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“For Ellen” movie filmed in Massena set for September release

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MASSENA - Shaylena Mandigo landed her first film role by showing up for gym class at Nightengale Elementary School.

It was there director So Yong Kim, scouting the title character for her film “For Ellen,” discovered Miss Mandigo in the middle of her first-grade school year.

Over two years later, “For Ellen,” which was partially filmed around Massena, is being released. And Miss Mandigo, 9, is ramping up her film career.

“For Ellen,” screened at the Sundance Film Festival last winter, will debut at select theaters in New York City, Seattle, Denver, Miami and Chicago between Sept. 5 and Oct. 19. There are no planned Massena or north country screenings listed on Tribecca Film’s web site, but Time Warner Video on Demand subscribers can view the film starting Sept. 19.

The movie, filmed over an 18-day period in early 2010, also stars Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will be Blood”) and Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Blades of Glory.”) Mr. Dano plays a struggling musician who rethinks life after finding out divorce meant losing custody of his daughter, Ellen (Mandigo).

A trailer can be viewed at http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/forellen/ (Massena’s Hebert’s Steak Ranch is visible in the background of that web page.)

The film’s producer, Jen Gatien, is a cousin of retired Massena Police Department Sergeant Douglas E. Kassian, who recommended the town for the film and helped the director scout out locations. Delmar Sportsmen’s Tavern, Pappy’s Bowlmor Lanes and Mr. Kassian’s house were among the shooting locations.

The film’s release is coinciding with two other events in Miss Mandigo’s life. She is about to start fourth grade at Nightengale, and she is flying to New York in September for her next film role.

Miss Mandigo will be co-starring in a short independent film shooting in New York next month, according to her mother, Tammie. She and Shaylena will be staying in a Times Square hotel during the three-day filming for the movie, which Mrs. Mandigo declined to name at this point.

Just this week, Shaylena entered a confidentiality agreement with another film studio in Los Angeles to audition for a different film. Soon after Sundance, Nickelodeon contacted her to audition for a children’s musical show called “Bubble Guppies.” A representative from Paramount Pictures also reached out to the family and said the company would keep Shaylena in mind for future roles.

All of this was without hiring a film agent, Mrs. Mandigo said. The family was not actively pursuing show business when Ms. Kim found Shaylena.

“We’re not calling anybody,” she said. “These people are contacting us.”

Shaylena is taking it all in stride and is preparing to juggle life in fourth grade at Nightengale, playing soccer after school, filming in Manhattan next month and pursuing other film roles.

“I like traveling and meeting new people,” she said. “It’s a new experience for my career.”

Shaylena recalled traveling to Sundance and being stopped by her fans on Utah’s streets after the screening.

“They were a little crazy,” shes said. “I like my fans. I think it’s amazing.”

Shaylena has been drawing up career plans in the last few months. Film is fun, but she would love to end up in television on a Disney Channel show.

“I’d like to see myself on tv and say ‘Hey! That’s me,’” she said.

She isn’t worried about keeping up with both school and stardom. Her fourth-grade teacher, Mara Pelifian, had a small role in For Ellen and is supportive of Shaylena’s dreams, Mrs. Mandigo said.

If life works out for Shaylena, she’d like to move to Los Angeles by “11 or so.” But Shaylena would like her family - she’s the youngest of five siblings - to keep the Massena house so she’d always have a place to come home to.

And in case acting doesn’t pan out, she’d like to become a teacher.

“Hopefully, I’ll have a good career,” she said.

Shaylena said she hoped her story could inspire other children to believe in their dreams too.

“Don’t give up, because their dream could happen some day,” she said.

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