By Charlie Riley
Let me state that I have known Torre Catalano for several years, progressing through the Journalism School at Saint Bonaventure University a few years before him. I was always enamored with his creative and witty writing, and as a mutual friend describes, “Torre is one of those people that will make a mark on all of us, just wait and see.” At this moment, Catalano is debuting his cinematic mark on the city he grew up in, and like so many of us, hold dear to our hearts no matter where we relocate.
Even though Catalano shot “The Mayor of Strawberry Fields,” a moving documentary, in New York City where he currently resides, he, along with fellow WNY talents will first open up their nationwide tour to the Queen City tonight at the Burchfield-Penney Art Gallery.
Catalano wrote and directed the film, which is the flagship project from Evenings Empire Studios, the New York City based production company formed by Catalano and his two cousins, Nate and Chris Harar. University at Buffalo graduate and famed documentarian, Jojo Pennebaker, lent his hand as Cinematographer to the piece, and Rochester singer/songwriter John Ryan contributed the original songs that make up the film’s soundtrack.
The film chronicles the quirky life of a homeless man named Gary who has been decorating John Lennon’s “Imagine” memorial in Central Park for the past 15 years with discarded petals from florist dumpsters. The 40-minute documentary provides a moving look into the trials of homeless life in New York, and the inspiration that only a true Beatles fan can understand. As the audience follows the self-proclaimed “Mayor” through his daily life, the directors lend a rugged yet beautiful technique to their storytelling.
I spoke with Catalano about a few aspects of the film, such as how he first met Gary, and if that triggered the idea for this documentary.
“I met Gary as I was sitting in Strawberry Fields one day writing about 4 years ago. He was such a powerful force; I had to speak with him. I asked him several times if he wanted to be a part of my film. He said no twice and on the third time he agreed that if I had all my shooting permits in order I could shoot it. The next day I arrived with the permits and he said ‘Ok, we start tomorrow at 8 am,'” said Catalano.
Catalano attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and St. Bonaventure, and later went on to work in the music industry, eventually turning his focus to filmmaking. On why he felt it important to debut his work in his hometown: “Buffalo has such a rich art community. My parents used to always take me to Albright Knox and to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s work downtown. It inspired me and when it came time to premiere the film, I couldn’t think of a better place. Some towns are flashy with their art scene. Buffalo’s is graceful and humble,” stated Catalano.
Catalano continued on the similarities Gary or anyone else in the film and the city of Buffalo. “Gary has strong beliefs and an attitude that won’t quit. Buffalo is a town that sticks by its values and always tries to better itself. I respect that about Buffalo and its a theme that plays into the movie many times. New York City has an incredible vibe to it and I feel that fighter instinct when I’m in Buffalo. I’ll be a Sabres fan for life,” noted Catalano.
The WNY influences he had helped contribute to creating the film as well. “It was fate,” continued Catalano. “We got hooked up with Jojo Pennebaker who is an incredible talent in this
industry. We were so humbled to be in his presence, and it wasn’t until a few days into shooting that we realized he had gone to UB. He grew up in NYC and went to school in Buffalo. It helped us bond, and we found a common love for Buffalo. Right away he mentioned The Steer and other great Buffalo landmarks. We both took the things we learned about places and people from living in Buffalo and applied it to making this film. John Ryan comes from Rochester, and his influence was also huge.”
Catalano and the Harar Brothers aim to direct more documentaries and features, and plan on holding future events such as the one tonight, right here in Buffalo. The evening begins tonight at 6:30 pm, and includes a free screening as well as a Q&A with the filmmakers, a live performance by John Ryan, and a wine reception. This fall, the film will be shown around several cities, including New York and Los Angeles.