About our Summer 2023 Cover

 Michael Malvesti is on our cover because he has an enchanting story to tell that will bring a smile to your face and hope to your heart.   Michael has held on to a dream to become an actor ever since he saw GOOD WILL HUNTING in 1997. Many years later, just before giving up and thinking about finding that nine to five job, he auditioned at Carolyn Pickman Casting for a role in THE TOWN. He had given up, but a couple of weeks later he got a call to audition. Then he got a call back. Then he discovered he had been cast. 

Michael’s headshot

 Startled, Michael waited to be called to set. During this little process, Michael’s life would be changed forever. Read our wonderful story to find out just what happened and how it made a gargantuan difference in the life of Michael Malvesti. 

 All Michael wanted to do was be in one movie. So, he was happy. But the fire of being an actor was relit. Since then, he’s been in several movies: ORDINARY MAN, MOONRISE KINGDOM, THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET, HONEST THIEF, I CARE A LOT, WAKE UP LITTLE GIRL, FREE GUY, AND BOSTON STRANGLER. Plus, he has three films in Postproduction: THE HOLDOVER, UNTITLED CORD JEFFERSON FILM and MADAM WEB. 

 And TV has also been in his corner. He now, of course, he has the role of Benny in HBO MAX’s or maybe it’s just MAX’s Julia, and before, Dexter, City on a Hill, Castle Rock, and Broad Squad. 

 That’s quite an accomplishment and he has quite a story to tell. That’s why he is on the cover of IMAGINE. Be sure to read his story in this issue of IMAGINE. 

Michael gave us our cover photo. The cover design is by IMAGINE’s Design Editor, Monique Walton.

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About our Spring 2023 Cover

 Christy Cashman grew up the ninth of ten children, and her earliest memories involve riding bareback behind her sister on Shirley, their pony. “I was about three, and we’d go out in a group and ride on the trails and sometimes down the highway, but no saddles or anything. It’s like it’s in my blood. When you’re that little and smell how the horse smells and look into those big brown eyes, it’s a done deal. You’re hooked!” 

 While still a child, Christy dreamed of buying the dairy down the road and turning it into a horse farm. That didn’t happen. But Christy’s life has been full of horses, specifically field hunters, and she’s been riding ever since. So, it is no wonder she has spent an appreciable amount of time writing “The Truth About Horses.” It’s a subject she knows very well. A historic castle in Ireland is her home away from home. 

 Christy Cashman is no stranger to the film production community or to IMAGINE Magazine readers. She has been on the cover of IMAGINE twenty-six times, usually on our holiday issues. Christy has always been supportive of the Massachusetts film industry helping individual productions, film festivals and lending her talent to many films including one she wrote and produced herself. 

 She is an early recipient of an “Imaginnaire” Award presented for “Distinguished Service Advancing the Business of Film, TV, and New Media Production in New England.” 

 If all this sounds like a Hollywood screenplay, it’s a good fit: Christy has been an actor, writer, producer, TV host, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Most importantly, she has been an active member of our production community for over twenty years. 

 I would not be surprised if “The Truth About Horses” finds itself becoming a motion picture. Read my story about “The Truth About Horses,” and get the book. It’s a good read, just look at the blurbs and you will know. 

 Our cover photo is Christy’s choice, and our cover design is by IMAGINE’s art director and design editor, Monique Walton. 

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About Our Winter 2023 Cover

Bringing The Gilded Age to Rhode Island has been a decade-long effort of Steven Feinberg, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Film & TV Office. In IMAGINE’s first issue of 2023, you can read his story, which we have been following, but we had no idea where it might end.

Thankfully, it ended in Rhode Island, the best ending possible. And according to Steven, THE GILDED AGE is what he always wanted to portray about Rhode Island, its history, its culture, and its connection to the success of the industrial age of this nation, which made us great and capable of facing our world’s future.

Here’s part of what Julian Fellowes based his story on. 

(from an article in Tatler by Rebecca Cope.)

