CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — In actor William Fichtner’s latest return to his hometown this month, the Cheektowaga native has attended a screening of his new movie, “Hypnotic” and paid tribute to the lives lost on May 14 last year at the one-year remembrance memorial service.

On Friday evening, Fichtner attended a screening of projects some of the graduating seniors at Villa Maria College have been working on all year. Saturday morning, he gave the commencement address at the College.

Following Friday’s screening, Fichtner met with News 4 to discuss the address and the importance of local arts scene. Fichtner, Tim Clark of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, and Villa Maria College President Dr. Matthew Giordano also spoke about the growth of the film industry in Buffalo and the College’s ability to foster that growth with its various film programs.

“Everything about it is special,” Fichtner said of the upcoming address. “I have four sisters and my sister Mary, she graduated from Villa… so I’ve always had an awareness of Villa, but I have to tell you,

Fichtner said Giordano reached out to him a year ago about coming to the school’s 2022 commencement, but due to a conflict, he was unable to make it. Now, the actor is in town and primed to give the address.

When Fichtner was back in Buffalo in the fall for a Bills game, he stopped by Villa to speak to the same seniors he met with Friday evening.

“Matt invited me over and I came over and I talked to the film students,” he said. “We just spent some time looking at some of the short films that were made by the seniors and I had a chance to talk to them about it. Most of that group, I met back in October, so it was really nice to see them again. Back then, they were thinking about the films they were going to make and now they’ve made them. It is pretty incredible what’s been going on at this little school.”

Fichtner commended the school’s visual arts and filmmaking programs, calling them “top-notch.”

Tim Clark also spoke to the importance of film education for the

“Villa Maria is such a legacy part of Buffalo,” he said. “It’s an amazing school that’s been here forever, it seems. They are looking to the future and the future is very bright in this industry, so they’re training the next generation of content makers — people who are going to work on movies and television and we’re very excited about this program that they have here.

Clark said though production has taken a pause due to the WGA strike, the new incentive program announced through the state budget presents a potential “banner year” for the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission and local film industry.

“I think we’re going to start to see some episodic shows being sited here, as well as a lot more movies,” he said. “It’s becoming, really, a destination that is great because of it’s architecture, because of its incentives, but it’s the people of Western New York who always consistently come back, and that’s our sort of secret weapon, I think, is the nicety of the people here.”

Fichtner, who wrote, produced, directed, and acted in the 2018 Western New York-shot film “Cold Brook,” said the incentives have “made all the difference,” and that he loves seeing local schools with film programs like Villa’s contribute to the growth of the industry in the area.

“If you build it they will come, and now there’s a crew base in Buffalo, Buffalo FilmWorks is opening up soundstages,” he said. “These are all the pieces of the puzzle to attract studio films. People are always going to make indie films on a wing and a prayer — I do — but to get a series here that shoots here full-time and to shoot a whole season or to get studio films to come here, these are all the elements that make a difference.”

Fichtner also expressed interest in making another film in the Buffalo area and said he’d like to hire the people now making up Buffalo’s film scene.

Clark said Villa Maria’s film program is training great people, and believes Fichtner saw the same thing while watching the students’ films.

Dr. Giordano said the College views itself as the “center of the creative economy” in Western New York, due to its high-tech programs, not only in filmmaking, but also things like animation and game design.

“We have made an investment in trying to make that industry grow here,” he said. “This is a partnership. In order for film to grow in Western New York, it’s got to be all the players coming together and saying, ‘We want to do this.'”


“Obviously, he means a lot to the city of Buffalo, so to have someone of his stature and someone who cares so much about our community speaking to our graduates, mingling with our family members and our faculty and staff, it means a lot to our Villa community.”

Giordano also

“Everyone thinks of feature-length Hollywood movies, and that’s great — a lot of our students, that’s what they want to do,” he said. “We think there’s a great opportunity to grow here, bringing productions here to Buffalo. But the reality is, every business, every nonprofit, every educational institution needs video content, and more and more and more video content.

“Our students gain these skills, they learn how to write scripts, they learn how to shoot, they learn how to edit; they’re holding cameras within the first few days of their freshman year and learning how a camera works. Those are skills they can then transfer into commercial work, into artistic work, into jobs in social media and web content; there are just so many transferrable skills.”

When it comes to Hollywood, Giordano said Villa’s role is to educate and build talent for productions to hire while in town, and with an increasing number of productions coming to the area, it is increasingly important for the city to have that talent present.

Giordano also said the school has seen “greater and greater demand” for its film-related programs.

“This is what young people do, frankly,” he said. “They spend a lot of time manipulating video, and (students) want to take it to the next level, and so our enrollment in these programs has been very, very strong and continues to grow.”

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.