Aug.13: You’ll see some familiar faces on the big screen when ‘Finding Sandler’ has its New England premiere at The Rex

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A still from “Finding Sandler” in which film producer David Seth Cohen briefly “finds” Sandler – in his pursuit of sitting down and having a drink with his idol.

MANCHESTER, NH – “Finding Sandler” is an independent film that will have its New England premiere on Aug. 13 during the city’s first International Film Festival at the Rex Theatre. The film, by New York filmmaker David Seth Cohen, was years in the making and is based on a simple premise everyone can relate to: regret. 

As it turns out, finding Adam Sandler may have been the initial goal of the fun and, at times, reflective journey, but in the end this movie is about chasing dreams, taking leaps of faith and finding the courage to see something through.

Cohen has spent the better part of 15 years trying to recapture a moment that slipped through his fingers back in 1998 when he was working as a production assistant on the set of “Big Daddy.” He was tasked with delivering clothes to Sandler at his hotel room in time for the premiere of “The Waterboy.” Instead of handing off the clothing to the doorman, as he expected, Cohen was told to take them up to Sandler himself. 

To his amazement, Sandler answered the door and casually invited Cohen to come in for a drink. 

Golden opportunity for a 22-year-old aspiring filmmaker, right?

But Cohen declined. Not because he didn’t want to have a moment with Sandler, one of his personal heroes at the time. 

It was complicated.

Filmmaker David Seth Cohen. Courtesy Photo

Cohen was double-parked in New York City, there was a co-worker waiting in the company car he was tasked with giving a ride home to by his boss, and above all else, he didn’t want to get fired from his job for shirking his responsibilities for giving in to Sandler’s tempting offer. 

In the aftermath, that one decision haunted Cohen long and hard enough that he decided to make it his mission to set things right. 

And as set up in the film’s prelude, the haunting takes shape in 2006, shortly after an actual dream in which Cohen connected with Sandler and has his moment. He woke up determined to make his dream a reality. 

At the time he had just turned 30 and living in his grandmother’s basement, still waiting for his aspirations as a filmmaker to materialize. 

The documentary-style film tells the story from Cohen’s point of view. Along the way he assembles a cast of supporting characters – mostly friends and family – who help him go the distance and includes plenty of footage from a road trip to Manchester where he connected with Sandler’s former Central High School gym teacher, Don Tibbetts, who helped get him inside Sandler’s alma mater. Insights from former teachers on the young Sandler are sure to delight a hometown audience.

The film is a mix of documentary-style footage and clever animation.

It also includes some cameos by Billy Joel, Dee Snider and Emeril Lagasse, who all helped fuel Cohen’s dream. Each encounter gave him the momentum to continue, even as funding and time started to run out. 

Producing the film, after it sat dormant in a can called disillusionment for several years, is the big win here for Cohen.

After previewing the film, I can tell you “Finding Sandler” is a long and enjoyable ride through the filmmaker’s lens during which Cohen’s tenacity is clearly his strong suit.

For some local Sandler fans, going to such great lengths just to have a moment with him might seem obsessive. He’s not hard to run into if you live here long enough, as he still has deep family ties in Manchester. For example, my son got to slap Sandler a high-five as he picked up his high school diploma in 2010 after Sandler showed up for the ceremony. Sandler’s niece was a classmate of my son’s. 

As for Sandler’s rise to fame since graduating from Central in 1984, there are those who didn’t see it coming. But after getting his first big break as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” Sandler made all the right moves on his own pathway to success.

He found his sweet spot in producing a series of lightweight comedies, which became his springboard to commercial success now as a multi-millionaire movie star whose collection of films have grossed an estimated $4 billion worldwide.

In recent years Sandler’s work has revealed another side of the comedian, beyond the trademark adolescent humor – his most recent film, “Hustle,” has been met with critical acclaim, including Sandler’s moving portrayal of an NBA scout who puts his career on the line to prove himself.

And it is Sandler’s current status as a Hollywood superstar that likely has prevented Cohen from sitting down with him for that drink.

Cohen says he has a feeling it’s been a deliberate snub – not necessarily by Sandler, but his handlers. 

“It’s weird, the whole thing,” says Cohen of his many attempts to get a copy of the film to Sandler, whose management team at one point told Cohen to stop production.

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David Seth Cohen invested 15 years in his quest to “find” Adam Sandler. He’s glad he made the movie – and is still hoping to have that drink with him, someday. But for now, his priorities have shifted as he prepares for his new starring role, as a father.

“This was 13 years of hard work and, looking back to when we first spoke, I was a brash young man – which I acknowledge,” Cohen says. “I’ve matured, and I’ve learned a great deal. I have a lot of gratitude for the mistakes I’ve made because I’ve learned so much.” 

“Finding Sandler,” is fun to watch, with clever animation woven through it that provides flashback scenes and even pays homage to some of Sandler’s many hit movies.

But in the end, this film is not really about hero worship or hitting the rewind button to recapture a lost moment. Cohen emerges as an everyday hero in a movie about self-discovery – not unlike the plot of most any Adam Sandler film.

Since completing the project Cohen is living a different – but equally sought-after – dream. He married a wonderful woman during the pandemic and they are expecting their first child any time now.

“I thought I needed a drink with my hero, but from Adam I got the inspiration to make a movie and the realization that there’s a hero in all of us – including family and friends who are there for us when we need them,” says Cohen. “On my quest to find Sandler, I found myself.”

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See “Finding Sandler” Aug. 13 at The Rex 

*Best Deal: Buy a ticket to see an Evening with John Lithgow Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre and you get free admission to the entire 3-day film festival. Tickets prices range from $50-100 and can be purchased here.

Saturday pass: $20 for adults/$10 for students – Admission includes the full day’s schedule at the Rex Theatre: 

12 PM Kids Movie (TBD)

2 PM Documentary International Best of Presentation

4 PM SNHU FILM / NH FILM Student Showcase

6 PM “Finding Sandler” New England Red Carpet Premiere – Documentary Feature

  • Q & A with Filmmaker after the Presentation

9 PM LIVE Podcast Taping Horror Night – “An American Werewolf in London” Presented by A Dark Impression Podcast and SNHU Film

11 PM End of Program

Click here for more information and tickets for the entire weekend, included when you purchase a Friday night ticket to see An Evening with John Lithgow.

Watch the official trailer below

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!