Area filmmaker creates award-winning films with cell phone

John Sciarretta grew up loving the movies. The Fairfield County resident fondly recalls watching “The Godfather” and its sequels on television at his grandparents’ house, where they were shown often.

“I don’t know if it was an escape from reality,” said Sciarretta, 31, who had a difficult upbringing. His father died young and his mom battled drug addiction.

His first exposure to making films came when living in North Carolina with his former girlfriend, who was attending college. He started spending time at the college’s filmmaking facilities while helping her with a class project.

Sciarretta soon was making his own short films, including comedies about sports teams. “People loved them,” he said. “I was putting them up on YouTube and they were getting thousands of views.”

He had found his passion. “I have a creative and wandering mind. It’s always pacing and racing with ideas,” said Sciarretta, who lives in Norwalk with his wife and 6-year-old daughter.

While he longed to attend film school in California, reality got in the way. He had a young daughter to support, bills to pay and personal challenges to continue overcoming.

Then in the fall of 2019, Sciarretta was able to make two shorts, “Lakota” and “Before the Ink Is Dry.” He uploaded them on the Internet and entered them in multiple film festivals.

They were selected for inclusion by 18 film festivals in total, and won critical recognition and awards.

Both were made on an iPhone 7 with no budget and no formal script. Sciarretta was the lead actor, writer, director and producer.

He’s ready to make his third short film, to be titled “The Mind of Jakob Roy,” focusing on a difficult subject that’s impacted his own life.

The new short will tell the story of an adult man who was sexually abused as a child and now is obsessed with finding his abuser.

“He can’t get it out of his mind,” Sciarretta said. “His life revolves around this incident and finding the guy so he can’t do it again. He wants revenge.”

Sciarretta was molested at age 4. “This movie comes from the heart,” he said. “It relates to what I went through.”

He will play Roy, who suffers from alcohol and drug problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia. Sciarretta has dealt with substance abuse and mental health issues during his own life.

“I know it’s a touchy subject,” he said. “But it’s more common than people think and I want people to know they’re not alone out there.”

Production was supposed to start in January but has been pushed back by some good news. Sciarretta and his wife are expecting a child and it’s time to once again focus on the basics in life — having a stable place to live and paying the bills.

“The film will get made,” he said with confidence.

Sciarretta grew up in Stamford and spent much of his youth in Ridgefield, where he was a baseball standout until having discipline problems in high school. He began living on his own at a young age.

“When you’re on your own at 16, you bounce around,” said Sciarretta, who’s also spent time in Danbury, Florida and Arizona and has been homeless.

He now has a job with a large sales and marketing company and previously owned a landscaping business.

His first short, “Lakota,” was released last October and is about a man who gets lost while hiking on a remote trail in New Hampshire. Growing desperate, the man vents about his regrets. There is a surprise confession and ending.

“It’s a great character study on the human psyche,” Sciarretta said.

The 18-minute film was shot in the woods near his residence, and then edited on a home computer.

“Lakota” was an honorable mention winner for Best Mobile Short by the Independent Shorts Awards and for Best Actor in a Drama by

“Before the Ink Is Dry,” released last November, focuses on a man in prison who sends a letter to his daughter about his mistakes and the lessons he’s learned from them.

The daughter ends up becoming a successful adult and has saved her father’s letter. The 10-minute film incorporates old footage of Sciarretta’s daughter when she was younger.

“Like myself, the main character went through a rough patch in his life but turned it around for his daughter,” he said.

The short film highlights the issue of mass incarceration, the Department of Justice reporting that 1.7 million children have an incarcerated parent. “People don’t know this,” Sciarretta said.

It was a nominee for Best Inspirational Film from the Oniros Film Awards and Best Original Story and Best Drama Short Film from the Florence Film Awards in Italy. It also won a Best Drama honorable mention at the Vegas Movie Awards.

A few years ago, Sciarretta created the Mental Minute Project so individuals could submit one-minute-long Instagram videos on mental health issues they’ve dealt with in their lives.

He made and posted the first video himself, and soon people from all around the country and elsewhere followed suit. “It went viral quickly. It helped a lot of people,” he said.

Sciarretta has other interests as well. He’s been a rock climber, obstacle course racing competitor and boxer. He plays on a local semi-pro baseball team.

He also makes an effort to give back to the community by talking to troubled youth and helping the homeless.

“I don’t like to look back at the what-ifs,” Sciarretta said.