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Film at Sarasota festival features Pinellas family, locations

Robert Malizia, front, 58, and his children, from left, Joel Malizia, 33; Julie Malizia, 35; and Justin Malizia, 29, make their big-screen debuts in Joel and Julie.


Robert Malizia, front, 58, and his children, from left, Joel Malizia, 33; Julie Malizia, 35; and Justin Malizia, 29, make their big-screen debuts in Joel and Julie.

CLEARWATER — Kelly Malizia never aspired to be in films.

Neither did Joel, her husband.

Or Justin, her brother-in-law.

Or Robert, her father-in-law.

But this afternoon and Sunday, they'll make their big-screen debuts at the Sarasota Film Festival, which will bring A-list celebrities such as Academy Award winner Kevin Kline and Stanley Tucci to the area.

"It's beyond our wildest dreams," said Joel Malizia, who lives in Clearwater and works as a carpenter at Home Shopping Network.

"I never expected anything like this to happen in my life," said Kelly Malizia, a librarian at the West St. Petersburg Community Library at St. Petersburg College. "It is just a great example of how life can offer the most unexpected delights."

• • •

The family — a clan of "very accepting and non-judgmental Italians," according to Robert Malizia, the patriarch — stars in Joel and Julie, Andrew and Angela Rose Sarno's first feature film.

Angela Rose Sarno's father and Robert Malizia are first cousins.

Andrew Sarno, 40, first met his wife's extended family at Joel and Kelly Malizia's wedding in May 2004.

"He pretty much announced that night that he wanted to make the movie with my family," Angela Rose Sarno, 37, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where the couple lives.

"It started with Joel," Andrew Sarno said. "He's very charismatic, very generous, very open. I think in the midst of all of that, I did sense something unspoken in his personality and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I think every story needs to begin with that initial something you can't put your finger on. It was the more obscure qualities that made me feel there was more to know."

He got swept up in the family's stories, particularly the one about Robert Malizia, 58, of St. Petersburg.

After more than half a century of living as a straight man, he revealed to his family in 2003 that he is gay.

"That family event had an effect on (the) siblings," Andrew Sarno said. "Rather than sit down and (press) them for the answers, I said, 'What if this was a movie where their dad revealed he was gay? What would that be like? What am I going to see?' "

The 59-minute film explores, among other things, the different coping mechanisms of Joel Malizia and his sister, Julie Malizia, of St. Petersburg.

"I just stared at him for probably 10 minutes and I didn't know what to say," Joel, 33, said. "My sister burst into tears. It's one of those situations where you look back and wish (you) would have responded differently, but the movie captures it kind of close to the way it really did happen and now it's documented forever."

While that scene is based on a real-life experience, the overall story is fictional, Angela Rose Sarno said.

"I've been describing it," she said, "as loosely fictionalized versions of themselves."

• • •

Andrew Sarno shot the film in December 2006.

Filming lasted nine days, but Sarno didn't get around to editing the project until last summer.

"Mainly due to the way we shot the film, which was a very loose documentary style," Andrew Sarno said. "You don't have a lot of plans beforehand. You're using the footage itself to find the story."

"For a more traditional movie," his wife said, "they would storyboard. They know the editing process before they even shoot. We allowed room for the movie to organically unfold before the camera."

The movie cost less than $5,000 to make. They used cast members' homes and other area establishments.

Locals may recognize the Memorial Causeway Bridge in Clearwater, the Chattaway burger joint in St. Petersburg or the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa in Belleair.

They might notice the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store on Cleveland Street or the former Junction coffee lounge and nightclub on Franklin Street in Clearwater.

Andrew Sarno said the experience of shooting in Clearwater and St. Petersburg was refreshing.

"In Los Angeles, things are very uptight, jaded," he said. "Talk is cheap in L.A., but in Florida, it actually means something.

"These are people whose first response wasn't, 'Oh, what's in it for me?' It was, 'Oh cool! A movie!' On our level of filmmaking, that level of cooperation is essential to getting your film made."

• • •

They've all imagined the moment when the lights dim inside the theater and Joel and Julie projects onto the big screen.

"Nerve-racking," said Julie Malizia, 35, head of training for a credit card company.

"I had trouble seeing myself on the big screen," said Justin Malizia, 29, who works at Raymond James Financial.

"Makes me close my eyes," said their father, Robert, a retired Pinellas County teacher. "Not sure if it is vanity or simply embarrassment."

Andrew Sarno, who wrote and directed the film in addition to producing it, said he feels relieved to finally share what he has talked about for years.

"I imagine people laughing, laughing with them and saying goodbye to the film," he said. "I imagine this as a coming out party for the film and letting it have its own life. To me, that's joyous."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at or (727) 445-4167.

. If you go

12th Annual Sarasota Film Festival

Joel and Julie will debut at 1:45 p.m. today and be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Regal Cinemas Hollywood 20 Theater, 1993 Main St., Sarasota. Tickets are $10. For more information, go to www.sarasota

Film at Sarasota festival features Pinellas family, locations 04/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2010 7:56pm]
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