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NARROWSBURG, NY — Richard and Jocelyne Castellano came to Narrowsburg in 1999 to launch a film festival, start a film school and start shooting a movie called “Four Deadly Reasons.” By the end of the next year, community members had lost money they had invested with the couple, and Richard was being sentenced to jail for fraud.
“Narrowsburg” is a documentary about the Castellanos and their time in this little hamlet by the river.
For years, director Martha Shane has worked on the documentary about the couple’s time here. Shane said she began the film by looking into Jocelyne and her connections to the Queens Film Festival. Co-producer Dan Nuxoll, who is also the artistic director at Rooftop Films, had rented some equipment to Jocelyne and was never paid. Shane and Nuxoll found that many people connected with the festival had similar experiences.
Initially, they planned to make a documentary about Jocelyne.
“We started out focusing on Queens and filming a lot in New York City but the film wasn’t just working at that point,” Shane said. “It was only once we discovered the stuff in Narrowsburg, and discovered Richard Castellano as well, and went to Narrowsburg and started talking to people there, that the film really started to take shape for me. By focusing on this small town where all these events took place, the themes of the film that I was interested in for the story were kind of crystallized.”
An interview with Jocelyne, who used several aliases, took place in 2012. The interview with Richard finally happened in 2014. Richard passed away the next year.
“Richard was often on the run, people were always looking for him, he always owed people money, and so it took a long time to find him,” Shane said. “It was an interesting relationship, because once we were able to finally talk to him, he was very generous, and he invited me and my co-producer into his house, and he made me this Italian soup, and it was very friendly.
“And at the same time when he came to do the interview with us, he brought a gun, and he showed us the gun—he showed me the gun right off the bat. So, he was a complicated character.”
Was that a form of intimidation, or did Castellano just like guns? Shane isn’t sure.
“He explained to me that he had to go meet a guy later, and then he showed me what was in his bag, and it was this gun,” she said. “I don’t know that it was about intimidation, I’d like to think it wasn’t. I think he just wanted me to think that he was the real deal.”
In recent years, Richard and Jocelyn blamed each other for the troubles in Narrowsburg.
“In the end, I think they were both equally involved in what happened and equally responsible,” Shane said. “What’s interesting about working on a story like this [is] everybody, no matter who they are, is rewriting their personal history and their story about what happened to them in their lives… based on how they want to see themselves and their belief system. By the time I was talking to them, they each had a story, and they were sticking to it.”
Several locals declined to be interviewed for the documentary, but many did, and some, despite being swindled, still had some fondness for Richard.
“Dr. Salzberg, who lost a lot of money to the Costellanos, when I asked him to do an impression of Richard and explain what Richard was like when they first met, you could see him light up, and he got excited,” Shane said. “He found it funny and entertaining.”
Zac Stuart-Pontier, the son of Laurie Stuart, publisher of The River Reporter, has a prominent role in the documentary, and at the time had a close relationship with Richard as a student and protégé.
“Zac had a very nuanced view because he works in film now, and part of the reason he works in film is because he had this experience and was introduced to it at such a young age,” Shane said. “He could see the good and the bad.”
After Richard went to jail, the director he was working with, Paul Borghese, and one of the writers, Joe Dinki, took over “Four Deadly Reasons,” and shot more scenes with another actor so it could be finished without Richard.
After “Narrowsburg” screens at the Narrowsburg Union on September 20 at 7:30 p.m., the film “Four Deadly Reasons” will screen at the Tusten Theater at 10 p.m.
“One reason I’m excited about coming to Narrowsburg is because I think it’s possible that some people may see the movie and think, ‘Oh, it is okay to talk about this,’ or, ‘I do want to share my story,’ and I think it will be an interesting Q&A after the screening.”