New Jersey premieres 32nd annual film festival


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Photo by Photo Courtesy of Al Nigrin |

“Swan Cake” is one of the animated shorts at the New Jersey Film Festival, which begins tonight at Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus. The film tells the story of a Parisian girl who fantasizes about becoming a ballerina.


This year’s 32nd annual New Jersey Film Festival saw 392 submissions from filmmakers around the world.

Judges whittled this number down to 25, and the finalists’ movies are scheduled to begin tonight at Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus.

Al Nigrin, director of the NJFF and Cinema Studies lecturer at Rutgers, said the public have the opportunity to watch three feature films, five feature documentary films, animation works, music videos and short films at the festival.

Nigrin, who started the NJFF in 1982 as a graduate student, said he works with a 15-member jury consisting of film professionals, film students, previous festival winners, journalists and interns.

Photo: Courtesy of Al Nigrin

The film festival is premiering 25 films, including feature films, documentaries, shorts and animated movies. Organizers received nearly 400 submissions.

Photo: Courtesy of Al Nigrin

“The Other Side of the Mountain,” a collaboration between Americian and North Korean filmmakers, is slated to premiere at the first night of the festival.

A judge evaluates and ranks each film on a scale of zero to 10, with zero ranking the worst, Nigrin said. The films are judged on originality, creativity and performances.

The films shown in the festival often receive a score of seven or higher. He said they are not the type of films available for viewing in multiplexes.

“The films displayed in the festival are more interesting than films you would see in multiplexes because they have something important to say,” Nigrin said. “The purpose of the films is not just to make money.”

Finalist Catherine Brabec is the director of the documentary “A Life Outside,” which focuses on six New Jersey surfers who grew up in Seaside Heights, N.J.

“When you get accepted into the film festival, it is very validating and so thrilling to know people will be seeing the film,” she said.

This film is about barrier islands, where the boys grew up, and details how they started surfing together, she said. The boys were very passionate about surfing and shaped their lives around it.

During the filmmaking, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the Casino Heights pier, Brabec said. She became inspired to create this film because she wanted to surf all the time and meet other surfers.

“The surfers I met had stories and traveled the world surfing,” Brabec said. “I first wanted to capture their stories, and the film took off from there.”

Brabec was studying classical piano when she realized she was not going to perform. She said she then started working in radio and quickly knew the editing studio was where she wanted to be.

Once a production assistant on a low budget commercial, Brabec is now directing and producing films.

“Creating this film was a tremendous experience,” she said. “I learned a lot and loved every bit of it.”

As director of NJFF, Nigrin said he is in charge of planning and running the event. His team of 15 student interns from the University helps with judging, promoting and running the festival.

Mainstream films usually have a larger budget and are picked for distribution by a major Hollywood studio, he said, whereas independent films have to find their own way.

Students interested in the film industry should live and breathe film 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Nigrin said. They should take cinema studies courses, watch as many film classics as they can and find a mentor who can help guide them in a very chaotic industry.

“I often tell my students that the three most important things you need to make it in the industry are money or access to lots of it, good contacts and talent,” Nigrin said.

Erika Conty, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, has been interning at the New Jersey Film Festival since 2012, where she discusses and critiques the film submissions with other interns.

“I distribute flyers around the different campuses at the University and engage with students at campus events, such as involvement fairs,” Conty said. “I also organize the box office for the night of the screenings as well as running the questions and answers with the filmmakers at the end of each of the screenings.”

Conty said being an intern has been a rewarding experience because of the exposure to foreign films and the networking opportunities with directors and producers.

“His lectures combined with the films made me want to go to class, and the opportunity to work with him as an intern for the film festival was a no brainer,” she said.


By Jessica Herring

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