“Old Money vs New Money, Old World vs New World: the Gilded Age was a time of seismic change in New York society. The industrial revolution of the late 19th century led to an explosion in the middle classes, with the likes of railroad men and construction tycoons suddenly becoming extremely rich. As these so-called nouveau riche emerged into society, they inevitably found themselves confronted with the rancor and jealousy of the existing upper echelons, whose wealth could be traced back generations. Now, the merchant class were mixing with New York royalty, buying up the best houses, marrying their daughters to the most eligible bachelors, and sending their children to the finest schools.


This tension forms the basis of the central plot in Julian Fellowes’s drama, The Gilded Age, portraying these warring factions from the point of view of Marian Brook (played by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep’s daughter, Louisa Jacobson), a newcomer to the social scene whose guiding lights are her Old Money aunts, whose lives are at odds with her New Money friends.

Here, Tatler brings you a guide to the women who inspired these characters, from the warring Queen Bees who kept trying to out-do each other with their 5th Avenue mansions moving further and further uptown, to the most glamorous debutantes and dollar princesses.

The cover photo (courtesy of HBO MAX) shows an important party scene in Newport, Rhode Island. And, not everyone who wanted to go was invited.

Our cover design is by IMAGINE Art Editor Monique Walton.

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IMAGINE Recommends: “Love Letters From The Front”

A live musical presentation from Robert DiCicco

Here’s a great live entertainment opportunity. If you, your organization, or someone you know is looking for live entertainment you’ll want to know about “Love Letters from the Front”.

The show was conceived back in 2017 when Massachusetts actor and musician/singer Robert DiCicco was approached by John O’Neil, who books musical acts for the Napoleon Room at the Club Café. “He offered me a few dates, and I decided on November 11th. I wrote it as a tribute to the veterans of World War II (1940 – 1945), which was my motivation, obviously. Suffice it to say they moved it to the larger room, and it was sold out,” DiCicco told IMAGINE.

Recently, Bob DiCicco and Wendee Glick have been performing tunes that were made famous by the likes of Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and the big bands of the era, using high-quality custom tracks from a Bose LI Pro Sound System. They have been performing “Love Letters” mainly at Assisted and Independent Living facilities. The show is filled with mega-nostalgia and the story is the reading of the actual letters from our servicemen and women to their loved ones

Admission is free at assisted living centers (since the shows are paid for by the host facility). There is also a multi-media portion of the show.

Audience responses have been phenomenal. “In truth, everyone who sees it, always shows a great deal of gratitude and tell us how much it means to them.” Robert DiCicco says, “My goal is to present this to Colleges, Universities and any other venues that would appreciate this presentation and ultimately, I hope to perform the show at USO stages and military bases.”

The cost of hosting “Love Letters from the Front” is between $300 and $500.

To book a show, Robert DiCicco may be reached at rdicicco7@gmail.com.

At this writing, the next scheduled performances are:

Thurs. 11/10 Billerica Public Library, 15 Concord Rd., Billerica, MA

Start time: 2:00pm

Fri., 11/11 (Veterans Day) Evans Park at Newton Corner, 430 Centre St., Newton, MA.

Start time: 1:30pm

Fox Hill Village, 10 Longwood Dr., Westwood, MA.

Start time: 4:00pm

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About Our September Cover

 Khara Campbell won the Grand Prize for Screenplay at the Rhode Island International Film Festival for SEAHORSE. I got to meet her at the RIIFF Film Forum sponsored by the Rhode Island Film Festival and hosted by its Executive Director Steven Feinberg. 

 I knew our readers would want to know about her, so I arranged for that to happen. You’ll find her unique, verbose, and captivating. The article basically contains her answers to almost every question I asked her. I could not have written it better. 

Our September 2022 Cover featuring Khara Campbell

 She will tell us how she wrote the book first and then adapted the screenplay. “With passion, heart and powerful storytelling, Khara Campbell gives us our next great Boston story of love, life, and inspiration. Campbell’s knack for seamlessly mixing pop culture, modern romance and big picture life perspective is refreshing and heartwarming,” according to Dave Wedge, New York Times bestselling author. 

 She has returned to Boston after being in LA for seventeen years. She learned the business while she was there from top to bottom. But something happened and she felt a need to return to Massachusetts. She named her newly formed production company Mass Exodus honoring that special something that brought her home. 

 Read how she readies, along with her producing partner, her SEAHORSE screenplay into production in the manner she would like it to grace the silver screen. Yes, she sees it as a full theatrical release. 

