There’s a sense of coming home for New York City filmmaker Shaina Feinberg, who is bringing her latest movie “Senior Escort Service” to the 43rd annual Cleveland International Film Festival.
Feinberg said she has fond memories of visiting family in Lorain every summer up until she was 20. Not only were the trips fun, but they exposed her to a different world.
“We’d always go to Hot Dog Heaven,” said Feinberg, calling from New York City and referencing Amherst’s downtown staple. “Also, my grandpa was Sicilian, so he had this little concrete yard he grew tomatoes in. I grew up like a Jewish New Yorker, but it was fun to go and have this very like sort of Sicilian-Catholic experience in Lorain.”
Considering the dichotomy of experiences, Feinberg said the family visits were eye-opening and still influence her filmmaking today.
“When you grow up in New York City, you’re kind of like in your own country in a way,” Feinberg said. “Getting to go to Lorain every summer really felt like my experiencing America. Visiting Lorain, you could tell at one point there had been businesses there, but at the time the city wasn’t doing very well.”
There’s also a parallel to be found between Lorain no longer being what it once was as a thriving city and the story of Feinberg’s mother, Mary Feinberg (nee Montalto), a 1959 Lorain High School graduate who enjoyed a storied acting career as a teenager before moving to the East Coast while in her early 20s.
“In high school my mom was an actor who was like the star of all of the plays,” Feinberg said. “We have all of these photo albums full of local newspaper articles about her being in the ‘The King and I’ and other productions. She was like a local celebrity at the time.
“But when she was in New York she gave it up. That’s a very big part of my life. I definitely think that’s all seeped into my world view. It’s part of why I continue to be a filmmaker, even though it’s not the easiest job, because of the fact my mom was like ‘Don’t give up’ because she did. All of that stuff definitely affected me.”
Her mother’s story influenced her so much that Feinberg said she’s already working on her next film, “Mary’s Third Act.”
“It’s about getting my mom fulfilled before she dies,” Feinberg said. “Like, I want her to be happy, to feel like she accomplished what she wanted to accomplish because she wanted to be a singer and gave it up when she had kids.”
Depending on the how much money she’s able to raise for the film, Feinberg said there’s a chance she’ll return to Lorain to film her mother’s old stomping grounds.
As for “Senior Escort Service,” which appears Wednesday and April 5 and 6 at Tower City Cinemas in Cleveland, the 60-minute film details her grief dealing with the death of her father, who died two years ago.
The movie just won the Visionary Award at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California. What stands out about Feinberg’s craft is her unique filmmaking approach.
“I make movies that blend fiction and nonfiction,” Feinberg said. “Basically, I use like archival footage of me and my parents and blend that with like sort of dramatized events and tell the story.
“What I do is I film people telling true stories, but film it in a unique way so it’s not just a talking head.”
Feinberg said she’s excited to bring “Senior Escort Service” to Northeast Ohio for the Cleveland International Film Festival, where some of her Lorain County relatives plan on taking in a screening.
It also sounds like a visit to Hot Dog Heaven could be part of her plans.
“I don’t know how to drive,” Feinberg said with a laugh. “I’m such a New Yorker. Maybe I can convince someone to take me because Hot Dog Heaven is so delicious.”