Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Samel’

First-Time Filmmaker Marvin Samel Discusses the Making of ‘iMordecai’ at Gold Coast International Film Festival

October 19, 2022
Gold Coast International Film Festival director Caroline Sorokoff hosts Q&A with first-time filmmaker Marvin Samel about making ‘”Mordecai,’”an uplifting, heart-warming and frequently comic movie based on his family © Karen Rubin/

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,

To describe the new film “iMordecai” as being about an 80-something year old man confronting the intimidating new technology of the i-phone is to miss what it is really about: it is about resiliency, survival, life and living and relationships, which manages to be uplifting and even comic, despite dealing with such weighty issues as the Holocaust and Alzheimer’s. The making of the film by a first-time filmmaker, Marvin Samel, who has written a superb screenplay and as director elicits Oscar-worthy performances from Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane and Sean Astin, is itself worthy of a film.

 iMordecai is heartwarming movie based on the director’s own life features Oscar-worthy performances from Emmy-winning actor Judd Hirsch as Mordecai Samels and Academy Award-nominated actress Carol Kane (Hester Street) as his wife, Fela,  Holocaust survivors living in a Miami condo. When Mordecai takes the leap of getting an iPhone, the device opens him up to novel experiences and adventures, rekindling in him the youth he lost. It is an uplifting movie that manages comedy even when confronting such weighty issues as the Holocaust, survival, and the onset of Alzheimer’s.

What is most commendable is how the first-time film director-screenwriter Marvin Samel manages to create characters you care about, a plot that moves along at good pace, keeping you interested in the resolution, and seemingly outrageous situations without becoming cliché – and the answer is, because it is all so based in truth – even the ring that Sean Astin, who plays Marvin, wears is the same ring as the one Marvin is wearing when he comes to the Gold Coast International Film Festival for a Q&A after the screening, the first in the New York region.

Samel reflects how he was born in Brooklyn, to Mordecai and Fela Samel, not only immigrants, but Holocaust Survivors. His childhood, he says, was filled with the colorful and oftentimes comedic conflicts (actually, between Mordecai calling his son a screw-up and Marvin calling his father a jinx, the conflicts are more than comedic). In 1995, fueled by his passion for premium cigars, Marvin founded Drew Estate as a kiosk in the World Trade Center Mall, which grew to become one of the world’s largest premium cigar companies. But the movie focuses on 2014, when his company was hanging by a thread and he was trying to negotiate a sale.

After the sale of his company, he founded FeMor Productions, and at the same time, learned his mother had Alzheimer’s. In order to cope with his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Marvin
began compiling the colorful stories of his family’s past. He began to see the stories as a film, and after his frustration writing the screenplay, collaborated with seasoned screenplay writer Rudy Gaines.

Marvin currently resides in Boca Raton, FL with his wife, Netta, and his twin daughters, Talia and Ariella.

What is real and what is fictionalized? The surprise answer is some of the most outrageous comic situations were real. The fictionalized elements work so successfully in moving story along, weaving the various story-lines together, keeping you interested – especially because you care about the characters – in how it will resolve.

But how did the neophyte first-time filmmaker even begin to get such glitterati to do his film?

Samel, who currently resides in Boca Raton, FL with his wife, Netta, and his twin daughters, Talia and Ariella, came to the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s New York region premiere of “iMordecai” to participate in a Q&A about making the film with Festival Director Caroline Sarnoff. Here are notes from the conversation.

How in the world did you get the idea to be filmmaker?

I was a cigarmaker – I started a kiosk in World Trade Center mall, I had a factory in Nicaragua, grew my business to becoming one of largest cigar companies in world – my father mortgaged his home, 1995, not when he was 85 years old –when we were in big trouble just starting and I almost lost my business and they almost lost their home. But he wasn’t as magnanimous as in the movie; he was really pissed.

I sold the company in 2014 – my wife was pregnant during the sale and gave birth to our twin daughters in 2015. It should have been the happiest time, but a month later, my mother was officially diagnosed with Alzheimers. For the year leading up to diagnosis, my pregnant wife on bed rest with twins, me running around trying to sell business, I would stop by  and say,
Dad, something is wrong with mom.  “What ya talking about, she’s brick made from stone.” Her diagnosis sent me into depression.