Her mantra is: GO BIG OR GO HOME!

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MICK CUSIMANO REMEMBERED, Farewell to the Professor of Surrealism

By Hartley Pleshaw

Mick Cusimano

Michael “Mick” Cusimano, a native of Buffalo, New York, and a longtime resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, died on July 23rd, 2022, after a long battle with brain cancer. He was seventy-one years old.

He is survived by two loving families: his eight siblings and many nieces and nephews, and the people who collaborated with him on his film, theatre, music, and visual art projects in the Cambridge-Boston area. (The latter family includes this magazine; Mick was the staff cartoonist for IMAGINE.)

Here now are remembrances of Mick, from five of the many people who were privileged to have known him.


Mick Cusimano was as wonderful a human being as I ever have been privileged to have known. Every second spent with Mick was fun. Every project with him was a joy. I was so very blessed to have had him as a friend.

I first got to know Mick through IMAGINE, where I was a writer, and he was the cartoonist.

Thus began my entry into Mick Cusimano’s Wonderful World of Surrealism. From his tiny, cramped apartment in (non-Harvard, although he worked there) Cambridge, and occasionally using the facilities of Cambridge Community Television, Mick created a delightful alternative world that mixed animated characters with live-action humans. (I had the supreme honor of being asked to be among the latter.) 

Mick was every bit the creative animation auteur that his somewhat better-known predecessors in Anaheim and Burbank were his rooster, who appeared in every one of his productions, was to him what a certain mouse (with a name similar to his) and a certain bunny were to his fellow movie cartoonists in Southern California.

But Mick’s real obsession was ancient Egypt. Pharaohs and pyramids constantly graced his visual imagery and his story lines. Disney could keep its Princesses; Mick’s ideas of royalty were King Tut and Cleopatra. 

There were also his mermaids, his gorillas and his bad-guy philistine, Phil I. Stine. If you knew Mick, you got to know and love them all.

But Mick didn’t stop there. He created live shows that would combine music (written by him), animation and theatre. One of his songs was titled ‘Stuck in the Sixties.’ And so he was, but in a good way. Remember ‘happenings,’ such as Andy Warhol’s ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable’? Mick made them happen all over again. His way.

How I remember, and will forever miss, those Sunday afternoons in Cambridge when, camera in hand, Mick would hand us scripts, tell us what to do and, in so doing, add to his legend. A Mick shoot was like a party you never wanted to end.

If this was a better, saner and funnier world, Mick would have been given his own movie studio, TV network and wheelbarrows full of Oscars and Emmys. He would have to be content, like so many other great American artists, with being far better appreciated in other countries than he was in his own. Film festivals all over the world gave him innumerable awards. (To be fair, so did many in the Boston area.) But Hollywood never called. Too bad. It was their loss—and ours. 

As for me, being a member of his entourage was a great award in and of itself. There were many others so privileged; my apologies for not being able to name them all. But I must acknowledge at least two. 

One was his late dear friend Dawn Reger. It really broke Mick’s heart when she left us. Mine, too. Dawn was wonderful to know and work with. 

Mick & Gosia Krzyszkowiak

The other was his biggest star, Gosia Krzyszkowiak. Gosia was to Mick what Marlene Dietrich was to Josef von Sternberg, Sophia Loren was to Vittorio De Sica and Penelope Cruz is to Pedro Almodovar: his beyond-beautiful muse and inspiration. (Mick cast Gosia as Cleopatra in one of his films. No greater tribute from the Egypt-obsessed Mr. Cusimano could be imagined.)

So long, Mick. Give my love to Dawn. As you two look down on those of us who had the boundless joy of knowing you, please remember, in the words of the wonderful film you made together: DON’T SPILL THE EGGS on us! 

Hartley Pleshaw is a radio show host, television producer and writer. He has written for IMAGINE since 2007. 



Today we lost the patriarch of our family, my big brother Mike, after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

He spread so much joy wherever he went, and touched the lives of hundreds of people, at Harvard, and all over Boston. 

He never complained about anything, and instead made the most of the years he had. He always looked to the bright side of life, which he loved to the fullest.

I will miss you forever, my big brother. I love you very much.

