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Friends are remembered in new short film

There are seemingly as many ways to process grief as there are people who grieve.

For Rob Azevedo, a writer in Manchester, N.H., turning to a blank page was his way to make sense of the death of his friend’s 15-year-old niece from cancer in 2012, and earlier losses of friends from his days at Melrose High School.

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The resulting essay, “Candles in Paradise,’’ imagines the girl from Lynnfield, formerly of Melrose, joyful on a summer’s day at the beach. She is welcomed by two young men, both friends of her parents, as well as Azevedo: Gary Colasanti, who died in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, and Ray Rocha, who was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

On the beach, which represents paradise, Gary and Ray teach the girl how to tell her grieving family, through the sweet breezes of love that she sends them, that she is no longer in pain, and is with friends.

“It was one of those things,” Azevedo said. “I barely remember writing it. It shot out of me, from my head to my heart. It was my version of a condolence card.”

‘It’s a breath of fresh air on a very tragic situation. . . . Rob’s a creative guy who came up with a great way to tie these tragic events together in a very nice way.’

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Published in the Laconia Sentinel, where Azevedo is a columnist, and reprinted by the Melrose Free Press, the essay hit a nerve with readers — those who knew the three families and, more surprisingly, those who didn’t, he said.

“It got more reactions on Facebook than any other piece I’ve written in my life,” said Azevedo, who was recently nominated for the Donald M. Murray Outstanding Journalism Award.

He decided to make a film of his essay. He did it for the city of Melrose; for families who have lost someone so young; for the children slain in Newtown, Conn.; for the Boston Marathon bombing victims; for his own father; and, of course, as a tribute to the young girl, Gary, Ray, and their families.

Fifteen months later, “Candles in Paradise” is a short drama, entered in this year’s Somewhat North of Boston (SNOB) independent film festival, held at the Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. The festival, which began Thursday, concludes Sunday.

The fourth film Azevedo has written and entered in the film festival, it is the first one he has directed.

“I wanted full control of this 10-minute short,” said Azevedo, who said he had lacked the confidence to take the directorial reins before. The subject matter changed all that for the father of two, giving him a strong sense of purpose.

“I knew who I wanted as the actors. I knew where I wanted to shoot it. I knew how it was going to be shot. It was all mapped out in my head,” he said.

The writer-producer-director set about turning the essay, with its universal theme of relying upon faith to get through darkness, into a film. His search for a director of photography who could share his vision led him to Chris Tremblay who, it turned out, lived only a half-mile away.

In the film, Manchester High School sophomore Olivia Maglio, 15, plays the young girl. Dan Tully, a friend of Azevedo’s from Melrose now living in Salem, plays Ray Rocha, and Nick Brough plays Gary Colasanti. Curtis Lanciani, an actor from Wenham and a main character in “Overdrawn,’’ Azevedo’s film entered in the 2012 film festival, and Ida Gray, of Chester, N.H., play the parents.

The crew started work on Memorial Day and finished on Labor Day. Shot on Plum Island and Hampton Beach, the film cost Azevedo about $2,000.

“Candles” is one of 38 films in the short-drama category (under 60 minutes), and it’s anyone’s guess how it will do at the festival. But the vote is already in from Len Colasanti of Melrose, Gary’s father.

“It’s a breath of fresh air on a very tragic situation. Most articles about these three young kids were downers. Rob’s a creative guy who came up with a great way to tie these tragic events together in a very nice way.’’

“We’re all dealing with the same thing,” Colosanti said, referring to the three families. “The loss of a child is something that’s very difficult to contend with. It never really goes away. You just learn to live with it.”

He applauded Brough for capturing his son’s personality, but he admits to having mixed emotions about having to think about his loss all over again.

“Sometimes, you like to walk away from it,’’ he said. “This was different. It was more personal from Rob. A nice touch on something tragic.”

To see the film, go to vimeo.com/74655040
Reach Kathy Shiels Tully at kathyshielstully@gmail.com.

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