Buffalo Niagara Film Festival lands at Four Seasons Cinema

The opening ceremony kicks off with an appearance by 'The Goonies' star, Robert Davi


The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival held its opening ceremony Wednesday night at the Four Seasons Cinema in Niagara Falls. The festival will showcase films over the next ten days produced by independent filmmakers.

“I encourage people to come out and support these films,” said DonnaMarie Vaughan, the volunteer coordinator and marketing manager for the festival. “People can come and see something that is a labor of love on the part of the filmmaker...Here you have the opportunity to see films that you’ll never see again.”

The festival kicked off with a traditional Hollywood stunt, despite the focus on independent filmmaking.

There are only two groups of people in this world who have the spectacular luxury of being chauffeured around via helicopter: celebrities and Bond villains.

Robert Davi has the distinction of belonging to both groups, having appeared in over 100 films over his career including Jake Fratelli in the classic “The Goonies” and Franz Sanchez in Timothy Dalton’s second James Bond film, “License to Kill.”

Davi greeted every attendee who approached him after he exited the helicopter, posing for pictures with each. His powder blue fedora and dark sunglasses nodded toward the flamboyance of a classic Bond villain, or any number of the gangsters and thugs that Davi has portrayed over the course of his career.

Davi was channeling the classic look of his hero, Frank Sinatra, who is also the inspiration behind Davi’s documentary, “Davi’s Way,” which was screened for the small crowd.

The documentary follows Davi over the course of a year as he attempts to recreate Sinatra’s legendary “Main Event” concert at Madison Square Garden.

The documentary itself is far more successful than the concert it chronicles thanks to its self-deprecating, warts-and-all approach. What could have easily been a vanity project about the making of a vanity project becomes a fascinating insight into the world of one of cinema’s greatest “that guys.” Davi, who also produced the film, leaves in scenes in which he demands to be “lit like a girl” in order to minimize the scars on his craggy visage and others in which he dresses down his assistant for daring to wear a hat at the same time as Davi.

Filmmakers whose work will be screening in the coming days also attended today’s screening, taking the time to promote their own shows. Jeff Hsieh, a film producer, will be debuting his film “Seven Days’ Graffiti” Saturday, Sept. 23 at 5pm.

The film follows a young man in a remote area of China who has just been released from prison. The man returns to his small town to discover that his long-lost girlfriend has returned as well and tries to reconnect with her.

The film was entirely produced in China, and Hsieh hopes to expose audiences to a portion of the world they do not often hear about.

“There is a lower side to China,” said Hsieh. “You may think of it as rich and modern, but that is just the cities. If you look and go to the rural areas there are a lot of stories to be found.”

Hsieh has found the festival to be encouraging to filmmakers such as himself. He said the industry in China pays little attention to small productions and prioritizes the big and new.

The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival offers artists a chance to tell the stories that are not being told in traditional studio films.

“Film festivals like this are all about independent filmmakers,” said Rocky Yavicoli, a former federal agent and current film consultant. “They get to make films without the bureaucracy from corporate America and speak their heart. They have the complete freedom to tell the exact story they’re looking to tell.”

Vaughan hopes to expand the festival beyond Niagara Falls in years to come.

He plans to take the festival’s top-rated films on mini-tours to areas such as Batavia and Fredonia to spread the word about Buffalo’s burgeoning film scene.

In recent years, the city has had several large films use the location for their production, including 2016’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and the upcoming film “Marshall” starring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad.

While securing major studio films to shoot in the city is good for the economy, it is events like the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival that make for a strong local film scene.

“I like that it’s very grassroots,” said Anthony DeFeo, a junior film studies major. “It’s a great place to network and make connections with people in the area who are also in the industry.”

The festival will run until Friday, Sept. 29 at the Four Seasons Cinema on Military Rd. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

David Tunis-Garcia is a senior arts editor and can be reached at david.garcia@ubspectrum.com