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Sunnyside, Meet Hollywood

"I can't tell you - it's a neighborhood thing," said one man as he watched his friend cook bacon at a Sunnyside Gardens Park barbecue grill.

And across the way, some Irish-American women denied that the bench on which they sat was a known spot for area gossip.

Such were the obstacles the crew faced as they gathered footage for "The Secrets of Sunnyside," envisioned as a montage of local residents recounting rumors, myths and legends about their lives and the history of their neighborhood.

The short movie, a new concept for this year, will anchor the free film festival when it opens its two-day run Sept. 10 at Doughboy Park in Woodside.

"The idea of this film festival is to promote more communication in the community," said Shinichi Murota, the founder of the event and an area resident. By interviewing residents, he hopes to give them a stake in the event.

His co-organizer, Sherry Gamlin, agreed: "This is such a diverse community, but people still tend to stay within the boundaries of their background. Something like this brings everybody together."

The film festival is run under the auspices of the neighborhood's Humanist Center of Cultures, a non-profit that promotes diversity. While the requirements for submitting films are loose, Murota said, works should be fewer than 20 minutes, family appropriate and sent in by the end of July. Videos by Sunnyside and Woodside residents are particularly sought, and novices are welcome.

"If they don't have any video experience, that's even better," Murota said, noting that the center offered filmmaking classes. Those interested in making a movie should call Murota at 646-349-9696 or e-mail him at shin1@centerofcultures.info.

Last year an audience of 400 watched 16 videos, seven of which came from the community.

"The first year was by the seat of our pants," said Gamlin, a former actress. Now "more people are coming, more people are hearing about it." She said characters in the films often elicited more compassion than their real-life counterparts and helped stimulate reflection.

Past submissions have included a film about being both a teenager and an immigrant in the city and a video Gamlin shot about her offer of free advice to strangers. One man she filmed complained about his wife.

"He wanted to kill her, which was not an option we wanted to support," Gamlin joked. In later years she made films about standing in line and about area pets, and Sunday she took the lead in seeking out Sunnyside secrets. Despite several guarded rejections, she managed a few tidbits about the area's history.

One man said author David Horowitz, a native son, had written about meetings with famous radicals hosted by his parents in the area in the 1950s and 1960s. Another resident, Mary Caulfield, a third-generation Irish-American, described how Sunnyside became rundown in the 1970s and then was reborn in the late 1980s with a new wave of immigrants.

"They brought new energy and changed everything," she said, adding that those who moved away in the dark days would now "drop their teeth" at the turnaround.

Gamlin arrived in 1975 and said she quickly found a sense of belonging, a feeling she hopes does not vanish as the neighborhood - including the area south of Queens Boulevard, known as the "other side" - receives a face-lift.

Steve Herrmann, a Little League coach interviewed for the movie, concurred. "I'm hoping that Sunnyside stays something of a secret."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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