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Movie filmed mostly in Elmira will debut this weekend at Sundance Film Festival


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Elmira is about to get some major exposure this weekend, even if it's meant to look like a different Southern Tier community — the City of Hornell.

A film crew led by director and cowriter Erin Vassilopoulos was in Elmira and other locations in the Southern Tier in December 2019 to film scenes for the movie "Superior," and the film will make its debut this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Superior is actually a sequel to a short movie of the same name Vassilopoulos filmed in 2015, based in Hornell.

What is Superior about?

In the original movie, a stranger passing through town sparks a teenage girl's desire to distinguish herself from her identical twin sister, according to the film's description. As one sister struggles to break free, the other insists on preserving their distinctive bond.   

The sequel picks up on the story as the one girl, now on the run, returns to her hometown to hide out with her sister, and in doing so alters the trajectory of both their lives.

Even though the movie is set in Hornell, Vassilopoulos said she decided to use Elmira to film most of the scenes.

"I location scouted in several towns in the area but ended up finding a lot of our key locations in Elmira," she said. "The look and the feel of the city fit the setting I had in mind for the movie. I like a lot of the architecture, especially along the river. Our movie is also set in the 1980s, and a lot of locations we found fit that period."

Why Superior is set and filmed in the Southern Tier

Vassilopoulos grew up in Minnesota before moving to New York City in 2012 to study film at New York University.

She wanted to return to the upper Midwest and the shores of Lake Superior to film the 2015 short film, but decided the logistics would be too challenging.

"The idea of flying a bunch of film students to the Midwest to make a short film seemed like a huge stretch," Vassilopoulos said. "So I started location scouting in upstate New York and found a lot of towns with a similar feel to Superior — post-industrial, maybe a bit neglected, but with a lot of character, and very cinematic — also sort of timeless."

Vassilopoulos also had family ties to the Southern Tier.

"My Greek great-grandparents had moved to upstate New York shortly after emigrating to the U.S. and settled in Endicott where they opened a restaurant (The New York Restaurant) and lived their entire lives," she said. "My grandma lived in Endicott most of her life too, so there's a personal connection to the region as well."

Where is Superior filmed?

The main location for the filming was a house at 1206 W. Water St. in Elmira, a location Howard Hanna Real Estate helped find for the film crew, Vassilopoulos said.

Other Elmira locations used for the movie include the YWCA swimming pool, the Glass House Tavern, B&C photo, McClure's NY Deli, Eagle Transmissions, and several exterior locations — including the viaduct near the downtown bus terminal, along the Chemung River, and several driving shots around town. 

The crew also filmed a few scenes in Bath and stayed in Corning during the duration of the shoot.

The movie stars real life twin sisters Alessandra and Anamari Mesa as Marian and Vivian, Pico Alexander as Robert, Jake Hoffman as Michael, and Stanley Simons as Miles.

How locals helped make Superior

Many local residents were more than happy to take part in the production, even if only for a brief on-screen role.

Among them was Ron Levanduski of B&C Photo, who said the film crew spent hours setting up a scene where one of the main characters drops off a roll of film to be developed.

"It was a 20-second scene. I was behind the counter. They shot it in four takes. They had someone at the door to make sure nobody came in," Levanduski said. "We set up the scene with a lot of old cameras from the '70s and '80s — no digital, all film stuff. The producer wore a Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt. He didn't even know Tommy Hilfiger was from Elmira."

Most of the crew members were fans of film as opposed to digital photography, and many of them bought items from the shop while they were there, Levanduski said.

Related: Elmira preteen Austyn Johnson finds success in the Greatest Showman

The crew stopped at McClure's NY Deli to eat and ended up asking owner Barb McClure if they could use the location to film a scene.

McClure said yes and added it was quite an experience.

"They came on a day we were closed and set it up to look like a convenience type store," she said. "They added a lot of items and a new counter. They took most of it but they let me keep the counter. It looked so nice.

"They were there most of the day. They were so nice," McClure said. "They had me be a cashier. It was lot of fun, a good time."

The movie will debut at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival. To learn more about the film and the director, go to fpg.festival.sundance.org and search for Superior.

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