This Film Shot in Phoenixville Premieres at a Major Film Fest

From writer, director and producer team Julianna and Matthew Bonifacio, "Little Orange Flags" is the latest film to come out of Phoenixville.

The Blob put Phoenixville on the map in 1958. Grossing nearly 40 times its budget, the B-horror classic spawned an undying love for the silver screen in thousands of Main Liners. Today, writer/director Julianna Bonifacio and producer Matthew Bonifacio honor that filmmaking tradition with their latest short film, Little Orange Flags, shot just outside town.

The 17-minute picture is a coming-of-age story that tells the tale of Iris, who is sent to live at her aunt’s seemingly idyllic country manor with cousin Pruey. Introducing young actors Bella Estrada as Iris and Bella Price as Pruey, the short film also brings Ozark star Lisa Emery, playing Nana, back to her Main Line region roots.

Just days ahead of the Little Orange Flags premiere at Sarasota Film Festival, Julianna Bonifacio is feeling the nerves.

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“I’ve had films premiere before, but this one for so many reasons is so important to me. And I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself about it,” she says. “I really want the two child actors flying in for it to be really proud of themselves and love it as much as I hope that they do.”

The stars of the picture, Estrada and Price, play 12-year-old girls living under the roof of Nana, Iris’s aunt and Pruey’s grandmother. After an encounter with her mother’s boyfriend, Iris has been cast off to live at her aunt’s house, under her rules.

For Estrada, the casting process was traditional. The Bonifacios found her through an agent and liked her work and her chemistry with the character. Price, though, has a story only possible in our digital age.

As if fate guided her, Julianna first noticed Price on Instagram, where she performed choreographed dances for her followers. Despite lacking professional acting experience, she had a face Julianna couldn’t get out of her mind.

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Bella Price had a face Julianna couldn't get out of her mind.
Bella Price had a face Julianna couldn’t get out of her mind.

“I was reading some of the comments on her posts, and one person had written a comment, ‘You’ll never be famous,'” Julianna recalls. “So I just felt that [was] a sign.”

She remembers thinking, “‘I don’t know if we can make her famous, but we can definitely try.'”

After reaching out to Price’s parents, Julianna brought her to New York City for an audition and quickly realized she was perfect for the part. The Bonifacios thought she was smart, not to mention a natural in front of the camera, and noted she had immediate chemistry with her counterpart Estrada. The “Bellas,” as they became known, were inseparable on set.

On camera, both girls excelled using minute facial expressions and tonal shifts, reflecting emotionality not often found in child actors. Furthermore, their performances were accentuated by the looming presence of Valley Forge’s own Lisa Emery.

Little Ornage Flags Dinner Table
Little Orange Flag’s three stars Bella Estrada as Iris (left), Lisa Emery as Nana (middle) and Bella Price as Pruey (right) sit at the dinner table.

Not only is Little Orange Flags shot in Phoenixville, but it draws on locals to help fill out the production, namely composer Michael Bacon and costume designer—and Julianna’s mother—Judy Gelinas.

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Naturally, the shoot suffered from production woes, as all films do. Chiefly, the Bonifacios struggled to get the all-important shot of buzzards circling overhead. During the seven-day shoot, the cry of “Buzzards!” was often heard on set. During those moments, the cameras panned to the sky in an attempt to catch footage of the elusive birds.

“When you’re not filming, they’re constantly circling over that property. When you want them to be circling over the property, they’re just going straight,” Julianna recalls.

By day seven, director of photography Ben Goelz captured the shot he needed and some of that tension dissipated, but then the rain came.

“This happens with onsets all the time, but it was the final day and the final couple of hours and we weren’t going to do another day,” Julianna says.

Where panic might have set in, the production team carried on as if nothing changed. They committed to gray skies and color-corrected the shots. Thus, in the final product, the skies darken as the film bridges toward its climax. In the end, the gloomy atmosphere matches the tone on screen. Perhaps Little Orange Flags needed the rain, even if the production team didn’t know it at the time.

With production fully wrapped on the movie, and the Sarasota premiere on Sunday, April 7, it’s finally time for the Bonifacios to close the book on the project. Their film company, Lizzy & Dicky Studios, has plenty of plans for the future. A feature film and a scripted docu-series involving a local baseball team are in the works.

Though the couple now live in New York City and work out of the offices at Tribeca Films, they’re never far from their Phoenixville past, a treasure which Little Orange Flags is sure to honor.

Related: Wayne’s Julia Rae Talks Battling Cystic Fibrosis and Her New Film

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