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'The Natural' has a starring role at this film festival Western New Yorkers celebrate movie's 25th anniversary

When the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival held its screening of "The Natural" Monday night, Robert Redford wasn't the star.

The stars were the Western New Yorkers who helped make the movie 25 years ago, during the summer of 1983.

Just over 100 people were in the Erie Ballroom of Adam's Mark Hotel, and about a quarter of them raised their hands when master of ceremonies Doug Buczyak asked for a show of hands from those who had a hand in the film.

Adrian "Ade" Westlund Jr. said he had two roles. The first was as a train engineer, but then the casting crew needed an auctioneer. West-lund had some experience at it.

"I still get residuals on it," said Westlund.

Now 81 and hampered by Parkinson's, he pulled off a string of auction calls for the crowd from his seat.

Steve Poliachik recalled having to pitch to the slugger known as "The Whammer" -- from about 10 feet away.

"When you hear, 'Quiet on the set . . . start rolling,' you start to sweat a little bit," recalled Poliachik, a Western New York Baseball Hall of Famer who was once drafted by the New York Yankees.

Poliachik said he came close on the first pitch but bounced the second one in the dirt.

"The Natural" was a natural for the film festival, revered as much for its baseball as for its filmmaking.

A display of memorabilia was arranged around the back of the ballroom, including cardboard standups used for crowd shots. They were on sale at $65 each.

Some of the people who came were simply baseball fans. Paul Beck, of Grand Island, said he grew up in Cooperstown -- spiritual home of the game. He came wearing a New York Knights jersey from the film.

"It's their road uniform," he said of the imaginary team.

The only Hollywood actor involved in the film who was scheduled to come to Buffalo for the screening didn't make it.

Robert Prosky, who played the corrupt team owner known as "The Judge" in the film, was on the injured list, said festival chairman Bill Cowell.

"He gave us a call a couple of hours ago and said he fell off a stage in Washington and cracked his ribs," Cowell said of the 77-year-old stage and film veteran.

Redford did make an appearance -- via a video -- reminiscing about Buffalo and the film. The actor said he had never been in Buffalo but came here to make the film because of the natural grass at War Memorial Stadium.

"I loved it there," he said. "The people were great, the town was great, it had history. I had a whale of a time.

"I loved being able to hit the ball and play ball in a park that was about to be gone."

The people who saw Redford in Buffalo recalled him as gracious -- and small.

But, said a couple of women, there were the trademark eyes.

"I'm not sure any man fully appreciates when he looked at you in a certain way, you were struck speechless," said a woman who identified herself as Costumed Extra No. 59.

Robert Rich III, who played Redford's son, said the film helped revive baseball in Buffalo and his family's involvement in the Buffalo Bisons. They had already bought the Bisons and saved them from bankruptcy, but Pilot Field (now Dunn Tire Park) did not yet exist.

Rich, who was 15 when the film was made, made his pitch for more filmmaking in Buffalo.

" 'The Natural' truly was a movie that put Buffalo on the map as a city that can support this kind of project, that can support major film projects," Rich said.

"Local leaders, politicians, even at the state and national, level need to realize Buffalo is a great destination for major motion pictures. They need to increase the credits given out for films made here so people don't go up to Canada," he said.

The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival will continue through Saturday in Adam's Mark, North Tonawanda's Riviera Theatre and the Market Arcade screens in Buffalo.

 

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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