Nick Cusimano is the Showroom Manager at Raymour & Flanagan Furniture in Clay, New York. He lives in Liverpool, New York


Our New England arts scene has lost its “Professor of Surrealism,” Mick Cusimano, after he battled with brain cancer for several years. 

Originally, he was given a week to live, but he “forgot to die, and won a film award instead.” 

He lived through the Hippie and Beat Generations, and squawked about it, whether reciting his outlaw poetry at his own Squawk Coffeehouse or on tour, or in his writing, cartooning and quirky indie films that mixed live action and animation. 

Always a champion of the arts, he was never one to sit on flights of fancy. He ultimately landed in countless international film festivals (including Cannes’s short film corner), winning awards throughout his surreal journey.

He said, “The greatest lie in America is ‘You can’t do something if you’ve never done it before.’” He hammered home the importance of childlike excitement for making things, and made me feel like a peer, even though he was old enough to be my dad. It was important to see an adult being so prolific and imaginative, letting us know that it could be done. 

Mick’s vision did not waver over outside opinion, and he wasn’t much concerned with money or fame. Ironically, that is what made him so widely celebrated. He was a genuinely nice guy who consistently did it for the joy.

However, he took his art seriously, and was tenacious in bringing it to its logical conclusion: a gallery, a comic strip, a zine, an open mike, film festivals and, later, in music for the people. 

Mick’s Everyman quality is what made him most legendary. At age thirty he bumped into Vincent Price; later, he met Tracy Chapman and Hunter Thompson. He made his first movie at age fifty. He didn’t doubt himself when he stepped toward his next art venture, and he encouraged you to do the same. 
Ten years ago, Lawrence Hollie and I met Mick after seeing his art on the TV station where we worked. He befriended us. We acted in and screened films like DON’T SPILL THE EGGS. Mick gave misfits a chance to experiment. He told his story on 82 and 108 of my ExperimentallyILL podcast.

All hail the true underground surrealist! Mick’s vibrant enthusiasm for creating and bringing us together was boundless! His zest for art was matched only by his zest for life, even in the face of sickness. 

Michael O’Toole is a filmmaker and podcaster in the Boston area.


My dear friend Mick Cusimano died peacefully yesterday morning after living with brain cancer for four and a half years.

After his operation in February 2018, the surgeons gave him weeks, and maybe a few months (to live). He got back to his routine of making live film animations, graphic art, performing poetry, jogging, biking, helping to run the open mic at Squawk Coffeehouse and midnight dinners at the Cambridge Common with friends.

At some point, I said, “Hey, Mick, what gives?” He said, “The cancer only got my real brain, not my surreal brain.” Mick, a true bohemian and known affectionately as the “Professor of Surrealism,” did not live in his real brain. The doctors kept giving him deadlines. Instead, Mick made deadlines, turned in films and collected nominations and awards: Cyprus, Paris, Toronto, Rome, Boston, etc. The doctors were confounded. The cancer, befuddled, called Time Out. More festivals, awards, ten-mile bike rides, midnight dinners, vacations—lobster & cigars on Martha’s Vineyard—another coin in his bucket. 

I knew Mick for thirty-two years, walking into Naked City Coffeehouse on his birthday, September 20th, 1990. He was kind, humble and perhaps the most disciplined artist I knew. He didn’t wait for inspiration; he worked every day. And his muses rewarded him.

Visit his (Facebook) page and take in all the joyful, heartfelt tributes. We need them in times like this.

Bon Voyage, Mick!

Richard Cambridge is a writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 


A Star went to Heaven last week.

I remember Mick Cusimano, my friend, filmmaker/cartoonist/poet in Boston, who had a zest for life and art. 

Mick brought people together for improv style, imaginative, whimsical short indie films which formed lasting friendships. 

After a three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, he was given a week to live and “forgot to die and won a film award instead.” 

We met by crossing paths in Harvard Square, Cambridge, after he recognized me form Boston social events. I helped him with films, including a mermaid movie. Gathering to film (with him) was fun on Plum Island Beach, Chinatown, subway stations, the Aquarium, Harvard Square and elsewhere. 

All who knew him know how relentless and positive he was! He spoke of his experiences as a beatnik poet, working at Harvard University and attending events around the globe from the Coney Island Mermaid Festival to Paris and Cannes, France. 

