NJ Film Festival launches month-long cinema celebration

The New Jersey Film Festival, a prestigious celebration of creative independent films, had its opening night last weekend at Voorhees Hall on the College Avenue campus. The festival is considered a hub for film appreciators and creators alike to be engrossed in a unique film experience.

The festival began on Friday, Sept. 13, with the feature film “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Usually, the night begins at 7 p.m. with a screening of a few short films followed by a feature film. On Saturday, two short films and one feature film were screened. 

The first short film, “PIT STOP,” was a stop-motion animation. The second, “All-in Madonna,” was a harrowing film about a girl and her suspicious father. The feature film “Impossible Monsters” stars Tony Award winner Santino Fontana and tells the tale of a psychology professor and his study on sleep paralysis.

Professor Albert Nigrin is the director/curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, whose inviting smile and undeniable passion for all things film were integral aspects to the experience of the festival. Currently teaching cinema studies at Rutgers, he spoke highly of the interns helping run the event.

The festival started in 1982 in a small classroom, consisting of old historical films screened from rented movie projectors, Nigrin said. Evolving with a changing media landscape, by the early 90s it started to show first-run art house movies. Since the middle of the new millennium, the festival has comprised of first-run films by independent filmmakers.

Not just any film is chosen for the festival. There’s a competitive film selection process. It’s made up of a two-tier system, with the first tier consisting of a jury of interns and the second of individuals in media, other academics and previous winners. The selection begins after a call for entries rakes in approximately 600 independent films from around the world. 

The interns cut down the films to 150, and from there the second jury selects the 28 they consider worthy to be featured. The juries primarily look for original films, no matter what emotion it may elicit or what category it falls into, Nigrin said.

“The films don’t always make sense, and I think that’s one of the things we try to champion,” Nigrin said. “We don’t want to show ‘Avengers: Endgame’ type of movies … We’re here to show original work, challenging films and films that we think push the envelope of the medium.”

Two directors of Saturday’s movies appeared to the screening of their films, but were hard to scope out. Donned in jeans and carrying humble expressions, it was hard to tell that these individuals were being praised for the films they created.

Mikail Ekiz, a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, directed the short film “PIT STOP” as his thesis film. Portraying an individual with a magic 8-ball for a head, this hybrid film in stop-motion also employed 3D elements, setting it apart from other animations and serving as a visual treat for viewers. 

“Stop-motion as a medium is something that is alive and thriving,” Ekiz said. “I think that people, with the progression of technology tend to forget that though this is an older medium there’s still some life in it.”

Nathan Catucci wrote and directed Saturday’s feature film “Impossible Monsters.” The film dealt heavily with the concept of sleep paralysis, and explored the blurry lines between what goes on in the waking and sleeping world. 

“The film is dealing a lot with dreams and reality, what’s real and what’s not real,” Catucci said. “In a lot of ways I want the audience to leave with a lot more questions than answers.” 

Showcasing a variety of films, ranging from any genre to perhaps a category that is yet to be invented, the New Jersey Film Festival is a great place for anyone who wants to witness challenging films that break the mold and further enrich the art of filmmaking. 

The festival runs until Oct. 13 in Voorhees Hall on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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