Avon Theatre spotlights film about ‘New Yawk’ accents

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The Geico Gecko has employed it to sell insurance. Actors Marisa Tomei used it to comedic effect. And Madonna used it to voice a holiday classic.

It is a linguistic phenomenon that has seeped past the boundaries from which it sprung – the New York accent. And on Wednesday night, the Avon Theatre in Stamford will devote an evening to its origins, evolution and future fate, when it hosts a screening of “If These Knishes Could Talk.” Filmmaker Heather Quinlan will be there, as well, for a question-and-answer session following the documentary. The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. (You can see a preview below.)

Among the speakers in the film, which was released earlier this year, are writer Pete Hamill, actor and director Penny Marshall, attorney Alan Dershowitz and screenwriter James McBride. Quinlan also talked to residents from across the boroughs. She researched the origins of the distinctive New York City voice and learned interesting tidbits – did you know there is a New York accent in sign language?

Quinlan, who grew up in Staten Island and New Jersey, said the inspiration behind the film was her family.

“My father and grandparents, specifically, have all passed away, and they all had these amazing accents. When I was making the transformation from working in publishing to film, and I knew I wanted to go into documentaries, I thought it would be a good topic.”

She said the film is a “way of honoring them and a part of New York that I miss, not that the accent is gone.”

Although she does not subscribe to the notion that the New York accent will eventually peter out, she said the city has changed over the years and it is not as prevalent as it once was.

It has taken her six years to complete the film, mostly backed by her life savings. She is currently going around to film festivals and organizing screenings with the hope that it will be picked up for distribution.

She said audiences have been entirely receptive.

“They are looking to have a good time, and they are really responsive,” said Quinlan, who lived for several years in New Fairfield in the late 1990s. “And, I think they really learned a lot. For me, the best documentaries are ones you go in thinking one thing and come out thinking another.”

Christina Hennessy

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