Overall, he was a nice guy with a heart of gold. 

Rest in Peace, Professor of Surrealism.

Karen Ostromecki is an Interior Designer/kitchen designer and actress. She lives in Rochester, New York.

A Celebration of Mick Cusimano’s life will take place in the Boston/Cambridge area in September 2022.

Hartley Pleshaw can be reached via email at hartleypleshaw@gmail.com.

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Small Island, BIG World of Film

By Brenda Horrigan

The Annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival Celebrates its 17th year September 6th – 11th 2022

Welcome back to the cinematic celebration that is the Annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival! This is our seventeenth year. Wow—how’d that happen? It is because of you, film lovers!

We are ecstatic to be back with you again, with this full five days of top films from around our planet. Plus, parties, special guests, and more! From September 6–11 you’ll be treated to an array of narrative and documentary films, animation, and shorts. Something for everyone! These films demonstrate the wonders of film, the range of its ability to make us laugh and cry, to make us think deeply as we take in these works’ bold imagery, creative storylines, and unique characters. Sit back, let cinema wrap you in its warm magic. 

For seventeen years, the Annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival has served as a culminating highlight of this Island’s culture-packed summer season. Each September we gather the best new films from around the globe, aiming to provide a path to bridge cultural differences and allow an exploration of universal human experiences.

The Film Center in Vineyard Haven, home of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival
Tented Opening Night Party of a past Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival.

The fun kicks off Tuesday afternoon, September 6, with A FILM ABOUT COUPLES (Dominican Republic) a dramatic comedy about a pair of film makers tangling with their marital problems while trying to make a movie about love. In the evening, shoe lovers and anyone who adores a great immigrant success story, will relish the chance to see the Italian documentary SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS, about the legendary Salvatore Ferragamo. 

From Spain comes OFFICIAL COMPETITION in which a billionaire businessman in search of fame and social prestige decides to make a unique, groundbreaking film. To achieve this goal, he hires the best of the best: A stellar team consisting of famous filmmaker Lola Cuevas and two well-known actors who boast not only an enormous talent, but also an even bigger ego: Hollywood star Félix Rivero and aging theater thespian Iván Torres. They’re both legends, but not exactly the best of friends. Through a series of increasingly hilarious tests set by Lola, Félix and Iván must confront not only each other, but also their own legacies.

This is the closing night film followed by The Closing Night Party!

On Wednesday, September 6, you can HIT THE ROAD with a new Iranian film that transforms the road-trip genre into something raw and moving. That evening do not miss PINK MOON, the Tribeca award-winner from the Netherlands.

When a young woman receives the absurd news from her father that he’s had enough of life and wants it to come to an end, she is forced to search for a way to deal with his last wish. It’s the Tribeca Award winner from the Netherlands screening Wednesday night.

Thursday, it’s the official opening party! Enjoy drinks and appetizers from the renowned Goldies. Immediately following, you can stroll over to the Film Center for the movie BROKER, the new film from Korea featuring Song Kang-ho, last seen in the Oscar-winning “Parasite.”

Scene from THE BROKER

BROKER from Korea will screen Thursday, September 8th at 7:30 pm. Directed by Japan’s Kore-eda Hirokazu, the Korean-language BROKER scored a best actor prize at Cannes for male lead with PARASITE star Song Kang-ho. Playing like a scrappy road movie, more than a crime story, the film tells the tale of two chancers who are trying to arrange an adoptive home for an unwanted infant, the child’s mother who tags along, and two women police officers on their trail.

On Friday, September 9, you can choose from a film smorgasbord. First there’s WAITING FOR BOJANGLES, a French romantic dramatic, followed by the thrilling Guggenheim Foundation fellow Signe Baumane, here to show her animated feature MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE, which infuses music and science into a personal love story. Then it’s our annual INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILMS JURIED COMPETITION. Come see the 10 finalists and learn who our expert jury selected as the best overall.