I had no intention of making film. I was a lover of film – great acting, writing – I loved going to movies. I lived in Manhattan, went to Astor Place theater, art houses, to see film. I never had any intention of making a movie.

How do you go from that to get Judd Hirsch, Carol Kaine, fantastic actors- were they huge cigar fans?

When I started writing stories – my father as a plumber and a painter – I took a step back, forget about them being my parents, my family, and realized there was a cinematic feel to these characters.

Samel says how he studied other movies – Good Will Hunting, Almost Famous.

I analyzed how many characters- started trying to write myself. This shit is hard – I had no idea what I was doing. I got stuck – sequencing, scenes, how many acts, what to keep/not.  After a long search, met Rudy Gaines, a well known Hollywood ghost writer- has Oscar nominated script he wrote (not allowed to say which ones). He worked his ass off with me – we did this together- I gave him the writing credit.

So then, I had a script, like a million others. A long time passed, a mutual friend introduced to Dahlia Heyman, Italian award winner for best screen play – who agreed to be producer; she brought Alan Bain, Executive Producer.

They brought in a top casting director who set up a meeting with Judd Hirsch at Nick’s Pizza at 91st and 1st (I paid $20 to get the back room). Pepperoni pie and a couple of drinks later he said, “So who’s directing.” “I am.” “You? What have you directed?”

I had never been on a film set but I know these characters. He wasn’t sure.

I said, “Judd are you in or out?” He said “Let me think.”

I said [in a scene reminiscent of the movie dialogue] “Sorry Judd, this is a one-time offer.” I am not brave or tough, but my mother didn’t have much time. I didn’t care it was Judd Hirsch – he could have been God. I said, “Give me an answer now, I’ve got to keep moving”. Finally, he shook my hand, then said, “Who are you thinking for Fela?” I said, Carol Kaine. “I love it.”

He called Carol by the time he was out the door. That was it, I had a movie to make. We shot the film four months later, but unfortunately my mom passed a month after our meeting.

My mother died three months before filming. I tried everything in my power to get it done first, but as first-time filmmaker, everything takes awhile.

“iMordecai” filmmaker Marvin Samel at the Gold Coast International Film Festival© Karen Rubin/

Samel described the conversation he had with his father when he told him he was writing a movie about him.

“Who the hell will watch movie about an old Jew. You will lose your money, you’re still turning money into shit.” [Another line that is used in the movie dialogue.]

Even when we were filming he didn’t understand – the plumber and painter scene. We filmed in 3 locations. My dad showed up to the location where Judd was at a comedy store. My dad doesn’t understand there’s another half. I got into creative difference with Judd – as all actors-directors do – we’re in a little argument. In the back of the set, I hear my father, ‘Oh Marvin’s fucking the thing up.’ In front of cast and crew! Everyone started laughing.  Meta I told dad he can’t say that on the set. He was on the set every single day.

How much real vs fiction? Is the leaking car real?

That was real. My dad’s car was broken into so he put plastic in place of the window so nobody would break in. So when he moved to Florida – monsoons  would fill the car with water. So he pulled out the carpet, and cut a hole with a plug to let out the water. Funny stories- but they weren’t funny when they happened.

[Apparently the scene of his father using a power drill in his condo bathroom was true.]

What stories didn’t make into the film? How much on cutting room floor?

I could fill a series with stories.

A pipe breaks. Throughout the night he’s fixing the broken pipe –he’s 86.  He went downstairs and broke into the utility room – this is a 300-aparment building –  andshut off main water line. The sun is coming up on Sunday morning – no water. So the next morning everyone says where’s the water?  My father goes down, turns the water back on. The entire place erupted in cheers, Mordecai! He’s still doing this. Now 86. [A version of this is in the movie.]

There are other real elements in the movie – Marvin’s twin daughters, now 7 ½ years old now, have a fleeting cameo when they were four;  the cigar company characters “were my frenemies –– all real cigar makers in the world today.”

But a key character, the young woman who gives Mordecai lessons on the i-phone and then unlocks his interest in  trying new things and drives  the plot – is actually a composite. But Marvin says, the premise has its basis in fact -his father did takei-phone lessons that Apple offered – but so many that the company changed its policy on account of Mordecai.

