by Julianne Mosher |

People came from all over to attend the first night of the 24th annual Stony Brook Film Festival at the Staller Center for the Arts Thursday night.

“It’s a really exciting festival this year,” said Alan Inkles, the festival’s founder and director. “We have a really great mix of films… we wanted to have the best.”

On Thursday, July 18, the Staller Center was completely filled with movie lovers, donors, sponsors, students and community members– one couple even flew in from Scottsdale, Ariz., to sit back and watch the opening night’s film, Balloon.

“It’s a really powerful film,” Inkles said of the German movie. “It’s really well-acted and an overall crowd-pleaser.” He added that if this movie were an American film, it would be a huge hit nationwide.

Directed by Michael Herbig, Balloon is based on a true story about a family that attempts to escape from East Germany in a homemade hot air balloon during the German Democratic Regime in 1979.

The film was filled with emotion and suspense, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Despite being a German film with English subtitles, it got a loud round of applause when the ending credits came on.

“It was a very exciting film and wonderfully done,” Lloyd Lense, of Setauket, said. “Great directing, great actors… we loved it!”

Herbig couldn’t make last night’s opening, despite wanting to be there. Inkles said he was back in Germany working on another film. No Q&A was held afterward.

“But that’s okay,” he said in the opening remarks, “Tonight you can watch this film, go home and get some rest… you’ll need it for a busy week ahead.”

The festival will continue through July 27 featuring films from Spain, Australia, Israel, France, the UK, India and more.

In total, 36 films ended up being chosen– 20 features and 16 shorts– that include foreign, American, dramas, and comedies. This year’s theme revolves around families.

“Some of these films are going to make you laugh and some are going to make you cry… some will make you do both!” Inkles said.

Moviemakers from around the world submitted over 3,000 films to Inkles and his team. Starting in December and all the way through May, he would watch the films over and over again to see which ones made the cut for the very successful festival.

“We’ve grown to have a great reputation after 24 years,” he added.

Two American films that are getting people excited will premiere next week; Guest Artist starring Jeff Daniels will head to the festival on Monday, along with The Parts You Lose, starring Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, on Friday.

To see the full schedule click here. And to buy single-day tickets or festival-long passes click here or call 631) 632-2787.

Scroll down to see photos from the opening night. (Credit: Julianne Mosher)

prior coverage

Stony Brook Film Festival — runs July 18-27 — features Jeff Daniels, Aaron Paul films