Saturday, September 10, starts strong with UTAMA, the moving tale of an elderly couple up against the Bolivian environment, a film that racked up awards including a grand jury prize at Sundance. And then Saturday afternoon—whoa-ho!—it’s the return of the “king of indie animation” with BILL PLYMPTON’S WORLD OF ANIMATED SHORTS. Don’t miss this special event with Oscar nominee Bill Plympton who’s been amusing (and startling) Vineyard audiences and the world for years. Saturday night don’t miss Italy’s THE GOOD BOSS, winner already of 30 awards, including “Best Actor” for Javier Bardem, playing the lead. 

Sunday, September 11, there’s another strong line-up, starting with DOS ESTACIONES, a drama about an iron-willed woman determined to save her family’s famed tequila factory. Hop to the other side of the globe with the Israeli tale KARAOKE, and witness a middle-class couple being shaken back to life by the arrival of an exotic new neighbor. (We thank the Consulate General of Israel to New England for co-sponsoring this terrific film that’s gathered multiple major award nominations.)

Our closing night film is OFFICIAL COMPETITION, a comedy about a billionaire in search of creative fame who hires a top filmmaker and two big talents (and even bigger egos). Starring the incomparable Penelope Crus and Antonio Banderas. “Deliciously silly and wildly entertaining,” this film is the perfect way to close out our five days of fabulous film. Or is it? Because you absolutely should not miss our closing night party at FISH MV, on Vineyard Haven’s Main Street.

Welcome to our small island. And to the big world of film. All packed into five very special days.

“We’re so glad you’ll be here to enjoy them with us,”

says Festival Director/Founder Richard Paradise (with great gusto!)
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CODA Event Brings Academy Award®-Winners to The Cabot

By Carl Hansen for IMAGINE News

The Cabot Cinema in Beverly that shows CODA playing there
The Cabot Cinema in Beverly that shows CODA playing there

I had the pleasure of being in Massachusetts when the Oscar-winning film, CODA, was screening at The Cabot event space in Beverly. (In fact, the ticket to the event was a gift from my mom, so I have to thank Terri Hansen for the opportunity to go.) I have been a fan of the movie since it came out last year and followed its progression as it made its way through awards season, gathering multiple wins until ultimately winning Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. The movie is about a deaf fishing family in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and their hearing daughter (CODA stands for “Child Of Deaf Adult”) who is their sole interpreter to the hearing world and who loves singing. The event was a fundraiser for Manship Artist Residency which consisted of a pre-screening cocktail reception with locally catered food, a screening of the film, and an in-person Q & A with the film’s director and Oscar-winning screenwriter, Siân Heder, Best Supporting Actor winner, Troy Kotsur (Frank Rossi in the film), and actor Daniel Durant (Leo Rossi), moderated by local Oscar-nominated producer (for Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE) Sarah Green.

[This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity – Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant spoke through ASL interpreters]

Director and Oscar-winning screenwriter, Sîan Heder
Director and Oscar-winning screenwriter, Sîan Heder

Siân Heder

I grew up in Cambridge and I came up to Gloucester every summer of my life, basically. So, Gloucester was just a really special place for me. I loved the feel of the town. I loved that it felt gritty, and it also was this sort of incredibly visual, cinematic place, but that the vibe of the people here was very working class and real and funny. I wanted this to be a fishing family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. I wanted to cast deaf actors in these roles. I wanted these long silent ASL scenes. I didn’t want Ruby talking through every scene. I didn’t want to use music to fill out these spaces. We made the movie on a budget and the ride has been absolutely amazing because it was a very scrappy movie, but we really became a family making it. So, it’s sort of extra special to have watched it kind of sneak its way through Hollywood and the ascent that it had because we fought so hard for it.

The former Briscoe Middle School in Beverly that was the location used for Gloucester High School
The former Briscoe Middle School in Beverly that was the location used for Gloucester High School

Sarah Green

Have you ever worked in another language [American Sign Language (ASL)]? Is this a first for you?

Siân Heder

I’ve never directed so much in a language that was not mine. I will say something else about making it personal. Not only did the place feel very personal to me, but I felt like I needed this family to feel like my family. So, they were out-of-line and dirty and having inappropriate humor and all the things that my family had. I felt like there were a lot of things that I pulled from my own life, and it made the movie very personal. So even though this family was different from me, and I was an outsider to deaf culture, I had sort of imbued Frank and Leo and Jackie, and Ruby with these very kind of personal memories. I started learning sign when I started writing the movie. I felt like the more I learned about deaf culture, the more important it became for me for certain aspects of the film. I really wanted ASL to be seen on screen because it’s the most beautiful language. I think a lot of the time, when you see even deaf characters on screen, their hands are cut off. It’s like a close up and you don’t even get to see the full language. So, it was really important to me to not only cast incredible actors but find a way to work with my cinematographer to shoot it in a way that we could really put ASL on screen.

