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Queens filmmaker wows 2015 indie movie circuit

Photos courtesy of Andrew Koss

“Zizi and Honeyboy” has just won the award for Best Biographical Drama at the Manhattan Film Festival,” writer, co-producer and star Andrew Koss announced to nearly 100 whooping and applauding friends and family members shortly before a private screening of the short movie at the North Shore Towers Cinema in late June. Based on “What Zizi Gave Honeyboy,” the autobiography by American trendsetter Gerald Celente, the film stars Doris Roberts, four-time Emmy Award-winning actress for her portrayal of Marie Barone on the long-running hit series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and Koss as the titular world-renowned prognosticator Celente.

In the late ‘90s and early 21st century, Celente was the darling of the financial world, a modern-day Nostradamus noted for his predictions about the global financial markets and other events of historical significance, such as the fall of Soviet Russia. He was a New York Times best-selling author and appeared daily on such high-profile television shows and networks as CNN, “The Today Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

But all that success and fame came to an abrupt halt after 9/11 when Celente predicted that the U.S. would lose a war with Afghanistan, flying in the face of the jingoistic fervor that gripped the nation after the attacks. President George W. Bush’s proclamation, “You’re either with us or against us,” made anyone even questioning American retaliation a traitor.

Suddenly, Celente was persona non grata, blackballed by a media that mere moments before his fateful pronouncement were clamoring for the Bronx-born’s attention. Facing sudden financial ruin, Celente sought solace and advice from his aunt, affectionately referred to as “Zizi,” a common term for “aunt” in Italian families. “Zizi and Honeyboy” tells that story.
It was the personal element of Celente’s story that most attracted Koss. “He was so hot,” the Queens native and North Shore Towers resident explained. “But literally overnight, with this one prediction, his life was over. He went from being the world’s adviser, someone whose every word was heeded, to a nobody, ultimately finding answers through the advice of another.”

Before any work on the film could begin, however, Koss had to convince Celente that he would do a good job adapting his story to the screen. Given the trend-predicting author’s history with the media, it was understandable Celente might be a bit resistant to sign off the rights to a part of himself. Koss made frequent trips to Celente’s home in Kingston, New York, detailing his plans for the movie, eventually winning over Celente.

Koss financed the film in part by launching an Indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign to raise $37,000 little more than a year ago. He completed the 15-minute short in time to make the 2015 indie movie circuit. Submitted and shown in nearly 20 different festivals around the country, the movie has already generated lots of buzz and several awards and nominations, including the aforementioned Manhattan Film Festival award and a Best Actress win for Doris Roberts at the Idyllwild International Film Festival of Cinema, where director Brett Donowho was also nominated. Koss himself was nominated in the category of Best Actor at Cinerockom International Film Festival, competing against the likes of Lou Gossett, Eric Roberts, Michael C. Williams and Jason Patric.

According to Koss, working with Roberts was “a great experience. When she delivered, she really delivered.” The day he met the former sitcom star, he was walking through Manhattan with the beloved actress, amazed at the number of people who recognized her. As they passed a construction site, a hardhat working a crane shouted, “Hey, ‘Golden Girls!’” Unfazed and without skipping a beat, Roberts corrected, “‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ sweetheart!”

Earlier in his career, Koss served as an associate producer and star in the critically acclaimed 1998 HBO feature film “True Friends,” about a trio of kids growing up in the Bronx and where their lives lead 15 years after they grow apart. Koss played one of the children as a young adult. The film was endorsed by directing legend Martin Scorsese and provided excellent experience for the budding filmmaker.

“Preparing for a short is not much different than preparing for a feature film,” Koss said. “The only difference is that you’re on the set longer and there are more actors.”

Koss sees “Zizi and Honeyboy” as a springboard to take the short to the next level — a feature film or TV series — if enough accolades and attention warrant it. “The movie touches upon only a small part of what is possible,” Koss explained. “Celente has a huge following; an incredible fan base, which is crucial. You could have the best prospect in the world. But without the security — a strong fan base — to back it up, it’s much harder to get done.

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