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LIFF Pioneer Awards

The Ralph Ince Directors Award

In his 27 years in the film business, Ralph Ince directed and acted in well over three hundred films. He wrote over forty of them. Ince was one of the most prolific and famous directors stretching from the silent-era, through the 1930’s. His brother was the notable Thomas Harper Ince, of Inceville fame.

The actors Ince directed and costarred with read like a who’s who of the movie business. Ince directed notables such as Errol Flynn, Ethel Barrymore, Boris Karloff, black comedian Stepin Fetchit, and Lon Chaney, Jr. He costarred with Zasu Pitts, Walter Huston, John Wayne, John Barrymore, and even Rin Tin Tin, Jr. He also costarred with Edward G. Robinson, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the classic mobster film, Little Caesar (1930).

Ralph Ince began his career with the Vitagraph Company of America in Flatbush, Brooklyn and became head of the Vitagraph branch studio located at 94 Fourth Avenue in Bay Shore, New York in 1916. He had a house built by Brightwaters developer, Thomas Benton Ackerson on Lakeview Avenue West and lived there many years with his actress wife, Lucille Lee Stewart.

The Ralph Ince Director’s Award will be presented for Best Male Director.

The Nell Shipman Directors Award

When war was declared in the summer 1914, Nell Shipman was enjoying her cottage at Oak Island in Babylon.

Nell Shipman, got her start with the Vitagraph Company of America as a scenario writer and became one of the most important cinema pioneers of the Silent Era. She was part of the “first wave” of woman filmmakers, a writer, director, actor, animal rights activist, and ecologist. Many of her films were outdoor adventures filmed on location in some of the most dangerous conditions, sub zero weather with lots of snow or rivers with massive currents. Many of Nell’s films included her animals, seventy in all – bobcats, bears, elk, eagles, deer and plenty of dogs. As heroine in her films she usually ended up rescuing her male partners in these outdoor melodramas and in several instances literally saved members of the film crew. Audiences referred to Nell as “Queen of the dogsleds”.

The Nell Shipman Director’s Award will be presented for Best Woman Director.

The Frank Currier Actors Award

Frank Currier was a prolific actor on the legitimate stage before he became top character actor for the Vitagraph Company of America. He was second in charge at the Bay Shore Vitagraph branch studio in 1916 where he directed and acted in 19 one-reel comedies. All of the films he directed in his long career were produced at the Bay Shore Vitagraph.

The top industry publication, Photoplay magazine, called him “the dean of cinema actors”. Frank Currier is probably best remembered for playing Quintus Arrius,
Ramon Novarro’s adopted father in MGM’s Ben-Hur (1925), where he almost drowned in the icy Mediterranean filming a raft scene that took four hours to capture on film.

The Frank Currier Actors Award will be presented for Best Male Actor.

The Anita Stewart Actors Award

Albert E. Smith, cofounder and president of the Vitagraph Company of America once wrote that Anita Stewart was one of the company’s loveliest and most beautiful stars.

Anita Stewart found her way into films by posing for song slides for Scott & Van Altena. Norma Talmadge, Anita’s schoolmate from Erasmus High in Brooklyn, had just landed work at Vitagraph in Flatbush after posing for 3 sets of slides, and told Anita of the easy money to be made at S&VA at $3.00 per day. Stewart posed for nearly 20 sets of song slides during 1910, and 1911 before getting work at Vitagraph. It also helped that Ralph Ince, a director, writer, and actor at Vitagraph, was married to Anita’s older sister Lucille Lee, also an actress in Flatbush.

When Anita made her debut film Her Choice in 1912 she was earning $25.00 per week. In 1914, Stewart starred in the film A Million Bid, adapted from an unproduced play. Her performance made her a hot star and her salary was raised to $100.00 per week. By 1915 when she co-starred with handsome Earle Williams for several films including the serial The Goddess, Stewart was earning $1,000.00 per week plus ten percent of the profits of her films with a guarantee of $127,000.00 a year. In today’s dollars that is equivalent to $18,000.00 per week or over two million a year, with no income tax.

Anita Stewart acted in only two films at the Bay Shore Vitagraph in 1916, and had a home built in Brightwaters by the Ackerson family that same year.

The Anita Stewart Actors Award will be presented for Best Woman Actor.

The Jules Cronjager Award for Cinematography

Jules Cronjager and his younger brother Henry immigrated to the United States from Germany before World War I. They were both professional photographers, but like many still photographers both foreign born and American, they made the transistion to cinematography while American cinema emerged. Both Jules and Henry became pioneer cinematographers, and Jules worked for Vitagraph where he filmed over 100 features. He was a favorite of director Ralph Ince where Jules filmed three features at the Vitagraph Bay Shore Branch in a1916. When Ince left Vitagraph, he became director and actor for Lewis J. Selznick where Ince and Cronjager worked together once again on numerous other films. In fact, Jules Cronjager became the founding member of a Hollywood dynasty when the Cronjager family became the most famous names in cinematography.

