Boys of 10 seldom know what they would like to do with their lives, and Albert Gabriel Nigrin - Al Nigrin, that is - was no exception. The son of Turkish-Jewish immigrants who came to the USA in 1956, Nigrin was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1958, the oldest of three boys, and grew up in Staten Island. He shared his family’s “obsession” with soccer — “today, I always set aside time to watch soccer live at Red Bull Arena in Harrison on TV. I am a huge New York Red Bull and USA Soccer fan” — and enjoyed occasional family outings to the movies.
Like the late film critic Pauline Kael, Al Nigrin, founder of the Rutgers Film Co-Op/New Jersey Media Arts Center (NJMAC), “lost it at the movies.”
“When my parents first took me to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick in 1968, I was 10 years old and first became engrossed in cinema. I later went on to produce synch-slide shows or visual accompaniments to my brother Mike’s progressive rock band Lunar Vision in the late ‘70s. That was probably the beginning of my filmmaking career,” Nigrin recalls.
The 30th anniversary New Jersey International Film Festival (NJIFF) Summer 2012 will take place June 1 through 17 in New Brunswick. See listings below.
He is a conspicuous exception to the old jape, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In addition to running NJMAC, Nigrin is an award-winning experimental filmmaker whose work has been screened in China and Canada as well as the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He is also cinema studies lecturer at Rutgers, where he earned an MFA in Visual Arts/Film and Video.
Supported by the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies plus a host of public and private entities, the NJIFF’s Summer 2012 attracted 323 submissions from around the world, from which a panel of judges chose 27 finalists for public screening. All entries — international films, American independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and cutting-edge documentaries — will be receiving their local premieres. Quite a few of the filmmakers will also be attending.
NJIFF’s Summer 2012’s offerings cover a wide range of tastes and sensibilities. A few take serious looks at important issues, such as the state of the lobster industry in Maine and the challenges to family farming in America, both documentaries, and Mischa Webley’s “The Kill Hole” (June 9), a feature film about a veteran of the Iraq war, which features Billy Zane, and Kevin Breslin’s “#whilewewatch” (June 15), which focuses on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“I think we’re offering a really wonderful mix,” says Nigrin, who talks up Jonathan Kalafer’s “Once in a Lullaby: The PS22 Chorus Story” (June 2), about a chorus of New York City public school fifth-graders who get to sing at the White House and the 83rd Academy Awards. “I was crying through the whole thing,” he says. “It’s going to be one of our big hits.”
Popular genres will be represented, as well. William Dautrick’s “Red Scare” (June 1) lampoons the Communist menace in a style melding Mel Brooks and the Naked Gun series. “It’s a commie-zombie film,” Nigrin says. And he describes Ryan Halasz’s “Project Enigma” as “a terrific short horror film.”
Nigrin confesses he had no plan in 1982 to launch a festival or make his mark in filmdom.
“It was something I did because I was a budding cinephile. I wanted to see movies I had only read about and see films that had been ruined by TV commercials. I had $300. I went out and rented (Fritz Lang’s) “Metropolis” (1927), a couple of Soviet films, some films by Man Ray — films I wanted to share with my friends, with an audience. There was no place to see films like that at Rutgers. And it was all 16-millimeter, because that’s what was out there. I never dreamed we’d be where we are today. It was only after about 10 years that I started to envision what we’re doing now,” he says.
That cinema is a marriage between art and science makes particular sense for Al Nigrin, as he has been surrounded by both all his life. His father, Gabriel Nigrin, is a retired M.D. who specialized in pediatrics and endocrinology. His mother, Lily Dolly, stayed at home. His brother, Michael, plays double bass for the Buffalo Symphony and is married to Nade, a violinist from Bulgaria. His brother, Daniel, is also a medical doctor who specializes in pediatrics and endocrinology, and also serves as vice president at Boston Children’s Hospital in charge of informatics.
“Both my brothers are computer geeks and accomplished music composers. They’ve both created the music to many of my experimental films,” he says.
“I was always more visually acute than my brothers were. We would play a game in the car — who could read a sign first, and so they called me ‘the visionary.’ I live and breathe film. That’s why I enjoy teaching it.”
Nigrin is married to Irene Fizer, professor of English at Hofstra University.
“We’ve been together since 1981 when were both at Rutgers as students. We are both passionate about animal welfare issues and have been actively saving stray cats since 1986. A bunch of these cats live with us now. We have no children. Irene is my muse,” he says.
