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Island cartoonist debuts new short film

Creativity can’t be denied. It’s something Peter Waldner has proven continually in his life, most recently producing a 22-minute film with a crew of Islanders during the COVID pandemic and while fighting his own health issues in the process.

“Teen Pod,” a short film inspired by the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” debuted for the public at the Shelter Island Library last Thursday. It had been shown to students and staff at Shelter Island School earlier since it featured some of their members. But this was the first screening open to the public.

When the idea occurred to the Reporter’s cartoonist, it was before the pandemic started and before Mr. Waldner was diagnosed with colon cancer that forced him to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. He and the cast pushed forward, at one point enlisting Worthy Way neighbors for a party scene. But when one of the extras felt ill and thought she might have COVID-19, Mr. Waldner had to notify the entire cast to get tested and quarantine until it was determined the woman didn’t have COVID.

Through all the ups and downs, those working on the film persevered and found laughs in the experience.

This wasn’t a low-budget film, Mr. Waldner said. “It was a no-budget film.”

Early on, he reached out to Franny Regan, then a 15-year-old student he identified as the right person to star in the film as the possessed Regan in the story he had written. That she agreed to participate and stuck with the film through a year and a half is something he sees as remarkable given the pull of so much school work and so many activities that demand students’ time and energy.

He also called on Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., to demonstrate his acting chops as a school psychologist. John Kaasik, who has been the moving force behind school plays for years, also stepped up for the privilege of having multiple glasses of water tossed in his face.

He told the audience last week that although that was a single scene in the film, Mr. Waldner did about a dozen takes with a fresh glass of water tossed at him time after time.

Island farmer and member of the Town’s Community Housing Board, Chris DiOrio, played a major role as Ms. Regan’s tormented father, unclear about why his loving daughter was suddenly the teen from hell, smashing dishes from an upstairs window rather than washing them as dad had instructed. Friends told him she wasn’t possessed, but simply acting out as some teens undergo a personality change from being the image of daddy’s little girl to a sullen, angry and even violent persona.

Other cast members included local real estate professional Susan Cincotta, Natalie Regan, James DeVito and Town Board candidate Brett Surerus.

Early on in his planning, Mr. Waldner had enlisted an old college friend, Bob Volpe, from Glen Ridge, N.J., to assist in the editing process. It had been some 40 years since the two college friends had made films together.

There were more laughs last week as Mr. Waldner recounted stories of filming the two had done together years ago.

There were also tales of scenes that only the most careful eyes would catch of filming a scene that had to be run in reverse to work. But a viewer paying close attention would see that the reversal resulted in a vehicle seen moving backwards instead of forward.

And still more tales of being run off properties where they were filming in those early days.

It’s a colorful story and, no doubt, Mr. Waldner will build on his repertoire of stories as he moves forward to make still more films.