Oren Jacoboy

Independent filmmaker Oren Jacoby

WESTERLY — Historians, cinephiles and locals alike can enjoy a vintage film and a trip down memory lane on Sunday night when "Hometown" — a movie filmed in Westerly in the early 1980s — is screened publicly for the first time in more than 40 years.

"Hometown," which was produced, photographed and directed by noted independent filmmaker Oren Jacoby and his friend, Gaboury Benoit, will be screened at the Misquamicut Drive-in, along with another film classic from the era, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws."

"It’s just amazing to see this snapshot in time from 40 years ago," said Caswell Cooke Jr., the president of the Misquamicut Association who selects the movies that are screened at the drive-in. "I thought it would be appropriate to have those folks who are part of it be able to see it once more on the big screen."

Cooke, who called the film a "little hidden gem," said "Hometown" will also offer people newer to the region the opportunity to "see what life was like back then."

The film, which was funded by two well-known Westerly businessmen of the era — the late George Utter and the late Matt Serra — follows two friends as they go about their lives in 1980s Westerly while pondering some existential issues.

The friends — Jack Capizzano and Lou Laudone Jr., both of whom still live locally — are seen playing softball, drinking beers at the Calabrese Club, fishing and talking about their "hometown."

"We had a blast making the movie," Laudone said earlier this week. "It really was a blast to do."

"Some of the footage they cut out was pretty funny," he added with a laugh.

The film is accompanied by original music by David Paton and Marcus Casman, and includes music by George Kent, Edward Tarr and Roomful of Blues. A portion of "Hometown" was shot at the Knickerbocker Café with Roomful playing to a packed group of dancers. Other scenes take place at the original Ocean House, East Beach, River Bend Cemetery, the old train station and on Margin Street. There is also footage of a Mt. Carmel Procession and a number of Westerly personalities, including Utter, Syl Serra and George Salimeno.

Ceramic Artist Jillian Barber of Jamestown, who also has an appearance in the film, said she met Jacoby when he was filming "Mass in B Minor," a movie about the Chorus of Westerly.

"That's another great Westerly movie," Barber said.

"I began my film career in Westerly," Jacoby said earlier this week from northwestern Connecticut, where he was vacationing with his family. "The chorus film was my senior project."

Jacoby, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 for "Sister Rose's Passion" — a film about the fight against anti-Semitism in the church — said when he was a student at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design he learned about Westerly from his friend, Loraine Utter. 

When he came to Westerly to film "Mass in B Minor," he decided to stay and make a film "to celebrate Westerly."

"I taught myself how to be a filmmaker," Jacoby said. "I had the technical basics, but I wanted to be a storyteller."

Jacoby immersed himself in Westerly life to get a feel for the community. He joined a softball team and got involved with the then Westerly Center for the Arts. It was while playing ball for Wulforst Form Company when he met Capizzano and Laudone.

"Jack was so funny and so approachable and such an extrovert," he recalled, a perfect protagonist for the film.

While helping arrange jazz programs and films at the arts center, he met a young woman named D'Anne Desimone, who was dating Benoit at the time. The two became fast friends and began working together on "Hometown."

"We improvised," said Jacoby, who spent a college summer in Rome watching the great Italian filmakers like Lina Wertmüller and Federico Fellini at work. "We combined documentary and narrative filmmaking, but we didn't know what it was going to be."

"Gabe is really smart," Jacoby said. "He's a scientist."

Benoit, who graduated from Westerly High School in 1971 as the class valedictorian, teaches environmental and aquatic chemistry at Yale School of the Environment, where he is the co-director of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology.

"I was interested in film," said Benoit, the son of the late Gert Benoit, a longtime food columnist for The Westerly Sun. "... I was looking for a film opportunity and Oren and I hit it off."

"We should have made a movie about the making of the film," he said with a laugh after describing one of the adventures the pair experienced during the making of "Hometown."

"We had a lot of fun," Benoit added. "It was an exciting time in my life."

"Oren and I are still great friends, and it's been a pleasure for me to watch his career take off. He has had some very successful films."

In addition to "Sister Rose’s Passion," which also won Best Documentary Short Film award at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, Jacoby has produced and directed more than 30 films, including "Shadowman," which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and was runner-up for the audience award, and 2007's "Constantine’s Sword," with James Carroll.

His theatrical adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s "Invisible Man," won the Joseph Jefferson Award in 2013 for best new play adaptation. He has also made PBS films about Duke Ellington and "The Kingdom of Swing," focusing on Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and their musical descendants. The founder of Storyville Films, his film "On Broadway" will be will be released later this year. 

Jacoby is married to the 21-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Betsy West, who co-directed "RBG."

Benoit, Jacoby, Barber and Laudone said they all plan to attend Sunday's screening.

  

  

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