Southern Circuit Tour: Narrowsburg

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Several years ago a group announced that it was going to launch a Key West Film Festival. People were skeptical. Now, all these years later, the annual event is well established. But it doesn’t always go so well.

Consider the Hollywood Film Festival … or the Narrowsburg Film Festival … or the Queens Film Festival. All went belly-up, leaving angry investors and irritated townsfolk behind.

Turns out, one swindler was behind all three.

“Narrowsburg” is a documentary that focuses on one of the events, that would-be film festival in the small upstate hamlet of Narrowsburg, New York.

An entry in the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, you can catch an in-person screening of “Narrowsburg” at Tropic Cinema on April 11, including a virtual Q&A with director Martha Shane. Also, the film and discussion will be available via the Tropic’s virtual cinema from April 11-14.

With a population of only 431, Narrowsburg was an odd place to hold a film festival. But a charismatic couple – a French producer and her mafioso-turned-actor husband – breezed into town, announcing that they were going to turn the tiny town into “the Sundance of the East.”

What’s more, Jocelyne Plante and Richard C. Castellano said they were going to make a movie in Narrowsburg, using local people in supporting roles. All you had to do was make a small investment in the project.

Dreams of stardom filled the heads of local farmers and shopkeepers. Some wrote checks for over $100,000, their life savings.

It could happen, couldn’t? After all, Richie had a featured role along side Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal in the mob comedy, “Analyze This.” You could see him up there on the big screen, his Brooklyn accent sounding pretty authentic.

And why shouldn’t it? Richie spun stories of how he’d done prison time for robbing a bank … before he went straight and found his way to Hollywood.

To display his movie creds, Richie even started an acting school in Narrowsburg, with local residents paying to learn the ins and outs of stagecraft.

He was a likeable, flamboyant character to be sure.

And his wife Jocelyn, didn’t you just love her French accent? And what about her tales of being descended from aristocracy? Sure, it got confusing sometimes when she talked about being born in South Africa or on a small island or … well, someplace exotic.

A film crew started shooting a crime drama titled “Four Deadly Reasons.” Richie would star as a hustler named Bobby Venuti. And the film would feature a couple of bent-nose actors from “The Sopranos” and “Mickey Blue Eyes,” along with assorted pay-to-play local folk.

Problem was, when the film was premiered in the miniscule Narrowsburg movie house, there was only ten minutes or so completed. The mood went from adulation to anger, especially when Richie and Jocelyne skipped town with the money.

Justice eventually had its day and Richie does jail time, finally living up to his mobster persona. He kept bragging about his description in a newspaper article as a “fallen star.” Image – even a wayward image – was important to him.

However, later happenings would raise the question whether his wife was the true mastermind behind the scam. Using various names, she had done this before … and would do it again.

As for poor Richie – Castellano wasn’t even his real name, he’d assumed the moniker of a dead New York mob boss.

I remember when Big Paulie Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down outside Sparks Steak House in New York City, a takeover by the Dapper Don, John Gotti. I’d had dinner at that very restaurant the night before.

“Narrowsburg” has a happy ending, if you can call it that. “Four Deadly Reasons” was later completed and released to the public. And Narrowsburg now has its own small film festival.

As for Jocelyne and Richie, it’s another matter. And the people of Narrowsburg never got their money back.

As the Tropic reopens with caution, please familiarize yourself with the protective house rules and procedures. Got questions? Email info@tropiccinema.com.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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