Sarah Green

Troy, talk a little bit about your character of Frank and what drew you to him, what you brought to him.

Carl Hansen and Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor, Troy Kotsur
Carl Hansen and Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor, Troy Kotsur

Troy Kotsur

When I first read the script, it was so fun for me because I had never played that type of character because I’m from Arizona. We don’t have an ocean. I’m from the desert. I’m not a fisherman myself and I don’t actually eat seafood. I’ve never eaten seafood, it’s just not my thing. But as an actor, it was so fun for me to play and transform and dive into this character of Frank Rossi and to convince the audience to believe in my work as a fisherman. When I read the script, it really touched me because I felt very strongly that hearing people all over the world really need to see this movie. I was born deaf, and I’ve seen so many hearing people out there who don’t completely understand what deafness is. They look at us like lesser than, or someone to have sympathy for, a victim, and I don’t feel like that. I’m fine and I can prove them wrong. 

And CODAs, the children of deaf adults, really represent both cultures, hearing culture and deaf culture because they can communicate verbally. So, a hearing audience can connect with a CODA character and this CODA character can communicate in sign language, so the deaf community can relate. The CODA was able to pull in that hearing audience into our culture, and that makes all of you change your perspective and think, “Hey, we’re just the same. Deaf people and hearing people have the same way of thinking. It doesn’t matter what race you are or what language you use. We’re all human beings.” So really the only difference between us and you is language.

Daniel Durant (Leo Rossi), Siân Heder, Troy Kotsur (Frank Rossi)

Daniel Durant (Leo Rossi), Siân Heder, Troy Kotsur (Frank Rossi)

Sarah Green

Daniel, I was reading that you are also very into music and music is a big part of your world. I was thinking about the scene in this movie where Frank touches Ruby’s throat to feel the vibrations of her singing. I just feel like everyone’s experience of music is so singular and I’d love to hear about yours.

Daniel Durant

Okay. Well, really, I want to make it clear for everyone. There are so many different types of deaf people. Some people can hear well, some people can’t hear things clearly, some people can hear certain frequencies, but I was born completely deaf. I’m fully deaf, capital D Deaf. I think that’s why you asked me that question. So how I learned about music, is growing up I was driving with my mom in the car. One day she bought a system and she put a good sound system in the car. So, she went into the store without me, and I turned up the sound system and I was enjoying the music in the car, but I realized that I was listening to NPR. So, once I found that out, I understood the differences between the vibrations of talking and music and all those things, the beat with a song. So that’s one of my favorite scenes and one of my stories in CODA, when Frank shows up to the school to pick up Ruby and he’s banging music, he’s just feeling the bass, having a good time, feeling his music in his truck. He shows up to his hearing daughter’s school and she’s embarrassed. It’s like, “That’s how I feel.” I pulled up, doing that stuff to my mom all the time. And I love music and I love bass, but really, I just love feeling the music.

The post-screening Q&A with Siân Heder, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and moderator, producer Sarah Green
The post-screening Q&A with Siân Heder, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and moderator, producer Sarah Green (not pictured) along with their ASL interpreters

Sarah Green

Daniel, you were part of a theater company in Norway for a while, right? You performed in various countries in Europe. Did you already know Norwegian and French sign language or, or how different is it?

Daniel Durant

Yeah, actually it was a great experience, going to Norway for seven months to work in a play. After seven months of learning a different language, I was fascinated with their culture because you know ASL is not universal. A lot of people think that, but no, every country has their own ASL.

Troy Kotsur

There’s over 300 different types of sign languages worldwide.

Daniel Durant

Yeah, our ASL was born from French sign language. Someone went to France and learned sign language and brought it back to America and made that American Sign Language. 

Troy Kotsur

One example that most of you may know regarding sign language, in Japan, do you want to know the sign for brother? (he holds up his middle finger) This is the sign for brother in Japan. It’s true. That’s their sign. See what I mean. Sorry, I forgot, your kids are here, Siân.

