Film festival seeks to bring new indies to a statewide audience
Dinosaurs gleefully wrought destruction once again in Jurassic World last June, becoming the top grossing movie of 2015. But for viewers interested in a different type of movie, the New Jersey Film Festival begins next Friday, Sept. 11.
The New Jersey Film Festival occurs every semester at the University and aims to introduce independent films to a wider audience than they might otherwise see, as well as bring back older films that are no longer aired, said Al Nigrin, director of the New Jersey Media Arts Center.
“We have a world class film festival right in (New Jersey residents’) backyard,” he said. “Everything that we show has value.”
The film festival will turn 35 next year, and originally started as a revival event, he said. In 1981, it was difficult to watch movies unless they were aired on television, and a year might go by between a movie leaving theaters and being released on home video.
To help University members see these films, Nigrin said he spoke with distributors and started screening underrated films in a classroom.
“I wanted to see movies that I’d read about,” he said. “So we saw a lot of early films.”
Though initially a small event, its unique service — it was one of the first film festivals in the state — quickly garnered attention, he said. It moved to a bigger room within a few years, and saw its first major screening with "Daughters of the Dusk" by Julie Dash.
Daughters of the Dusk was the first feature film created by an African-American woman in the nation, he said.
“This film touched a nerve in the African-American community,” he said. “(It) could have sold out for 30 days straight.”
Over the next several years the film festival continued to evolve, Nigrin said. Most notably, it started putting out calls for new independently created films.
The festival received about 400 submissions for the fall festival, he said.
All genres are accepted by the festival, said Andrew Zrebiec, a senior intern with NJMAC in an email. Films can range from music videos to feature-length films and documentaries.
A jury of student interns watches each of these films and selects 150 that could potentially be screened at the festival. A second jury composed of academics, students and filmmakers will make the final selections, Nigrin said.
Molly Rich, a senior intern with NJMAC, said the first round of films are graded on a scale of one to 10 on certain criteria, including originality, creativity, performances, script and production value.
Production value is the technical work that goes into making a film, said Rich, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. This includes the scoring, editing and filming.
On average submissions tend to rate about a five, she said. Movies selected for the second round are usually a seven or eight.
“There’s definitely a lot of good (films submitted),” she said. “There’s a lot of gems.”
Only two movies have earned a 10 rating from her in three years of working with the Center, she said.
The second jury further reduces the number of films to be screened to 25, Nigrin said.
Some of these films are later distributed to theaters nationwide. The festival helps bring them their initial exposure, he said.
The festival will see about 5,000 people at the screenings, he said. On average, there will be about 100 people per screening.
More specifically, some screenings will only have a few people but several will sell out, he said. Usually four or five screenings do so each year.
Every screening is accompanied by a question and answer session with a director, often the filmmaker whose work is being presented that night, he said.
The New Jersey Film Festival happens every semester, and an International Film Festival takes place over the summer, Nigrin said.
Students working with the Center get credit for their internships, Rich said. She is earning three credits this semester for her work with organizing the festival.
Other tasks students perform include selling tickets, organizing the Q&A sessions, making sure the films can be screened with no technical glitches and distributing flyers, Zrebiec said. As a senior intern, he also helps supervise other interns with their duties.
Though breaking even would be nice, profiting off of the festival is not one of the goals of this event, Nigrin said.
“It’s a humanist film festival,” he said. “We want to settle for the achievements of man.”
Attendees can network with established filmmakers, which is beneficial for students interested in the field, he said. Many students are able to work on an actual film being created by a director at the festival.
The festival is open to anyone interested in attending, he said. Tickets cost $9 but include free food in addition to the film being screened.
Exposing the wider community to independent films can show them a lesser-seen side of movies, Nigrin said. Some of the movies screened are minimalist or discuss hidden issues.
This year’s films include "The Angel of Nanjing," about a man who prevents people from committing suicide in China and "Right Footed," which explores the life of a pilot born with no arms.
“The one thing I hope audience members leave the festival with is a knowledge and appreciation for the kinds of films that we show,” Zrebiec said.