McAllen High grad’s first film gets private Edinburg premiere

Writer, director and composer Jack Danini turned his deep admiration for New York City and the lessons he learned about falling in love and dealing with a heartbreak into the theme of his first feature film “Ode to Passion.”

Danini, who spent most of his school years in McAllen, began writing the indie-rock musical at 19 years old after he got his heart broken for the first time.

“I was a very, very naive romantic young guy,” the McAllen High School alumnus said. “I really believed true love was everything, that I needed to find true love to move on with my life.”

The movie is set in New York City and follows the love story of a writer, Michael Fiorelli, and an artist, Sarah Andrews, which begins with love at first sight. However, as their relationship progresses, they encounter hardships that come with love affairs.

Giseppe Bausillo, who played the lead in Broadway’s “Billy Elliot,” plays Michael, and Julia Nightingale is Sarah.

The film has been available to purchase on Amazon Prime since July, but on Sunday evening, a private viewing with Danini’s family and friends will be held at AMC Edinburg 18.

Danini said the works of poets Arthur Rimbaud and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe helped him get through heartbreak as a teenager, and to pay homage to them, “Ode to Passion” is told completely in rhyming verses and songs.

He said he wrote just three scenes of the movie as a teenager before putting it down. It was not until he was in his 30s that he would pick it up again — when he was married and his first daughter was almost a year old.

Danini said he would recall how he felt as a heartbroken 19-year-old while writing and developing Michael’s character. But then he made Michael’s best friend, John Leroux (played by Jeff Smith), have the maturity he has now as an adult.

“It was really incredible because I ended up writing a lot of the ‘later me’ and the experiences I have had — like having a baby and getting married — into the second character, John,” Danini said. “It almost felt like I was giving my younger self advice.”

He added the film is about how “it’s OK to live and it’s OK to get hurt, and that just because you’re brokenhearted does not mean you have to stop loving, that it’s all over. You have to get back up and do it again.”

If he were to have finished the film at 19, he said it would have been a different movie.

“I think it would have been darker. I think it would have probably been a little angier and sadder, and would have had a darker ending,” Danini said.

The film was selected to make a world premiere at Queens World Film Festival in New York in March, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said because the story is told in verses, and includes 18 original songs he wrote, before watching the film “people need to put themselves in the mentality for something different, for something that’s more of an old-school romantic film.”

Danini began working in the entertainment industry when he was 7 years old as an actor for Sesame Street, teaching English to viewers in Latin America. Since then, his passion for film never ceased.

He traces his commitment to film to a trip he took to New York City with his theater class at Memorial High School in McAllen at 16 years old. There, his class explored the city and watched several Broadway shows.

“Phantom of the Opera was the one that just blew me away, and I was just in love with it all,” Danini said. “I told myself that I had to move to the city, I had to come back.”

He lived in New York City on and off for 15 years and finished writing “Ode of Passion” right before moving to Budapest for a year.

Danini’s favorite part of the city is the diversity.

“New York is a melting pot,” he said. “People come together there, it does not matter where you are from, you are automatically accepted, you are a part of the city, and it is a city that would not function without all of these different cultures and ethnicities.”

Pre-production of the film took three months in 2017, and production took place October 2017.

“Shooting a feature film is one of the most complicated things anyone could ever do,” he said. “There are so many pieces that have to come together and it really is a team of people that really all just have to put their heart into it. It really did feel like a miracle, some spontaneous thing that just came together and magically worked.”

Danini added that shooting the film was a labor of love, but he wishes the film industry supported new filmmakers.

“It’s hard to get financing for an indie film, and it is a shame because you see a lot of these massive-budget films that are absolutely horrific,” he said. “It would be great if Hollywood or anybody would give new ideas a chance, and not just the remakes of films.”