First-Time Director Jennifer Esposito Talks 'Fresh Kills' at HIFF
Full disclosure: One of my top picks for this year’s 31st Hamptons International Film Festival, October 5–12, is Jennifer Esposito’s Fresh Kills. I’m a sucker for mob “family” movies and critics who’ve gotten to it before me are raving.
Esposito, who is a resident of Springs in East Hampton, is a first-time director. She also costars and wrote the feminist 1980s Staten Island drama about a mafia daughter who wants out — but like Pacino in Godfather 3 — she keeps getting pulled back in.
When we chat over Zoom she’s upbeat, enthusiastic and ready for audiences. The former sitcom star says she loves seeing the film with appreciative audiences and can’t wait for Hamptons crowds to see it. (I will be at the front of the line.) She wanted to attend NYU film school but opportunities for female directors seemed slim.
Jennifer Esposito Talks ‘Fresh Kills’ at HIFF
When did actress Jennifer Esposito want to be first-time director Jennifer Esposito?
Directing wasn’t something I originally thought was for me. So I went to acting school and I enjoyed that for a time but as my career went on I realized I had so much more to say. So it just wasn’t fulfilling. And I had this story since I was a young person because I grew up around this.
So will real mob moms and daughters come to you and say, “That’s me?”
No, I didn’t base it on anyone in particular but I saw that lifestyle around me. And it stayed with me. Where I grew up there was a lot of rage in young women. And as I grew up I just chalked it up as, well, their families are in the mafia. And I realized they were stuck in a slot that they didn’t necessarily choose.
Have any mob families seen the movie yet?
Yes. And I’ve received …
No, no, ha ha. Actually one of the biggest compliments you can get. They said, “You really nailed it.”
That’s the greatest praise you can get. So here we are this week. How important is something like the Hamptons Film Festival to getting the movie out?
I love the Hamptons. I do have a house here and have for seven years. And a festival now for independent filmmakers is seriously the only way we can get a film out. Our business is not inclusive. It needs to open up. So this is a way for artists to get their work to people. So it’s vital. And especially something as prestigious as the Hamptons Festival, I’m very grateful to be here.
And it’s unusual that you can promote this film during the SAG-AFTRA strike, right?
Yes, because I’m the director. That union is fine. And I haven’t spoken about the writing aspect but now because that strike is settled I can. And I’m not even in that union yet.
Oh, they will come knocking. You’re in.
Yes, and I will be pleased when they do. But I’ve made it known that I funded this film mostly by myself. So this is a real independent film.
Fresh Kills is a HIFF Spotlight Film and a Views from Long Island selection. It plays Saturday, October 7 at the East Hampton Middle School and Wednesday, October 10 at the Regal UA East Hampton Cinema. It costars Annabella Sciorra, Emily Bader and Domenick Lombardozzi. For the full list of HIFF 2023 films, showtimes, venues and tickets, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org
Bill McCuddy is a frequent Dan’s contributor. He is a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, cohosts a movie podcast (“So I’m rolling in dough.”) with Neil Rosen and Bill Bregoli called “Sitting Around Talking Movies” and is a regular on the PBS/All Arts show “Talking Pictures” also with Rosen. He also reports on this festival for the industry website GoldDerby.com. On October 13, he will be very tired.