My Encounter with the Ghost of Joe Zelli

Saturday, Jan. 6, 3-5pm

Roeliff Jansen Community Library
9091 Route 22
PO BOX 669
Hillsdale, NY 12529

Join us for an afternoon screening and discussion of My Encounter with the Ghost of Joe Zelli by and with local filmmaker David McDonald.

It’s the height of the pandemic and Hudson Valley filmmaker David McDonald is taking long walks in the country, many of them in Hillsdale. One day, on a back-country dirt road in Hillsdale, he stumbles upon the gravestone of Joe Zelli, buried beneath weeds and scrubs by the side of the road. The gravestone reads: “Joe Zelli. Born in Rome, Italy. Died in Hillsdale, NY, 1971. Soldier/Restauranteur. Operated The Royal Box, Montmartre, Paris, France. The original night club, Circa 1920.”

Thinking that the gravestone must be a joke or a movie prop, he then goes home and Googles Zelli, and what he discovers ends up astounding him. As it turns out, not only was Joe Zelli for real, but he was, in fact, a legendary nightclub impresario whose club, The Royal Box, hosted the likes of Hemingway, Cole Porter, and Buster Keaton. The film recounts no only Zelli’s life, but also McDonald’s research and impetus for telling Joe Zelli’s story. Thus, the title of the film: My Encounter with the Ghost of Joe Zelli. You won’t believe your eyes.

Watch the trailer here

David McDonald is a filmmaker and a playwright who has been a resident of the Hudson Valley for the past 20 years. In that time, he has made a feature-length documentary about the town of Woodstock, Woodstock Revisited, a play about 15 year-old Ella Fitzgerald’s incarceration in Hudson called Ella the Ungovernable, and now, My Encounter With The Ghost Of Joe Zelli.


Jan 06 2024


3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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