Jules nephew, Edward Cronjager received seven Academy Award nominations for such notable films as Cimarron (1931), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), The Pied Piper (1942), To the Shores of Tripoli (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Home in Indiana (1944), and Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953) The Cronjager family of cinematographers have been active in movies and television through the 1990’s.

The Jules Cronjager Award for Cinematography will be presented for Best Cinematography.

The J. Stuart Blackton Award for Animation and the J. Stuart Blackton Award for Best Documentary

James Stuart Blackton was cofounder of the Vitagraph Company of America and the company’s creative genius. His partner, fellow English immigrant Albert E. Smith once wrote that the artistic success of Vitagraph was due to the multitalented J. Stuart Blackton. He is one of the big three of the first school of directors along with Edwin S. Porter (Thomas Edison) and Wallace “old man” McCutcheon of Biograph.

J. Stuart Blackton was the first to use film as propaganda, was the first to film animation and his films were the first to be screened at the White House. Largely forgotten, scholars have been studying his work and have now appropriately named him the “father of animation”. Blackton was also the first filmmaker to produce and direct the first documentary about the history of film, The Film Parade.

He supervised the film, The Ninety and Nine, produced out of the Bay Shore Vitagraph in 1916.

The J. Stuart Blackton Animation Award will be presented for Best Animation Film.

There will also be a J. Stuart Blackton award presented for Best Documentary.

The Mario Puzo Screenplay Award

A long time resident of Bay Shore, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather catapulted him to international notoriety. Of all the films in the American Film Institute’s top 100, The Godfather is still rated number 3 and the best novel ever to be adapted to the screen. Puzo’s other screenplays include The Godfather Part II (1974), Earthquake (1974), Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II (1980), The Godfather Part III (1990), and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992).

The Mario Puzo Screenplay Award will be presented for Best Screenplay.

The John Williams Award for Film Scoring

John Williams was born on Long Island and is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning six decades, Williams has composed many of the most recognizable film scores in history, including those for Jaws, the Star Wars films, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Home Alone, and three Harry Potter films; Williams has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, seven BAFTA Awards and 21 Grammy Awards.

The John Williams Award for Film Scoring will be presented for Best Film Score.

The Shelly Award for Woman Filmmakers

Every year since 2007, the Long Island Film Festival has presented the Shelly Award to an outstanding woman filmmaker. This is done in memory of actress, writer and director Adrienne Shelly. June 24, 1966 – November 1, 2006

A note by Founding Director, Christopher Cooke about Adrienne Shelly and the Shelly Award for woman filmmakers:

I met Adrienne Shelly at one of Hal Hartley’s first audition sessions held at Action Productions, Hal’s boss, Jerry Brownstein’s office complex in the west 20’s of Manhattan in the Spring of 1988. Adrienne was wearing a sexy leather outfit appropriate for her role as the rebellious teenager. She looked great! The audition went well and I didn’t see her again until I’d been offered the role of Vic Hugo, her blue collar Dad in Hal’s debut feature The Unbelievable Truth. The rumor was she had put in her vote for me to play the role. I’d known Hal for a few years and screened his short, The Cartographer’s Girlfriend in the Long Island Film Festival, but I never believed he’d be able to raise the cash for a feature.

There were only a couple of days of rehearsal for Adrienne and I in New York City. Before we knew it, we were on location on the street where Hal grew up in Lindenhurst, Long Island. It was surreal. Hal was under a lot of pressure with very little money and 11 days to shoot a feature film! Fortunately, most of the cast and crew were alumni of SUNY Purchase, but Adrienne and I were outsiders.

It was obvious to me that Ms. Shelly knew what she was all about and determined to achieve her goals. I called her my “Bridget Bardot of Jericho (L.I.)”. She had studied filmmaking in Boston and had been acting from a very early age. Adrienne had lost her real father while still quite young and I think that tragedy gave her maturity beyond her years, meanwhile I had just become a father at the ripe old age of 37 and slipped into playing the role her father quite naturally.

She worked hard but never acted like a prima donna. Neither one of us took our jobs too seriously, and we hoped the film would get finished and be released, but that was a large order that almost never happened in those days of independent film. But we got lucky! Adrienne, Hal and Robert Burke got wooed by Hollywood. Shelly got another great role in Trust and after that, her focus was on directing. She told me her goal was to write and direct her first feature by her 30th birthday, and she did!

Her success in Hal’s two films as leading lady, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust kept her name bubbling in the film industry for several years. She parlayed that attention into support for her directorial debut. Two films later she directed Waitress, which premiered at Sundance.

A number of years later Shelly was directing her first feature and we interviewed her for Sneak Preview, a quarterly journal I started that covered the Long Island filmmaking scene. That was the last time I saw her. Her fortitude made a big impression on me and it is to her dedication to her goals that we have created an annual award to a woman filmmaker possessed by the same passion to see a job well done.