NAIT students produce award-winning documentary about Alfie Zappacosta

He’s starred in music videos, played concert stages around the world and done countless TV interviews. No stranger to the spotlight, renowned Edmonton musician Alfie Zappacosta still felt uneasy viewing the new documentary on his life.

“It’s really very hard for me to watch,” says Zappacosta, an Edmonton resident perhaps best known for Overload, the song he wrote and recorded for the soundtrack to the movie Dirty Dancing in 1987.

Long Road Home premiered April 20 (National Canadian Film Day) at Northwestfest, Edmonton’s annual film, music and digital arts festival, with Zappacosta in attendance at the Garneau’s Metro Cinema. The first full-length documentary produced by NAIT Digital Media and IT (DMIT) students, it won Best Alberta Documentary Over 30 Minutes at the festival for capturing the life story of an intriguing musical personality.

Not to say Zappacosta disliked the documentary, produced by Braden Rooke (DMIT ’15) under the supervision of digital cinema instructor Michael Jorgensen. In fact, Zappacosta loved it. But he compares the experience of opening up about his past to standing naked in front of a group of people.

“You see it all,” he says.

The NAIT Digital Media and IT team responsible for Long Road Home, a documentary about Alfie Zappacosta.Rock ‘n’ roll regrets

“I’m sure there’s nobody on this planet who doesn’t look back on their life and see some regrets or something that could have been done differently,” says Zappacosta. “Obviously, there is that in this documentary.”

Including interviews and live performance footage (shot at Festival Place in Sherwood Park), Long Road Home chronicles the trials and tribulations of being a touring musician who not only suffers from stage fright but also has a love-hate relationship with fame.

“He fell into that rock-star mentality of the ’80s, which was something he never wanted to do,” says Rooke.

With a wife and young children at home, quitting wasn’t an option.

Zappacosta – winner of 2 Junos and an American Music Award (and one-time star of an episode of Canadian television series Danger Bay) – looks back on the 1980s with mixed emotions. With success came decisions he’d make differently today, like the music video for the song We Should Be Lovers from his self-titled 1984 debut.

In it, two lingerie-clad women compete for his attention by fighting in a Jell-O-filled wrestling ring, eventually pulling him in.

“It was the worst video of 1984,” says Zappacosta. “That particular thing really embarrassed me in a lot of ways because I love women. There were a lot of women that were definitely upset about it.”

His fame grew nonetheless, reaching its height with his inclusion on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, which has since sold 32 million copies worldwide.

But following the release of Quick! ... Don’t Ask Any Questions in 1990, the Italian-born and Toronto-raised singer-songwriter quietly stepped away from the spotlight to redefine himself as a father and, eventually, a jazz musician.

A story that resonates

Long Road Home debuted in April at the Northwestfest, where it was named Best Alberta Documentary Over 30 Minutes.

It’s a story that resonates with audiences, says Guy Lavallee, Northwestfest director and programmer, who notes the film’s finish as Best Alberta Documentary Over 30 minutes was determined in part by audience voting.

Selecting the movie to kick off the 10-day non-fiction film festival was an easy decision, he says.

“I heard the backstory about how it was produced by NAIT and thought, ‘This is interesting,’” he says. “I was very, very impressed by the quality and the level of professionalism they put into the film. They really checked off all the boxes with this one.”

In addition to winning at Northwestfest, Long Road Home was also nominated in April for 3 Rosies, Alberta’s annual film and television awards, including best director (Stephanie Volk, DMIT ’15). It won Best Student Production.

And its run is not over yet.

Rooke has applied to have Long Road Home screened at a several other Canadian film festivals and plans to pitch it to national networks. He hopes to land some meetings at the Banff World Media Festival, which runs June 12-15.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit intimidating,” says Rooke, who at 23 years old wasn’t born when Zappacosta was on the music charts.

In fact, he wasn’t familiar with Zappacosta’s music when he took the project on, though Rooke says he’s now a fan. “He’s 62 years old and still performing everyday,” he says. “The heart he has for his music and the fact he’s still doing it today is incredible.”

Making peace with the past

Zappacosta, meanwhile, has been touring in support of his new live CD and DVD, No Avoiding Clichés. The DVD features the full Sherwood Park concert, also produced and edited by Rooke.

He’s accepted the past and is finally making the music he wants.

“It’s come to a pretty happy ending,” says Zappacosta. “The kids are all good. I’m a grandfather. We’ve reached a happy place in our lives.”

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