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NCCC festival celebrates WNY horror movie industry

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Except for a handful of aficionados, few remember the movie "Model Hunger."

But the low-budget 2015 horror film, most of which was shot in Buffalo, provides the connection among the three honorees at the Niagara County Community College Film & Animation Festival on May 7.

"Model Hunger" was the directorial debut for veteran horror actress Debbie Rochon, who will conduct a horror workshop and present the keynote speech May 7 on NCCC's Sanborn campus.

The movie offered a powerful lead role for another horror star, Lynn Lowry ("The Crazies," "Shivers"), who also will appear at the NCCC event.

Sam Qualiana The Legend of Six Fingers

Members of the cast and crew of filmmaker Sam Qualiana's locally made horror film, "The Legend of Six Fingers" are, from left, Andrew Elias, Chris Rados, Debbie Rochon and Qualiana. Rochon and Qualiana are among the honorees at the NCCC Film & Animation Festival.

And Sam Qualiana, the second assistant director on "Model Hunger," will be honored as Western New York Filmmaker of the Year, primarily for his local horror films.

Among the Ransomville resident's locally made films are "The Legend of Six Fingers," which included both Rochon and Lowry, and "Post Apocalyptic Commando Shark," in which Rochon appeared.

“I was always a fan of her work to begin with, and after I met her by being her second assistant director on ‘Model Hunger,’ we kind of formed a relationship from there. I put her in a lot of my movies afterward," Qualiana said.

Several of Rochon's 266 acting credits in the Internet Movie Database have Western New York connections.

Sam Qualiana Snow Shark

Director Sam Qualiana on the set of the locally made horror film "Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast." He is being honored as Western New York filmmaker of the Year at the NCCC Film & Animation Festival.

"A lot of the independent directors that live in Buffalo, I’ve worked with them, so it’s a home away from home," Rochon said. “I did a few movies with Greg Lamberson: ‘Slime City Massacre,’ ‘Dry Bones,’ ‘Killer Rack.' "

But for Rochon, "Model Hunger" stands apart. She and Lowry are scheduled to appear at a screening of the film at 9 p.m. May 5 in Dipson Amherst Theatre (3500 Main St.). Doors will open at 7:30 for photos and autographs.

Lynn Lowry

Actress Lynn Lowry.

“It’s a raw movie, not only because it’s my first one, but because the nature of the subject matter lends itself to sort of a very raw feel," Rochon said.

"I’m very excited about seeing 'Model Hunger' in Buffalo, where we filmed it, and looking forward to the film festival as well," Lowry said in an email.

Rochon said "Model Hunger" was a huge career boost for Lowry, who starred as a former model who cannibalizes beautiful young models in her basement.

"It was an amazing role for Lynn and she just slayed it, literally," Rochon said. "And this is the most beautiful part for someone like me, as a director  when this happens, it’s a fantastic compliment  she was so good, she inspired a lot of people to hire her."

Debbie Rochon

Actress Debbie Rochon.

Tim Clark, commissioner of the Buffalo Niagara Film Office, recalls "Model Hunger" and Rochon's efforts.

“She acted in a few things before that and she realized this is a place that will really support that level of filmmaking," Clark said. "She also knows Sam and Greg Lamberson and people who are local horror aficionados and directors, and realized that this was a good support system for her, too."

Clark's team spends a lot of its time on local horror movies.

“I’d say it’s a good 20% to 30%. It’s a pretty good sector of what we do," Clark said. "We see a lot of movies that are shot here that are horror movies that actually get really heavy distribution in other parts of the world. It’s a weird phenomenon, but in parts of Asia and certainly throughout Europe, horror seems to be something that’s in demand.”

Rochon said the indie-horror genre is shifting away from the exploitation movies that launched her career in the 1980s and 1990s  movies that always included what she called "the prerequisite topless scene."

“Filmmakers are creating projects for women that are so great. People are emulating that, and that is fantastic. You actually get to act now," Rochon said. "The difference is just truly night and day from when I came up to what’s available now. You don’t have to do that stuff to get in front of a 16mm or 35mm camera. There’s so many projects you can cut your teeth on now. It’s just far better today.”

Qualiana said that as a crew member, he's worked on many types of films, but his own movies tend toward the horror genre.

Sam Qualiana

Local director Sam Qualiana.

“I think I like it a lot because you can just kind of go anywhere with it and do things that you wouldn’t normally see, just make up some kinds of scenarios that would never happen, that are kind of fun to be creative and just run away with the ideas," Qualiana said.

The festival will include the showing of a continuous loop of three Lowry shorts – "Ready For My Closeup," "Divination" and "Mindflip – The Prequel"  and a variety of other films.

“This is really the first time we’re featuring horror as the festival theme," said Robert Borgatti, a professor of digital media and animation, and coordinator of the festival.

It will present $200 prizes for the best entry in each of seven different genres. Special "716" awards will go to the best films by local high school and college students, and the best overall film selected by attendees. Admission is free.

NCCC Film and Animation Festival

Terry Kimmel, president of the Buffalo Movie & Video Makers Club and John Weiksnar, former president of the Buffalo Movie and Video Makers Club, are pictured at the 2019 Niagara County Community College Film & Animation Festival.

Preview

Niagara County Community College Film and Animation Festival: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 7 at NCCC, 3111 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn. Features film competition, displays, exhibits, workshops and speakers. Free.

"Model Hunger": Special screening with Debbie Rochon and Lynn Lowry, 9 p.m. May 5 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; $10. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for autographs and photos.

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