Theater / Film

Local Filmmaker Directs, Writes Father’s Passion Project Starring an A-List Cast

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
February 16, 2024 at 4:45 PM

Diane Ladd as Carmen and Mary Stuart Masterson as her daughter, Victoria, in Aventura Entertainment’s movie “Isle of Hope” being released in Florida theaters including Miami and Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Feb. 23.  (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

South Florida filmmaker and director Damian Romay remembers when his father, Omar, approached him about adapting a play and making it into a movie that his Aventura, Fla., based-film company would finance and produce.

Omar Romay had become entranced with an Argentinian stage play “Dias Contados” (“Days Counted”) by Buenos Aires-born actor-playwright Oscar Martinez, which had been performed at theaters in the capital city.

“My father called me up and told me he saw this play that he liked and that I should watch it,” recalls Romay. It was available online through Teatrix, a platform created by his aunt, Mirta Romay, his father’s sister.

“It’s sort of a Netflix for theater lovers dedicated to recording, producing and showing musicals and plays from Argentina and other places in Latin America,” explains Damian.

Mary Stuart Masterson and director/writer Damian Romay on the set of “Isle of Hope” in Savannah, Ga. (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

The play by Martinez is about Ana, who is co-parenting her teenage daughter with her ex-husband as she also deals with the combative relationship she has with her mother, Carmen. When her mother is hospitalized Ana ends up having to face the years of conflict.

After Damian finished the online screening, he called his father and said to him, “Yes, that’s a good play. So, what’s your interest in it?” The idea was to make a movie based on the script and to have Damian write it. Omar’s film and television production company, Aventura Entertainment, based in Aventura, Fla., would produce the film.

The elder Romay had started his own company in 2016 but had been in Miami since 1988 when he arrived to run the television station WJAN, which his father, Alejandro, had purchased. Alejandro Romay was a media mogul in Buenos Aires, best known as the chairman of Channel 9, which held the No. 1 spot as Argentina’s top television station for a decade in the 1980s.

“I wanted to know why that play when there are a million other plays or books or stories that he could use as inspiration for a movie,” says Damian. “He was unable to give me a precise answer at the moment, but I believe I understood why the story spoke to him.”

The story of family dynamics and family relationships has been explored in everything from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to Disney’s “The Lion King.”

” . . . This pressure of living up to what your parents did before you, wondering if you’re good enough and just trying to make your own path,” says Damian.

Diane Ladd and Mary Stuart Masterson in a scene from “Isle of Hope,” produced by South Florida-based Aventura Entertainment. (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

The writer-director, who recently moved his own company Sunshine Films from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, added a third act to the adaptation of “Dias Contados,” and titled the film “Isle of Hope.”

“I added a third act because it was kind of that wish fulfillment of wondering, ‘How would it be?’ How would that conversation go if you finally had the chance to say the things you want to say and maybe mend those mistakes from the past? I wanted to take that to its conclusion and see what happened.  It brought me some satisfaction and hopefully, the people who watch it will get that, too,” says Damian.

Ana’s name was changed to Victoria in Aventura Entertainment’s movie, but the mother’s name remains the same.

Victoria is played by Mary Stuart Masterson, who became a Hollywood icon for her roles in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “Benny and Joon.”

Three-time Academy Award nominee Diane Ladd plays Carmen in Aventura Entertainment’s “Isle of Hope.” (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

Starring as her mother, Carmen, is three-time Academy Award nominee Diane Ladd, who was the first to come onboard for “Isle of Hope.”

“My agent called me and sent me the script to look at,” says Ladd in a telephone interview from her Ojai, Calif., home. She liked it for several reasons. A straight shooter, she says, “it was a job,” adding that there aren’t a lot of movie roles for 88-year-old women. With her Deep South accent coming through, she says, “Listen, honey, there are 28 parts for every man to one part for a woman. Did you know that?”

But besides that, Ladd says that she saw “great potential” in the film and when she spoke to Damian about the third act he had added, Ladd says: “That’s where the meat for me was as an actor. Resolving the differences between the mother and daughter. It was in line with my desires and in line with a book I wrote called ‘Honey, Baby, Mine,’ with my, daughter, Laura (actress Laura Dern). It’s all about communicating with the people we love.”

In the film, Victoria has a grudge against her self-absorbed mother, the well-known actress named Carmen Crawford. Her mother has crushed her dreams of becoming a playwright. When Carmen suffers a life-threatening stroke and wakes up from a coma thinking she is living 15 years in the past, Victoria is faced with figuring out where her life went off track and how to reconcile the relationship.

Damian Romay and actor Andrew McCarthy on the set of “Isle of Hope.” (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

Andrew McCarthy stars as Victoria’s ex-husband and Sam Robards, the son of Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall, is Victoria’s psychiatrist brother. Miami actor Antoni Corone plays Dr. Garrison and Jessica Lynn Wallace plays Victoria’s daughter, Elonor.

“Damian and I are now working together,” says Ladd about a project that would be produced by his company. “He had read a short story that he thought would be perfect for me and a great male star about an elderly couple. And it’s a terrific idea. So, we optioned the book,” she says. Ladd says the two worked on the screenplay together and came up with a title ” . . . And a Day.”

“Isle of Hope” isn’t the typical multiplex film, and Damian says he brought that concern to his father. “No explosions, no violence, no sex, no politics. It’s not edgy. It’s the type of story that hit its peak of success in the late 1970s and ’80s but that no one is producing anymore. I don’t know who’s going to watch it,” he told his father. Damian said his father retorted with a theory about who would come to see his passion project.

“He told me, ‘Look, if it touches me, then there has to be other people like me, that will want to see this and feel this.’ He showed a lot of faith and invested his own money. And I think that’s also what drew these actors to participate. My biggest wish is that people will go see the movie because my father really cares about it. It’s so hard to make a movie like this. It requires so much effort and sacrifice and money.”

The movie was shot on a small inland island eight miles from downtown Savannah, a place called Isle of Hope. (Photo courtesy of Aventura Entertainment)

Aventura Entertainment is releasing the movie to Florida theaters first, says Damian. “I’m just hoping that people will get a chance to see this film that my father so much wants to share with them.”

The movie was made in Savannah, Georgia. Damian says he does shoot his films locally (his company Sunshine Films has made about 60 movies since 2015 many for cable networks like Lifetime and Hallmark,  along with Netflix) in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and also in places like Kentucky, Louisiana and Massachusetts, and in Canada, but what he liked about Savannah, he says, was that it suited Diane and her character so well. “Because she’s so Southern just in her personality and her way of talking. It just has an old-world charm and doing it in Miami, well, it seemed a bit modern for this story,” says Damian.

The four weeks of filming were shot on a small inland island, Isle of Hope, which is eight miles from downtown Savannah.

“In addition to the place where I imagined Carmen’s house, I felt the name was full of poetry and relevant because it’s the place that provides a small opportunity for Carmen and Victoria to mend their broken relationship,” says Damian.

Isle of Hope” opens in South Florida on Friday, Feb. 23. In Miami at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, AMC Aventura, AMC Sunset Place, and Silverspot Cinemas. In Broward County at Regal Oakwood-Hollywood, Silverspot Coconut Creek, Regal Magnolia Place – Coral Springs, and AMC Pompano Beach 18.

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