The majority of NJIFF Summer 2012’s offerings are short films, from seven minutes to less than half an hour in duration. Nigrin cited Alan Williams’ French Films, a historical survey course he took at Rutgers in 1982, as an important influence.
“The short films connected with me,” he says. “To get on screen is one thing — you want to get your work out there — but it’s got to be a labor of love, not something you do primarily to make money. You have to start small, but you want to wow people: ‘Astonish me,’ as Diaghilev challenged Cocteau. Short films are meant to be like a business card to get you into the industry, but I haven’t had the best experience in that respect — there are a lot of hustlers out there.”
Nigrin thinks the Central Jersey cinephiles have it really sweet. “There’s the wonderful series Bill Lockwood puts on in Princeton, Second Chance Cinema. There’s us, and there’s a few commercial houses that screen films that you wouldn’t see at the multiplex,” such as Montgomery Cinemas and Princeton’s Garden Theater.
Though there’s crossover between NJMAC and Second Chance Cinema, Nigrin thinks that the Princeton series appeals primarily to older viewers, NJMAC’s offerings to younger. “It’s harder to get the younger audience to turn out, I think, because the young think they can download everything, and they have less money. And they often have to be taught how to watch. They think ‘2001’ moves at a snail’s pace, but I tell them that life is not like a video game, you know, boom, boom, boom, boom. It isn’t all about escapism.”
This raises the question whether anyone in 20 years will be leaving their living room for video entertainment — even for fare as high-end as opera and ballet. Home video and sound systems continue to develop jaw-dropping capabilities, such as live streaming and 3D, and the range of entertainment already available is immense.
“Oh, I’m sure the industry would love to bypass the theaters — you know, eliminate the middle men and pocket more money. But there will always be people who will want to go to the Bronx to see the Yankees live while the others sit home and watch. There will always be a group of people who will want a shared experience; the highs and the lows of the experience are amplified by the sharing. Sure, they can stream a film into your house, but I don’t think people are going to have 20-foot screens in their living room.”
And speaking of: “Thanks to the university, we now have a wonderful space adjacent to the Zimmerli (Art Museum). It’s a lecture hall, but it feels like a theater, and it offers stadium seating for 275. There’s high-def projection, an awesome sound system. We have filmmakers come, and they say ‘wow.’ We consider ourselves a filmmakers’ festival, so we treat them as we would want to be treated.”
Some concern has been expressed of late regarding the preservation of old-style analog films as everything, everywhere goes digital. There’s a fear that film may lose its past. Nigrin isn’t particularly concerned because he believes that “celluloid is the perfect means to preserve visual history. It’s a tangible thing. You don’t need a special electronic device to access the imagery. Does anybody really think that hard-copy books are going to disappear?”
New Jersey International Film Festival Summer 2012, Rutgers University, Voorhees Hall No. 5, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Friday, June 1, through Sunday, June 17. Programs begin at 7 p.m. General admission $10. Tickets are sold on a first-come basis at the door starting at 6:30 p.m. www.njfilmfest.com or 732-932-8482.
Summer Film Festival Schedule of Screenings
Friday, June 1. “Civil War” (2012). Blake Blasingame, Indian Wells, CA. Thriller about an American political system driven by a compulsion to dominate and destroy. 18 minutes.
“Red Scare” (2012). William Dautrick, Bayonne. Comedy-zombie feature in the style of Mel Brooks and the Naked Gun series. 97 minutes.
Saturday, June 2. “Tuurngait” (2011). Paul-Emile Boucher, France. Animated short about an Inuit child who wanders away from his village. 7 minutes.
“Case #13: The Search for Love” (2011). Chris Trembath, Hillsdale, NJ. Silent short about a young man who inherits a private detective business from his father. 12 minutes.
“Once in a Lullaby: The PS22 Chorus Story” (2012). Jonathan Kalafer, Mendham. Documentary about a children’s chorus from a public school in New York and its director. 87 minutes.
Sunday, June 3. “Vacationland” (2012). Craig Scorgie, Port Monmouth, NJ. Two lone lobster boat captains in Maine cope with harsh conditions on the water and an increasingly commercialized industry. 22 minutes.
“The First Season” (2012). Rudd Simmons, New York City. A farming family fights to remain viable in the modern world. 83 minutes.
Friday, June 8. “Merry” (2011). Conor Byrne, River Edge, NJ. Comic short about a suburban Santa Claus who struggles to find a place in the “off-season.” 8 minutes.
