Monday, January 23, 2017

MYSTIC, Conn. – The highly anticipated community movie project “East Side Zombies,” a 35 minute drama filmed at locations in New London, Groton, Waterford and Mystic and involving members of the autistic community, premiered at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Mystic Luxury Cinemas at Olde Mistick Village.

The production company made the movie “East Side Zombies” with the intent to give people on the autism spectrum a chance to participate in movie making and to initiate a dialog about bullying in the special needs community. The production company plans to encourage local schools to show the movie and motivate students to open up about the problem and discuss ways to combat it.

The movie was made possible by a $5,000 grant from the Adams Family Foundation and the generous donation of time and talent by a wide range of community members.

“East Side Zombies” tells the story of two young lovers, one a zombie and one a human, who are caught in the crossfire of a dispute over zombie rights. In the movie, zombies have emerged from hiding and evolved into peace-loving vegetarians, yet humans still hold them in contempt based on past misunderstandings.

“In many ways, the story line of the movie reflects the way members of the autistic community are mistreated in our society,” said Lee Howard, the producer and original screenplay writer whose oldest son, Evan, a background actor in the movie, is autistic and living in a group home in North Franklin. "The term ‘zombie’ is sometimes thrown out as a cruel epithet at the disability community, so it seemed natural that to use this very popular movie genre as a statement about how society needs to be more flexible and understanding in the way it treats some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The concept for “East Side Zombies” emerged from a discussion Howard had with Christopher Annino of Groton, a Mitchell College alumnus and film director who has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Annino directed the film and added visual sequences to the original story that were shot by cinematographer Frank A. Rybicki, who also edited the film.

The film tells the story of Martin, a young man in a wheelchair, portrayed by East Lyme resident Nathan Piersall-Howard, a student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and the producer’s son, and Persippany, played by Sydney Nault of Danielson, a student at Ellis Technical High School. Veteran local actor Geoff Blanchette of Westerly plays Max, a curmudgeonly zombie fighting the human establishment. Ric Silver of Groton, credited as inventor of the original Electric Slide dance, portrays the lead antagonist, a community organizer who leads a crew of zombie slayers.

Other professional actors in the production include Kathryn Shasha, who recently completed a made-for-TV mini-series “The Girl in the Attic,” and Pattee Mak, previously seen in “Gangland.” The cast also includes several pro wrestlers:  Mario Mancini, Frank Perrin, David Holloway and Nikki Moccia. Jim Sajkowicz of Uncasville, who plays another key zombie slayer, also hosts the web series and podcast Arrowhead Paranormal.

The film includes cameos by New London Mayor Michael Passero, attorney Linda Mariani and TV news reporter Tina Detelj. Flock Theatre provided costumes and served as the project’s fiduciary agent, thanks to artistic director Derron Wood. Jeanne and Steve Sigel of the Garde Arts Center also made significant contributions to the project.

Other key organizers for “East Side Zombies” included William Hine of New London, who portrays a zombie, and Elena Bright of West Hartford, an actress with a scientific background who had dual roles in the movie. Bright, responsible for fund-raising, shared her personal experiences and strong belief in the link between autism spectrum and intellectual giftedness.

Two members of the LGBT community, actresses Tiffany Starr and Kristy Pandora, were featured in the film, which captured the imagination of many groups because of its theme of respecting people with differences. “Constance Kristofik and members of OutCT were a wonderful support and helped fuel the potential of this dream,” director Annino said.

Saschia Johnson of Lisbon led the dedicated makeup crew that included Ashleigh Packard and Roe Rosado. Other key personnel working during the film’s principal photography included Edwin Nieves of New London, production manager; Heather Nault, art director; Frank Perrin, stunt director; and James T. Futrell of Ledyard’s Strictly Digital Photography, still photographer.

Film shooting occurred at Fields of Fire in Mystic, City Hall in New London, Fort Griswold State Park in Groton, St. James Episcopal Church and the Church of the City in New London, spots in downtown New London and two private homes. ISAAC School and the Thames Club had offered to host shoots that turned out to be unnecessary. The film was entirely planned, directed, shot, and edited in southeastern Connecticut, with more than 100 people earning movie credits, including several on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities.

The soundtrack was largely produced by Ron Gletherow, a musician and guitar teacher from Ledyard. Mystic opera singer Jurate Svedaite-Waller of Connecticut Lyric Opera donated her time as well. The hardcore metal band Everybody Hates Me from Waterbury performs their signature piece, "Everybody Hates Me," in the movie.

To watch the movie, go to On Facebook, ask to join East Side Zombies or go to the East Side Zombies Fan-page.

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