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Movie Review: Cranford Native Premiers His 'Captivating' Second Film at Local Theater

Ken Castellano's independent film, 'Return to Start,' was filmed at locations in Cranford and other neighboring towns.

On Jan. 5, Cranford native Ken Castellano premiered his independent film "Return to Start" at the Rialto Theatre in downtown Westfield. "Return to Start" is Castellano’s second feature after "Close to Midnight," an Official Selection at New Filmmakers Film Series in New York City, which premiered in 2008.

Matt Cheplic, an actor in the film, as well as a friend of the director, welcomed and thanked the audience for their support via the words of Joachim Castellano, Ken’s younger brother. The primary producer, Joachim was unable to attend the event as he lives in Tokyo, from where did most of his producing.

“I've worked on my brother's movies (anytime he wouldn't kick me off the set) since childhood- from Kung-Fu skits to Godzilla stomping in our backyard,” said Joachim. “The toughest thing about this project was the Pacific Ocean. Even though I could manage certain elements via the Internet, often times I wish I could physically be there to help charge batteries and put equipment away.”

Not only did Joachim want to thank everyone for attending to witness "a real and honest story," he also wanted to celebrate the generosity and diversity of the local community. The entire film was shot in the summer of 2010 in Cranford, Westfield, Fanwood and Roselle, with the help of many local businesses. The Guillotine Salon and Spa in Westfield, Rockn’ Joe Coffeehouse and Bistro in Cranford, and Frenchy’s Bar in Roselle Park were just a few of the participating locations.

"Return to Start" is the story of a children’s entertainer from Arizona named Vera, played by Vi Flaten, who drives to New Jersey in order to fulfill a dream of her father’s, to see the Patterson Waterfalls. Taking a respite from the life she left behind, Vera hopes to connect with her family heritage and to reassess the meaning of her life.

One day when cashing a check at a local NJ bank, she meets Anthony, a bank manager and aspiring writer played by Michael Anthony Bianco, and the two experience an instant spark. Through coincidence, as well as manipulated circumstances, Vera and Anthony begin to form a relationship. Stuck at similar crossroads, the two find solace and a second chance in each other’s company. The only issue is Anthony’s girlfriend of five years for whom he moved to NJ. Although Anthony is instantly intrigued by Vera and has been growing restless in his current relationship, he is torn between comfort and the unknown. As for who Anthony chooses? The director intimates that we might just have to wait for the sequel to discover the answer.

According to Ken, the primary inspiration for "Return to Start" came from listening to the conversations of others. “I spent a lot of time in salons,” he said with a laugh. “I’m pretty quiet but I listen, so I spent a lot of time just listening to people.”

Through those experiences and lines shared among friends and strangers, Ken conceived the concept of a crossroads. “You reach a point in relationships when you question is this going anywhere,” said Ken who describes the concept of fleeting love and searching for some meaning in life.

After creating the foundation, Ken chose from 1,200 casting submissions in the New York City and New Jersey area. He eventually narrowed the cast down to 12 actors, including Bianco from his first film, "Close to Midnight." The cast also consisted of multiple extras, including numerous children.

Cheplic recalled several exercises that Ken used to create a realistic and organic feel for the film. Ken urged the actors to use color as a technique for portraying the emotions and feelings of their characters. Vera in particular, used color to personify her idealist, fairytale nature. Anthony on the other hand, tended to wear darker and muted colors which reflected his outlook. Ken also granted his actors the right to play with the script and improvise the lines to fit their characters.

The original script suggested a 90-minute film but was eventually edited down to one hour.

“The story really started to develop when we began cutting film,” said Ken. He also revealed that a few of his favorite lines didn’t make the final cut.

Although several of Ken’s favorites were absent from the final script, I can’t imagine any lines more appropriate for the film than what I witnessed. It was clear that all of the characters, Vera and Anthony in particular, successfully followed Ken’s suggestions for embracing their characters. The script was both believable and captivating at the same time, allowing the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters.

Also impressive was the fact that "Return To Start" was shot in high definition using a Canon 5D, a camera primarily used for photography. Ken, with the help of his crew, did a fantastic job seamlessly connecting and transitioning scenes.

If you missed the Jan. 5 premiere or if you'd like to watch it again, "Return To Start" will also play at the Rialto on Dec. 12 at 10 am. Check out the website to learn more details: http://www.returntostart.com/. Information about Castellano's first film, "Close to Midnight," can be found online as well, at www.closetomidnight.com. The director's first film was based on the director's personal experiences following the unexpected death of his fiance, Kelly. The couple went through grammar school and high school together in Roselle. Kelly, a teacher in Cranford, passed away unexpectedly several years ago. The dark, emotional film depict's Ken's struggle to come to terms with her death and his efforts to move forward.

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