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Hollywood Strikes Long Island's Gold Coast

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It's not yet a household name like Sundance or Tribeca, but the Gold Coast Film Festival, bringing the best of cinema to the geographic ritzy section of Long Island, NY celebrated in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, is gaining momentum for the cineaste set.

This year the festival's main attraction was local boy-done-good/indie filmmaking veteran Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullan, 1995), who screened his most recent film, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, about the lives and loves of a dysfunctional Irish-American clan, familiar territory for the auteur.

Concluding right before Hurricane Sandy was to strike, Gold Coast during the prior week showed at various venues in the vicinity 25 new and classic full-length features, including the US debut of Dustin Hoffman's first-time directorial effort, Quartet, which previously was screened last month at the London Film Festival, as well as Toronto International Film Festival.

Quartet touts an all-star British cast headed by Maggie Smith (Jean), Billy Connolly (Wilf), Tom Courtenay (Reggie) and Pauline Collins (Cissy), who all play retired opera singers living in a home for aged musicians.

Michael Gabon plays their pretentious, quick-tongued director. Connolly's womanizer steals the movie with his non-stop witty repartee. Reggie, who never quite recovered from his former wife Jean's infidelity years ago, is jolted (think Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca) when she suddenly arrives as the latest permanent guest of the facility. With her glory years way long gone, the standoffish Jean is on National Health and in need of a hip replacement.

Adapted from his stage play, Ronald Harwood's script allows the main characters to reminisce about past rivalries, love affairs and good times at what is essentially a music conservatory with a medical staff on hand. The hierarchy that existed when they were stars remains, even though aging is the great equalizer. Jean, who hadn't sung in years, needs coaxing from Reg, Wilf and Cissy to recreate their definitive recording of Verdi's Rigoletto at a benefit gala to financially save the old-age home from closing.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which also featured Smith in its all-star cast, earlier this year tackled similar geriatric territory but not as well as Quartet. Not surprisingly The Weinstein Company picked up Quartet for general US release this 28 December (4 January for UK), coinciding with the third series of Downton Abbey premiering on American PBS.

Why did Hoffman choose a British story for directing his first feature at 75? Apparently, the American actor can relate to the story given his age and is something of an Anglophile; he owns a house in the Kensington area of London, and he once was photographed with the cast of Coronation Street. Among his filmography as an actor is Straw Dogs (1971), set in Cornwall, England.

Besides the films, the Gold Coast festival also featured several special events, including a chat at NYIT's de Seversky Mansion in Old Westbury with Hollywood agent Budd Burton Moss, who promoted his new memoir, ...And I Only Got Ten Percent! Moss grew up in Tinseltown. His father was a film editor, and his uncle was the director Sam Zimbalest, in whose swimming pool young Budd would find himself amid the likes of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Rita Hayworth before he knew who they were.

Moss would later represent Hayworth, and Moss told of accompanying her in 1976 to London for a press junket. In mid-flight, the actress suddenly thought she was talking to Gary Cooper instead of her agent; she soon decked a flight attendant, who was trying to give the actress back her mink coat as the plane was making its descent to Heathrow. The mercurial Hayworth, who was later found to be suffering from Alzheimers, was convinced the stewardess was trying to steal her beloved coat.

Moss regaled the audience with other tales of other clients including Sidney Poitier, Cyd Charisse, Mia Farrow, Dyan Cannnon, Tom Bosley (during his Happy Days TV heyday).
In his book, Moss dedicates a humorous chapter to hanging with Richard Burton during the making of Bitter Victory in 1957 in the south of France. Among the WWII picture's cast was Moss's then-wife Ruth Roman. Burton, back in the news for his recently published diaries, befriended a bunch of strippers at a notorious nightclub and invited them down to be his new "leading ladies" in the film, whose producer was not amused; the burlesque dancers ended up being used in the background.

Also on hand at the NYIT event was Kiera Chaplin, granddaughter of London-born Charlie Chaplin, who explained how honoured she is carrying on the famous surname and show biz legacy as a model and actress. She is also a descendant of the Irish playwright Eugene O'Neill.

Kiera Chaplin, who was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in Switzerland before launching her modeling career in New York at 17, tells Huffington Post UK that in the 1930s Chaplin kept a house in nearby Great Neck to write.

The Gold Coast Film Festival plans to present in 2013-2014 a retrospective of all things Charlie Chaplin, commemorating the 100th anniversary of his venerable screen character The Little Tramp.