By Richard J. Bayne/ Times Herald-Record
Photo Credit: Allyse Pulliam/For the Times Herald-Record
MIDDLETOWN — The packed house at the Paramount Theatre leaped to its feet for a standing ovation as Danny Aiello, who appeared in classics such as “The Godfather: Part II,” “Moonstruck,” “Hudson Hawk” and “Do the Right Thing,” stepped onstage to accept the 2016 Excellence Award, kicking off the seven-day Hoboken International Film Festival.
The presentation came after a 20-minute tribute, highlighting 40 years worth of films. Aiello shook his head as he looked at the screen, saying, “I can’t believe that was me up on that screen. Whenever I look at myself, the first thing I want to do is throw up.”
When he arrived in the theater lobby, Aiello, who grew up on West 68th Street in Manhattan, was mobbed by fans. He talked about how coming upstate brought back memories. He spent summers in Kerhonkson as a child.
In past years, the festival’s opening night attracted a good sprinkling of stars, including “Three’s Company’s” Joyce DeWitt, “Guiding Light’s” Mandy Bruno and Martin Kove (“The Karate Kid; “Rambo”). This year’s outing didn’t pull big-name celebrities, aside from Aiello, and the 1,100-seat Paramount Theatre had some empty seats. Actress Terri Conn (“As the World Turns”; “One Life to Live”) had the honor of introducing Aiello. Conn plays Diane in the short film “Jack and Diane,” which screens at the festival Saturday.
When he took the stage, the festival chairman, Ken Del Vecchio, noted that only about 10 percent of the 1,500 entries that were submitted were chosen. “This is a festival for winners,” Del Vecchio said.
This is the fourth year the HIFF, which brings Hollywood glitz, including red carpet arrivals, will be at the Paramount. When the festival is over, it’ll also be finishing its three-year contract with the city, and Mayor Joe DeStefano, who was at Friday night’s opening, said the city will be looking for its best deal. He expects the contract to be resolved by the end of the summer.
“We’re not saying ‘No,’” the mayor said. “But it’s nice to have options.”
The HIFF, which is actually in its 11th year overall, came to Middletown’s iconic Paramount Theatre after it was chased out of New Jersey by Superstorm Sandy. Del Vecchio has insisted on keeping the “Hoboken” name. He has said it’s a “brand,” and internationally known.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who was also at the opening, said he’d like to see the “energy” of the festival stay in Middletown. “We should keep this going,” Neuhaus said.
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