Thursday, April 20, 2023

Interview with Anthony Scalia, The Filmmaker Behind Bendix: Site Unseen - Illuminating the Incredible Story Behind this Iconic Establishment

Bendix: Site Unseen
is a remarkable story about a remarkable man. For anyone in the New York City Area, the diner is on a major thoroughfare - and has been for years. But I don't think that many people know that this iconic establishment is run by a man with disabilities - a blind man. In his engaging documentary, filmmaker Anthony Scalia opens up our eyes to let us see how a disability does not stop this one man, John Diakakis, from having a full life, successful business and loving family. In this interview, I talk to the documentarian, Anthony Scalia.

This film is being shown at the Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival in Ridgewood, NJ on April 27th. Details here.
SBTS: In your own words, what is this film about?

Anthony Scalia: This film centers around John Diakakis, the blind waiter and manager of the Bendix Diner. John overcomes his disability daily to provide for his three children, who work at the diner with him.

SBTS: Why did you make this film?

Anthony Scalia: I stopped at the diner one night and found this incredible story hiding in my backyard. I couldn't believe that I had lived down the street from the diner and never heard about this. So I started hanging around there and got to know John. His inspirational quirkiness immediately resonated with me and I knew that I had to make a film about him. I knew that this story needed to be told. 
SBTS: Are you a fan of diners?

Anthony Scalia: I'm a huge fan of diners. And this may be a biased opinion, but I do believe NJ has the best in the country. There's something romantic and alluring about the neon signs that draws in people from all ages at all times of the day. 
SBTS: What was the most challenging part of filming this?

Anthony Scalia: Coordinating my schedule with John was difficult, since the diner is an operating business and his livelihood. So he didn't always want cameras around. And although I had camera operators help me on certain days, I shot a considerable amount of footage myself. There were many days where it was just John and I in the diner and I was spreading myself thin- trying to keep an eye on the cameras and audio while conducting the interviews. 
SBTSWhat is the message you want to convey? It shouted out to me that is was that a person can overcome disabilities with perseverance, strength and support.

Anthony Scalia: As John says in the film, "anything is achievable when you have a disability" and he is certainly proof of that. He excels in everything he attempts - most notably, as a father. His devotion to their well-being is incredibly inspiring and that bond that he has with his children is the glue that holds the diner and this film together. 
SBTS: How long did it take you to make it? Any advice you would pass on to an aspiring documentarian?

Anthony Scalia: This film took me four years to make but I never expected it to take me longer than a year and a half. Before this film, I made several short documentaries on interesting people and places in NJ so I thought I had developed a format that this would fit directly into. 

But I soon learned that there was more to John and this story than I initially realized. So I gave up on my preconceived format and let the subject dictate the film's tone, length and direction. It was daunting to let go of control like that but everything soon started falling into place. So my advice would be to allow plenty of breathing room for your story to grow. Also, document yourself during this journey to see how much you have grown during the course of this endeavour. 
Just a few personal facts now...
What's your favorite meal at Bendix?
Turkey club with Russian dressing and fries extra crispy. 
Name a few docs that have inspired you.
Jay Myself, Searching for Sugarman, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, Zen of Diaries of Garry Shandling
What shows have you been binging?
Better Call Saul, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Norm Macdonald Has a Show