YONKERS, N.Y. – A Los Angeles filmmaker has turned a week of debauchery into an award-winning film.
Mike Cuenca and his crew of California actors enjoyed the screening debut of their newest film, "By the Wayside," Tuesday at the New York Riverlight International Film Festival in Yonkers.
There, the documentary-style comedy centered on a 24-hour binge into alcohol, drugs and prostitution took home two awards – one for Best Feature Film and another for Outstanding Film Direction.
Cuenca and three of his cast mates, who had two films make it into the festival, flew in from the West Coast on Tuesday morning, landing in New York at 5 a.m.
“We wanted to come out and support the flicks,” Cuenca said. “Both of our features are in the festival and we figured it was a good excuse to come out here as a group.”
The 96-minute film revolves around Jim (played by Joey Halter), a background actor hoping to make it into the big time, and his roommate Sam (played by Cuenca), a documentary filmmaker. When the two are evicted from their home, they team up with a homeless musician and a Catholic virgin before embarking on a wild, 24-hour party spree.
Cuenca said the film was entirely improvisational, with no scripts or rehearsals. The group created the flick in just seven days and on a budget of $100 – the money needed for booze, he said.
And what the audience sees on screen is all real, Cuenca said. The conversation was real, the booze was real and even the drugs were real.
The director and actors said roles they played were exaggerated versions of their own lives, making the filming process much easier.
“It was like a guy’s night out every night for a week,” said lead actor Joey Halter. “It was all natural – how we are when we hang out.”
“By the Wayside” is the third full-length feature film Cuenca, a 28-year-old film school dropout, has made. While even he admits he didn’t know what direction the film was headed some of the time, Cuenca said he has found many audiences can relate to the movie.
“It’s just a group of people tired of their mundane lives,” he said. “It’s a self-discovery thing."
While the film has also been accepted into a festival in the United Kingdom, Cuenca said the recognition it earned here in Yonkers was a huge bonus.
“It’s exciting and it gives us that extra boost,” he said.