NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane
NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane

Martha Shane’s Narrowsburg, a darkly comic story of a mystery couple with Hollywood dreams who turns a tiny upstate town upside down will have its New York Premiere at 2019 DOC NYC. The film is set to screen on November 10.

Narrowsburg tells the stranger-than-fiction story of a French film producer and her mafioso-turned-actor husband who move to Narrowsburg, a struggling town in upstate New York, with dreams of starting a new life.

Hailing from a French island off the coast of Africa called Réunion, Jocelyne Castellano moved to Hollywood in 1989 and started building a career in the film industry. Working with the Hollywood Film Festival, she soon began billing herself as a successful producer with connections to Lars Von Trier and other film luminaries. Her husband Richard Castellano, on the other hand, was a street-smart tough who often alluded to ties with the mob. After being cast as himself in Whacking Cows, a film based on his life, and then landing a small role in the Harold Ramis-directed, Robert DeNiro-starring mob comedy Analyze This, Richard decided to devote himself to acting.

NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane
NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane

Arriving in Narrowsburg in late 1998, Jocelyne and Richard take the tiny town by storm, starting an acting school, then an international film festival, and finally promising the townspeople roles in a gangster film called Four Deadly Reasons. The film festival is going to be “bigger than Sundance,” and their film is going to be the next Analyze This. Main Street echoes with shouts of “Fuck you! No, fuck you!” as aspiring actors practice their scenes. As the town fills with “big trucks and real gangsters,” all of who had been in Analyze This or Casino, Narrowsburg is poised for Hollywood-style success. The Castellanos were finally going to put Narrowsburg “on the map.”

Just as quickly as the Castellanos’ star rises in the small town, however, problems begin to emerge. Rumors circulate that Richard has been scamming people, promising them that if they give him a certain amount of money, he’ll be able to double their money in the next week. The snowballing suspicions comes to a climax during the second Narrowsburg International Independent Film Festival, when local comedian and actor Pat Cooper roasts the Castellanos, turning an upbeat awards night into an unsettling harbinger of things to come.

Still, the town is in a fever pitch of excitement about the Saturday night premiere of Four Deadly Reasons. Dressed to the nines and fervently anticipating seeing themselves and their town on the big screen, a large crowd gathers at the local Tusten Theater. Unbeknownst to the town, however, the movie isn’t finished. When its writer Joe Dinki makes the announcement on stage, and then proceeds to show a selection of ten minutes of footage that doesn’t include any local actors, or much footage of Narrowsburg at all, the town turns against the Castellanos. As one actor in attendance describes it, “there was real violence in the air.”

In the aftermath of the failed film premiere, the Castellanos’ lives begin to spiral out of control. Richard is found drunk and shouting on the street, “I’m a fallen star… star… star!” Charges are pressed against him for selling fake SAG cards to aspiring local actors, and he is sentenced to a year in jail. Meanwhile, Jocelyne, who most townspeople believe is innocent, is hounded by creditors and forced to leave town. With every passing day, more locals come out of the woodwork, sharing devastating stories of having been conned by Richard and, in some cases, left in financial ruin.

With the Castellanos’ time in Narrowsburg brought to this dramatic close, the film skips ahead to Queens, New York, nearly ten years later. Jocelyne has changed her name to Marie Castaldo and has now started the Queens International Film Festival. We learn that she has ripped off vendors for more than fourteen thousand dollars in one year, and that she has scammed even venerable New York institutions like the Museum of the Moving Image. As we learn about her misdeeds, we begin to wonder who was really running the show in Narrowsburg. Was Richard only the frontman? Did he take the fall for both of them? And did Richie and Jocelyn truly aspire to creating the “Sundance of the East,” or were they planning to fool everyone all along?

NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane
NARROWSBURG directed by Martha Shane

As the unspooling narrative approaches its end, one last thread remains unresolved: what really happened to that movie they shot in Narrowsburg? We discover that the film Four Deadly Reasons was, against all odds, finished by its director and producer, who shot new material to make the story work once Richard was incarcerated. In a final, delightful twist, the film premieres on the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival……..only, in a different theater. Regardless, everyone in attendance believes that Four Deadly Reasons is the opening night film of Robert DeNiro’s famed festival, and they celebrate in accordance. Meanwhile, with no Narrowsburg premiere on the horizon, many locals continue to believe for decades that the film was never finished, or, as one suggests, that there was “no film in the camera.”

Ultimately, Narrowsburg is a film about the fine line between ambition and delusion. As we explore this story from multiple perspectives, our understanding becomes more nuanced. We start to accept the impossibility of ever landing on one conclusive explanation of what transpired in Narrowsburg, and we turn our attention to the enduring power and allure of cinema. Perhaps the most ambitious con that took place in Narrowsburg was the promise of stardom fed to both the Castellanos and the townspeople by Hollywood – the promise that with one lucky break, fame and fortune can be yours.

Martha Shane’s directorial debut After Tiller (co-directed by Lana Wilson) premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Emmy that year for Best Documentary. In 2019, Picture Character, a documentary about emoji, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. She produced and co-wrote the PBS POV documentary From This Day Forward and produced and co-directed the documentary Bi the Way, which premiered at SXSW and was broadcast on MTV’s LOGO. Martha’s credits as an editor include 11/8/16, ACORN and the Firestorm and the Emmy-nominated Personal Statement.

Narrowsburg was directed by Martha Shane and produced by Martha Shane and Beck Kitsis. The film was shot by Jarred Alterman and edited by Chris McNabb and Frederick Shanahan.

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