It’s a love letter to my family, to the cigar industry, to Miami – and to New York.

Even though the film is shot in Miami, it has a New York sensibility –the characters are all New Yorkers, via Poland, Siberia, Israel. My formative years were spent in New York – I dropped a number of Easter eggs- the mural they paint – I thought about what Mordecai would paint – he knows the Twin Towers – that was my love letter to New York –to paint the towers, what we all have in common.

In fact, he says, it was 9/11 that was the impetus for Mordecai getting an i-phone to begin with.

“iMordecai” filmmaker Marvin Samel at the Gold Coast International Film Festival© Karen Rubin/

Samel has been making the film-festival circuit – it was the audience award winner at the Miami Jewish Film Festival.

My father came to the Miami Jewish film festival – outdoors, 700 people with COVID. He got a standing ovation. Last week, he came to Woodstock Film Festival. There were no hotels, so we were Airbnb roommates for the first time since I was 17 years old (when I left to attend Oneonta state).It was great, but a lot – I’m exhausted after 3 days with Mordecai.

How do you plan going forward with film?

I’m on the festival circuit now – traveling – was in Arizona, Prescott Arizona film festival –my opening line there, ‘Hello gentiles.’ We won best director and audience award. On to 8 more festivals.

Long range: February 4 will be the theatrical premiere in 50 theaters in south Florida – individual theater premieres – like concert tour – where me and a cast member will appear at each theater’s first screening. If we do well in south Florida and have all the 55 and over communities behind us , we will be on to New York. We hope to be out in 2023.

Gold Coast International Film Festival

The Gold Coast International Film and Arts Fest taking place through October 25 also features:

THE LOST KING, Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins stars in this heartwarming, inspirational true story of amateur historian Philippa Langley’s quest to find the long-lost remains of Richard III from Oscar nominee Stephen Frears. Official Selection of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

KARAOKE, nominated for 14 Israeli Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards). A bittersweet drama/comedy about a middle-class suburban couple in their 60s who are drawn to their new neighbor, a charismatic bachelor who has karaoke evenings at his apartment.

• LOVE, CHARLIE, a fascinating documentary about culinary bad-boy/superstar Charlie Trotter who had it all: an eponymous restaurant, worshipful global respect for his revolutionary innovations, books, film cameos, fame, wealth. Was hyper-driven self-destruction inevitable? (Monday 10/24 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

FAREWELL MR. HAFFMAN, Legendary French actor Daniel Auteuil stars as the owner and gifted jeweler of a humble shop in Paris in this gripping film, a cinematic adaptation of an award-winning play. This period drama of life in Vichy France in 1941 is a transfixing humanist portrait of survival and resistance, as well as the tragic consequences of complicity and collaboration.

• HARD SHELL, SOFT SHELL, a dramedy about love, class, and finding oneself that tells the story of a handsome 20-something oyster farmer who plunges into depression after a botched proposal to his actress girlfriend. To win her back, he turns to his old friends for advice. Filmed on location in the beautiful southern port city of Sète, France.

• THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KINGEssie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) star in this compassionate drama about a mother suffering at the hands of a system stacked against her as she attempts to win her kids back from foster care.

The festival is also presenting a special advance screening of the highly anticipated new film My Policeman, starring Harry Styles. While not a Festival film eligible for awards, this highly anticipated screening is being presented before the film arrives in theaters. The star-studded cast of My Policeman was recently presented with the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival TIFF TRIBUTE AWARD FOR PERFORMANCE.

The 2022 GCIFF also features a selection of over 40 short films presented free to the public.

In early 2023, the festival will present the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award to Hollywood legend William Holden at an event that will feature film screenings and interviews with friends and family of Mr. Holden, including his companion Stefanie Powers who will accept the award on his behalf. Information regarding this year’s films and events, and tickets is available at and

Gold Coast Arts is an independent 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization serving the Long Island and greater New York community for over 25 years, dedicated to promoting and supporting the arts through education, exhibition, performance and outreach. Since its founding in 1995, more than100,000 people of all ages and backgrounds have taken advantage of its wide selection of classes in many different media and forms from art to dance, live performances including Comedy Festival, musical programs and year-round film festivals; workshops, and art exhibits.

Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021 (entrance from the Maple Avenue parking lot), 516-829-2570,


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