Festival has brought moviemakers and film fans together from all over the world for an ever-growing series of showings, discussions and social time. And the Slater Brothers festival founders -- partners Grant and Todd Slater -- wouldn’t have it anywhere else.
Both are former village residents, the sons of Agatha and the late Terry Slater, a famed Colgate University hockey coach.
“Hamilton will always be home to me,” Grant said on July 26, the fourth day of this year’s seven day festival. “I remember right from when we first moved here that you could walk anywhere, and you got to know everybody.”
He said he attended Hamilton Central School from fourth to eighth grades before leaving for prep school, and then returned to the village to graduate from Colgate University. Grant played hockey for his father at Colgate. Todd, who is six years younger, went to HCS through ninth grade before leaving for prep school himself.
The majority of the movies shown during the festival are at the Hamilton Movie Theater, and Todd said he had great memories of the venue.
"We used to sneak in the back door of the theater,” Todd admitted, adding that most of his other happy memories of Hamilton involved the various eateries he used to frequent. “It’s still always great to visit here, have a drink at the Inn, look around the town, visit the Starr Rink and catch up with my old friends.”
Now, they want to bring a little bit of Tinseltown home.
“A big part of this is to bring a little bit of Hollywood to Hamilton,” Grant said. “We also hope to help get local kids interested in the arts. The festival includes filmmakers of all different experience levels and that gives young filmmakers to chance to talk with the pros.”
The July 26 program during the festival was a fundraiser for their Hamilton Central School alma mater. There were a pair of short films by Hamilton Central School students shown first that evening, followed by another couple of shorts from America and a Canada.
The main feature was “The Samuel Project,“ a full-length film presented by Los Angeles-based writer/director Marc Fusco himself, who afterwards answered questions from the audience about the film and his history. His resume includes a long-time stint as the assistant to Steven Spielberg, with contributions to Spielberg‘s films “Saving Private Ryan,“ “Amistad” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”
“The Samuel Project” is a moving story of a teen named Eli who is tasked with creating a video project for a high school class. He turns to his dry cleaner grandfather Samuel as a source of inspiration, and a death to someone close to Samuel leads Eli to discover facts about his elder that had not been revealed before … including his escape from Nazis in World War II, even as the rest of his family fell victim to the horror of the Holocaust.
The film is not scheduled for its actual premiere until September in New York City, Fusco said, so the Hamilton audience got an advance look at the riveting story. Fusco added he is also co-founder of in8 Releasing, a distribution and marketing group focused on presenting films with what they call “broad appeal, yet having niche audiences.”
Activities were held throughout the village during the week, including locations like the Colgate Inn, the Colgate Bookstore, and the Good Nature Brewing Tap Room. Theater manager Sean Nevison said the event introduces people from all over the world to Hamilton, and he constantly hears compliments and promises to return. He said he is glad to be able to help make the festival happen.
“We are just happy to help facilitate the festival and to help give something back to the community,” Nevison said. “This is a real community-wide event, and we like to get as many people involved as possible. It‘s also a fun way for students to show their own work alongside the professionals.”
Fusco said he enjoys the festival environment because he gets to meet real audiences there, moviegoers removed from the “bubble of Hollywood.“ And although he has shown his films at theaters all over, Fusco said being in the Hamilton Movie Theater and enjoying all of its history was truly a special time.
“Just being able to present a film in such an historic theater is a real treat for me,” Fusco complimented. “The area is lucky to have a gem like this here.”
The Film Festival fun ends on Sunday, July 29 with films starting at noon. Selections for the final day are “Heart of Paradise” and “Strayed” from the United States, “The Art of Shantiniketan” from India, and “Dangerous Crossings” from Monaco. Tickets are $8 for the day, and available at the theater, located at 7 Lebanon St. in Hamilton.