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Flushing filmmaker offers less-traveled reasons to love NY

Flushing's Roger Florez wants to show the world how much he loves the five boroughs, and it will only take a minute.

The 28-year-old filmmaker, born and raised in Flushing, recently took home the city's top prize for a short film competition hosted by I Love New York, the state's marketing arm, for a one-minute movie promoting tourism in the city.

His film, "Love in NY," opens with a young man choking on a hotdog during an argument with his girlfriend, causing him to flash back to all the great city locales where the couple spent time together and put his life in perspective.

Florez said he wanted his short film to be unique and include a variety of city sites rather than depend on the ones that viewers have become accustomed to.

"I didn't want to make a typical New York film in which you saw iconic places like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building," he said. "I wanted to pick sites that were off the beaten path to give the viewer a sense of what I love about New York. To me, the city isn't a location. It's a personality, a big character in my life."

Florez visited 20 sites around the city, 10 of which ended up in his completed film, including the East Village, Little Italy, Coney Island, Yankee Stadium and a brief stop in Long Island City. "Love in NY" cost a mere $250 to produce, four days to shoot and two days to edit, he said.

He said he shot the film with two friends, Brooklyn's Cesar Mazariegos and Buena Babtiste, who play the short film's bickering couple. He said Mazariegos' flashback sets in motion the series of shots of the couple at various city sites.

"I wanted to give [viewers] a first-hand look at their relationship," he said. "When I look at a photo album or stills on my digital camera, I see pictures of me and my girlfriend in New York. The city is so multi-faceted. I wanted to make something personal and wanted it to feel genuine. I've always liked movies where you see a person's life as they are looking back on it, like Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life.' In the end, [Mazariegos] realizes he's with a great person in the greatest city and that he's the happiest he can ever be."

The filmmaker won the top regional prize for making the best short film in the city. He was awarded two free getaway trips to visit upstate film festivals at yet-to-be-disclosed locations.

Syracuse resident Sean Cunningham won the state prize for his film "Discover a Different New York." The state's Empire State Development Corp., which operates I Love New York, joined "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera on the show's set in late September to announce the competition's winners.

Florez's film will be available for viewing for one year at www.metacafe.com. He said he thought the competition could aid his burgeoning career in filmmaking.

"I believe it will open doors," he said. "It's brought me exposure. I think what's great about the competition is when you go to its Web site, you see people from all walks of life who have picked up camera and filmed something. It's exciting."

Florez said he would also attempt to enter his 30-minute film, "Victim," into the free upstate festivals he will attend after winning the regional contest. That film, set in Crown Heights, follows a young disc jockey who moves into an urban neighborhood and immerses himself in hip-hop culture. But the film's protagonist makes decisions that land him in trouble.

The director, who shot the film with Mazariegos, said he has already screened "Victim" this year at the New York International Latino Film Festival and the Urban World Film Festival, both of which took place in Manhattan. He said it has also been accepted into the Big Apple Film Festival, which will take place in TriBeCa in November.

Florez said he has submitted the film for next year's Sundance Film Festival in Colorado, the Queens International Film Festival in November and the Montezuma Film Festival in Costa Rica.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at www.criticalconditions.net.

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