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Creature comfort; Lockport man debuts first feature film at Dipson Amherst

Could there be a better birthday present for a filmmaker than to have the premiere of his film on his birthday? Not for Lockport filmmaker Sam Qualiana, who will celebrate the debut of "Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast," a movie he wrote, directed and stars in, on his 26th birthday Tuesday in the Dipson Amherst Theatre.

"It takes a lot to do a feature film, so to premiere it and show it to everybody on my birthday feels like a great big accomplishment," Qualiana said.

In the locally made "Snow Shark," scientists who venture into the woods to research the disappearance of animals meet with a tragic accident. Years later, creatures attack the people in town and the truth about what happened is finally revealed.

When told that sounds like the plot and name of a Syfy channel original creature feature, Qualiana takes it as a compliment, laughing. "It could be 'Snow Shark vs. Mega Shark,' " he said, combining his creature with one from a Syfy channel flick.

Qualiana has a lifelong passion for movies and has written more than 100 short films in the last 14 years, as well as acted in numerous films.

He also wrote and directed "Something After Midnight," which has played the horror festival circuit and was named the Best Western New York horror short at the Buffalo Screams Film Festival. Last year, he decided it was time to make the leap into feature-length filmmaking. "A lot of people are following our stuff and following us on YouTube, so I thought I should take filmmaking more seriously and do it as a career."

The full-length "Snow Shark" is based on a similar premise of a short film Qualiana made about eight years ago; the story idea is based on one of his own fears. "I always had a big fear of sharks and thought wouldn't it be scary if one came on the land and attacked you?" he said.

Filming on "Snow Shark" began last January in Lockport under often blustery conditions ("The actors were troupers," he said) and stars Jackey Hall, John Renna, Michael O'Hear ("Slime City Massacre"), Kathy Thiel Murphy and Qualiana's dad, CJ, who plays the town sheriff.

And yes, dad did have to audition, Qualiana said, but he was a good sport about it. "He did a great job and played it really well," he said about his father.

Creature effects and special makeup were handled by Renna, Arick Szymecki and Andrew Lavin. Brett Piper ("Muckman") and Mark Polonia ("Splatter Beach") edited the film, and Michael Paul Girard did the score.

"Snow Shark" premieres at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Dipson Amherst (3500 Main St.). It will have an encore presentation at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst) and will play the South Bronx Film Festival on May 12.