Despite being involved in the film industry, I'm not big on attending film related events, but last night was an exception. I was honoured to be invited to the Australian premiere of Growing Up Smith, produced and directed in upstate New York, USA by one of my earliest friends in the film industry, Frank Lotito.
Those in Australia may recognise Frank from his 2011 film Big Mamma's Boy, as various other stand-up comedy shows and tours around the country. We first crossed paths on a construction site in Richmond, at least 15 years ago. We were both in hi-visibilty vests and hard hats, but of course there was no real hard labour being done, just the masquerade of hard labour by two young Italian actors on location for a 3M corporate video.
Frank and I continued to cross paths over the years. At one stage we virtually saw eachother everyday on Lygon St in Carlton (Melbourne's little Italy), where Frank owned and ran a cafe/restaurant called Stuzzichino and I worked directly opposite across the road at night an Italian restaurant after my full-time job.
A lot has clearly happened since this time and Frank is now well on his way to becoming one of the most respected and in-demand Australian directors. After Big Mamma's Boy, Frank moved to the USA with his wife and two children to pursue his passion. Long story short, he's just come off the back of producing and directing this truly beautiful movie, Growing Up Smith.
The private screening was held in the famous Backlot Studios in South Melbourne. Frank was in attendance along with his closest family, friends and industry contacts - given this, it was truly an honour to be invited personally by Frank to watch his latest masterpiece.
Without giving too much away, Growing Up Smith is is a drama/comedy, loosely based on a true story about an Indian immigrant boy and his family settling in and finding their way into their new American life. I sat there, completely enchanted, with a smile on my face almost from start to finish. Jason Lee (from My Name Is Earl and Chipmunks) plays the lead in this period film set in the 70's, supported by a perfect cast of some familiar and new faces. I didn't want to sit through and critique the film looking for flaws, and to be honest, there were little to none, because the powerful narrative and lovable characters demanded your full attention from start to finish.
Unlike the bulk of what makes the cinema nowadays, there are no heavy CGI effects, no compulsive and offensive profanity or nudity, and no gut-wrenching violence whatsoever. Now before you think that there's nothing to like in this film without any of those elements, cast your mind back to classic films such as The Goonies, Stand By Me and My Girl. These films stand the test of time because they are beautiful, innocent, fun and authentic, and that's exactly the same realm I put Growing Up Smith in. I felt like I was reliving part of my childhood, which naturally made me feel so fantastic.
It's a family friendly film, suitable for children AND adults alike, with a very impressive sountrack to match. I honestly could not speak highly enough of this film, not because a friend produced and directed it, but because of its authenticity to the characters as well as the heart-warming themes and story lines.
After the film, deservingly so, Frank was given a very genuine round of applause, not because he was surrounded by family and friends, but because what he made was nothing short of beautiful. Following this, there was a Q&A hosted by his long-time friend and talented Australian actor, Steve Mouzakis (seen recently on Prison Break). Frank took the time to answer all of the interesting and diverse questions put to him and was then brought to tears by his father who came down from the audience and spoke of his own history as an immigrant and then sang the praises of his son Frank, as any proud father would do.
Here's just a glimpse of some of the images from the post-screening Q&A. It's evident how passionate and close to his family Frank is. He's an authentic guy with the talent and skill to to turn words on a page into a entertaining story that leaves you feeling good.
What an honour to be one of the first in the country to see this film and be invited by Frank. After more than 30 film festival screenings across the USA (with many victories and awards), as well as a national theatrical release across America, Growing Up Smith will be available nationwide across Australia on DVD, Bluray and Video On Demand from September 27th, 2017.
I can not recommend this film high enough and am very proud of my friend Frank and what he's achieved. Remember his name, Hollywood is calling.
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