Siân Heder

Even my eight-year-old daughter tells everyone, “You should see my mom’s movie CODA, but it’s very inappropriate.”

Troy Kotsur

But it’s still educational.

Sarah Green

I love it. Well, one of the things I really loved in this film was the chemistry between the family. It’s really beautiful and it comes through so strongly. For any one of you, I’d love to hear you talk about how that came about. How much time you spent together beforehand, how you developed so closely.

Daniel Durant

All right. Well, really, I already knew Troy and Marlee before we started filming. So, the three of us already had chemistry. We already had deaf culture inside of us, and we connected and understood through that. But when it was Troy’s first-time meeting Emilia (who plays Ruby in the film), we all had to get up at 2:00 AM and we had to go practice being fisherman on a boat. So that was the first time we met Emilia, and she was so open minded and friendly, and she learned from us. I think she practiced for one-year ASL, right, Troy?

Troy Kotsur

Yes. About a year.

Daniel Durant

Yeah. So, one year, so she knew what she was doing, and she talked with us a little bit and she could finger spell. I would teach her how to finger spell. She would finger spell something to me and I would teach her the sign and she remembered everything. We had so much fun, the three of us, learning how to fish and sign at the same time. Again, she was so open minded. She kept it all. And remember the weekends?

Troy Kotsur

t felt like we had that bond, and on weekends during that time, it was football season. We would all argue about sports, but Emilia Jones was watching us, and she joined in on all of us joking around and kidding with each other, but that really benefited her during the weekend. We weren’t working, but it was like family time, sharing your meal, watching sports. I told the interpreters to just back off. Interpreters, go on a break and forced Emilia to have that experience with the deaf family. That really helped her grow and we brought that onto set. So, after the second week, again, we socialized on the weekend and really that bond grew even stronger, and so did that chemistry and you see that on screen.

Daniel Durant

You remember the last day of filming? When we had such emotional scene and I felt like, “How am I going to disconnect from you guys? How am I going to disconnect from my family?” So, you guys see us on screen, and we look like a family, but really, we’re a family behind the scenes. It was very emotional to let go of these guys. I want to thank you, Sian, for believing in us. 

Siân Heder

I think the boat was huge for creating this kind of bonding because as a director, your fear is you cast these people and I remember putting their pictures up on the wall of my office and being like, “Okay, they look like a family. How are they going to be a family?” So, we had a live rehearsal scheduled because I really wanted to spend time together, and we did it in the house. So, we had this crazy house out on Conomo Point and we had access to it. So, we spent a lot of time in the house, just kind of working the scenes and figuring them out.

Moderator, Sarah Green, Daniel Durant, Siân Heder, and Troy Kotsur
Moderator, Sarah Green, Daniel Durant, Siân Heder, and Troy Kotsur

But the boat was really the thing because none of these guys knew how to fish. Originally, I had fishing doubles that I had planned. We were going to come in with stunt doubles and fish, and Troy and Daniel and Emilia were so determined to learn it. They were like, “No, we want to know how to run this boat.” So, we never used the fishing doubles. And when we went out, we shot it almost like a documentary, we’d been out so much that these guys knew what they were doing. We could have operators on the camera, operators on the boat. These guys could run the boat. I mean, pull in the nets and pull up the doors and do all the stuff. It was really amazing to watch, and the chemistry that formed in this family was so special. When you start to see it happening on screen, it’s that thing that’s just this ephemeral thing that you can never make happen if there’s no chemistry. It started to happen with his family, and it was so exciting to watch because it felt real. It felt like we were a fly on the wall in this real family.

PUB: Truly this was the little film that could. My thanks to Carl Hansen who really gets it. He had been an advocate for treating disabilities in film in a way that encourages all people to view disabilities as normal, a great contribution to understanding our best selves. Often those with disabilities give us information by example that we may not otherwise take in. Carl’s films have won countless awards in this special category. Carl has been an IMAGINE reporter at large for over twenty years. And if my memory serves me correctly, Carl was a PA (production assistant) on the film of STATE AND MAIN (2000), which Sarah Greene (the moderator of this event) was the Producer! Isn’t that a fun fact?

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