“First Match” (2011). Olivia Newman, Brooklyn, NY. The story of Monique, the only girl on the all-boys wrestling team.
“Postales” (2011). Josh Hyde, Boulder, CO. An American businessman in Peru with his daughter become intertwined with a rural Peruvian family in a story about overcoming barriers of language, poverty, and cultural misconceptions in an increasingly globalized world. 80 minutes.
Saturday, June 9. “Water” (2012). Megan Peason, Budd Lake, NJ. A man’s delusions leave him trapped inside a flooding apartment. 4 minutes.
“Drained” (2011). Nick Peterson, Burbank, CA. A man’s addictions destroy the woman he cares for. 12 minutes.
“Project Enigma” (2011). Ryan Halasz, Laurence Harbour, NJ. Horror film about a man who finds out the truth about his past while searching for his long-lost brother. 20 minutes.
“The Kill Hole” (2011). Mischa Webley, Port Republic, NJ. A troubled veteran is forced to confront his violent past. 84 minutes.
Sunday, June 10. “Dark Corner” (2012). Bob Pusateri, Maplewood, NJ. Silent, black comedy about a woman who finds a table with mysterious powers and uses it to get her revenge. 8 minutes.
“Written in Ink” (2011). Martin Rath, Poland. Documentary about a man trying to make contact with his sister after 14 years of silence. 12 minutes.
“Nobody’s Child” (2011). Dennis Nollette, West Hollywood, CA. Long-time best friends become like family. 24 minutes.
“In Search of Avery Willard” (2012). Cary Kehayan, New York City. An intimate profile of Avery Willard, a pioneering gay photographer, filmmaker, writer, and editor. 22 minutes.
“Aglow” (2011). Howard Libov, Ridgewood, NJ. Profile of Paul Chojnowski, as master of drawing with fire. 28 minutes.
“Ditchwork” (2012). Simon Liu, Brooklyn, NY. Experimental film about a young woman grieving over the recent passing of her grandmother. 25 minutes.
Friday, June 15. “#whilewewatch” (2011). Kevin Breslin, Rockaway Beach, NY. Documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement. 40 minutes.
“Cultures of Resistance” (2011). Iara Lee, San Francisco, CA. Exploration of how art and creativity can become instruments in the battle for peace and justice. 73 minutes.
Saturday, June 16. “The Darkness Is Close Behind” (2011). Sheena McCann, Los Angeles, CA. Jesse Lemoy must protect his younger brother from his meth-dealing father. 20 minutes.
“Ecstasy” (2011). Rob Heydon, Toronto, Canada. Adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh. 105 minutes.
Sunday, June 17. “Hluboky Ton (Deep Note)” (2011). Emma Brown and Max Rissman, Summit, NJ. Perverse comedy about Julia, who is immensely dissatisfied with her sex life when she meets her new neighbor. 11 minutes.
“Benny to Benny” (2011). George Manatos, Brooklyn, NY. Benny runs into his hometown crush will rehearsing a fight scene on the streets of Brooklyn. 16 minutes.
“Anoche se a amore non si vede (It may be love but it doesn’t show)” (2011). Salvo Ficarra, Italy. Comedy about two men who operate a tour bus in Turin, Italy. 94 minutes.
Call for Entries: NJ Fall Film Festival
Entries for the 31st Bi-Annual New Jersey Film Festival are being accepted through Friday, July 13. The festival runs from September 7 through October 28 and features the best in independent film. Screenings will be accompanied by workshops and special appearances by writers, directors, cast, and crew. For more information, call 732-932-8482 or E-mail NJMAC@gmail.com. After June 30, call 848-932-8482.
Art All Night Debuts Film Festival
Art All Night will add a cinematic twist when it returns on Saturday and Sunday, June 16 and 17, at Roebling Wire Works in Trenton. The 24-hour celebration of art in all media will include the inaugural Art All Night Film Festival in 2012 with the goal of presenting a broad range of film and video pieces.
“We’re creating a dedicated screening space for the films, with quality audio and video, and an advance schedule of show times,” said event director Cathy Campbell in a press release. “It’s a festival within a festival!”
Artists can submit films for consideration through Friday, June 1. To enter, complete the submission form at www.artworkstrenton.org/artallnight and mail a DVD with the film’s title and author to Art All Night 2012 Film Festival Film Submission, 417 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown 08505.