An art gallery at a gas station.
This was the spark that lead New York City-based filmmaker Michael Canzoniero to begin making a documentary entitled "Shelter Island: Art + Friendship + Discovery" in late 2010 — but the story evolved into something much more interesting than a quirky place for an art gallery.
The endearing friendship between gas station owner Jimmy Olinkiewicz and artist Harold Olson — a man so laser-focused on his work that he lives in a borderline homeless situation — was what really made Canzoniero pick up his camera and commit to about a year-and-a-half of shooting on Shelter Island.
"Shelter Island: Art + Friendship + Discovery" will be featured at the Hamptons Take 2 Film Festival on Friday at 8:15 p.m., with a Q&A session afterward.
“They just had such a sweet relationship that was worth exploring along with the nature of Harold’s art,” Canzoniero told Patch on Wednesday. “Jimmy is kind of like James Gandolfini on ‘The Sopranos’ — a tough-looking, tough-talking guy but he’s very sweet inside and he really took this artist under his wing.”
Canzoniero, a 41-year-old native of Shoreham educated at NYU, was introduced to Olinkiewicz by his inlaws, who live on Shelter Island. Olson moved to Shelter Island about six years ago after working in Alaska in the logging business and going through a difficult divorce. Another focus of the film is how the community of Shelter Island as a whole has supported Olson over the years.
“I’ve never seen someone so embraced by their community,” Canzoniero said. “They are so tight-knit and support Harold and his art and have never treated him like an outcast.”
During the 77-minute film, Olinkiewicz and others help Olsen move on from selling his abstract pieces out of a garage to installing a display at a New York City gallery at the same time the famous Guggenheim museum is showing works from Kandisky, the Russian painter known as the father of purely abstract works.
“There is a scene in the film when Harold is standing on the steps of the Guggenheim freaking out about how respected Kandinsky is,” Canzoniero said. “Here he is, living in a home with no heat, getting cans of paint out of the trash, not even thinking about food — just painting. Harold to me is a pure artist.”
"Shelter Island: Art + Friendship + Discovery" has already made its way to film festivals in places like Palm Beach and Kansas City and recently was named the best biographical documentary of the year at the ArcLight Cinema Film Festival in Hollywood — an award that he says will qualify the film for Academy Award consideration.
Canzoniero, an award-winning filmmaker himself whose first feature film, “Wedding Bros,” premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival, said he is pleasantly surprised that this little film about art and friendship might actually win an Oscar.
“This really is a labor of love — and the shortest film I’ve ever made,” he said. “I started this project for fun, but the whole thing unfolded so nicely into three acts in a short period of time. I got lucky with this one.”
“Shelter Island: Art + Friendship + Discovery,” will be shown at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 30 at 8:15 p.m. The three-day festival, now in its fifth year, will be held at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Tickets cost $15 for each film; $100 for a festival pass to all the films; tickets can be purchased at the Bay Street Theatre box office (725-9500) or at ht2ff.com.
The following North Fork-related films will also show over the weekend:
• "Long May You Shine" (43 min.) on Friday, Nov. 30 at 6:45 p.m. by director Mark Costello Higgins about restoration of the beautiful Victorian Long Beach Bar Lighthouse in Greenport. Q&A afterwards with the director, emceed by arts writer/film critic Andrew Botsford.
• "Harry Hellfire" (97 min.) on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 3:30 p.m. by director Jim Morrison of Greenport, about a great but unknown rock musician who lives in a tent behind the seaside graveyard in Greenport. Q&A afterwards with the director, emceed by Andrew Botsford.