Film Festivals

Corrections or additions?

This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the May 30, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies

Summertime, and the living is . . . dangerous. Perhaps

this is the summer to cease bathing in incendiary sunshine and trying

to dodge those visiting West Nile mosquitoes and Lyme disease-bearing

ticks. Maybe this is the summer to spend indoors, where it is nice

and safe.

A good place to start is the New Jersey International Film Festival,

sponsored by the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center,

the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, and Eastman Kodak.

The annual festival kicks off Friday, June 1, with Nagisa Oshima’s

"Taboo," and runs right through the month of July concluding

with "The Witness," an award-winning animal rights documentary

by Jenny Stein. In between, the festival feature almost 30 films on

33 evenings.

This year’s festival is particularly exciting for director and curator

Albert G. Nigrin. "This is the first time we’ve been able to

balance

the festival between name-recognizable films, revivals, and newer

films with unrecognizable titles that often are in need of

distribution,"

he says, in an interview from his film-saturated office on the Rutgers

campus.

The first part of the series is made up of what Nigrin calls "name

recognizable" films that people have requested to see. "These

are films that people have heard about that perhaps didn’t play in

their neighborhood, but maybe only in New York or up in

Montclair,"

says Nigrin. So due to popular requests, films like Kenneth Lonerman’s

Oscar nominated "You Can Count on Me" and Terrence Davies’

"House of Mirth" have been included in this year’s festival.

Also, an ample helping of revivals make up much of this year’s

festival,

such as Jacques Tourneur’s 1941 cult classics, "Cat People,"

and a double bill with "I Walk With A Zombie," as well as

the recently re-released 1956 H.G. Clouzot documentary, "The

Mystery

of Picasso," in which Picasso is seen creating over 20 different

paintings, all later destroyed by Picasso after the film was

completed.

"Hearts of Darkness," Fax Bahr’s searing 1991

behind-the-scenes

documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s "Apocalypse

Now" is also a festival highlight.

But the heart of the festival is the screening of the less well-known

films, such as Tom Streiff’s "The Wedding Cow" and Sam Wells’

"Wired Angel." These are films by highly talented filmmakers

that stand to profit most by these festival showings. And for Nigrin,

a film maker and member of the Rutgers film faculty, this is the most

satisfying part of his labor of love. "This is what we’re all

about," he says. "We really want to turn people on to films

that we feel they need to support and try to get distribution for

these films that so desperately need it."

"The Wedding Cow" is a prime example. "It is a romantic

comedy with a subtext," says Nigrin. A plumber, traveling with

a cow, picks up a hitchhiker on his way to his wedding. "It’s

a sophisticated film with many different levels to it," says

Nigrin.

"It’s not just a surface film like so many of the formulaic

romantic

comedies that Hollywood churns out. This one takes another path. It

is spiritual, as well as funny and moving."

Another example is Sam Wells’ "Wired Angel." Ten years in

the making and shot in black and white, it is an atmospheric

experimental

reinterpretation of the legend of Joan of Arc. "It’s intensely

interesting to watch, very painterly, and quite reminiscent of David

Lynch’s `Eraserhead,’" says Nigrin, adding that it doesn’t share

"Lynch’s violence and silliness."

"Just watching these films you can tell that the filmmakers aren’t

just interested in lining their wallet with dollars. They’re

interested

in provoking a response in the viewer, being a catalyst for

change,"

says Nigrin.

Yet high-profile films do play their role in the success

of the festival from year to year. "We do have to look at the

bottom line," explains Nigrin. "We’ve always been fiscally

sound, because we know that there are always going to be one or two

films that will pretty much pay for the rest of the program, and we

try hard to figure out what those films are going to be."

It was a lesson that Nigrin learned quickly. "Early on in doing

this festival it became obvious that we needed to provide these name

recognizable films to people and then hope that maybe they would come

back later in the festival to see some of the unrecognizable

titles."

But he adds, "Everything we’re showing is wonderful in some way,

shape, or form." But the long-term goal is to wean audiences off

the name brands and have a festival devoted primarily to new,

cutting-edge

work.

Nigrin also feels that having a festival that lasts one or two weeks

with intense programming from noon to midnight, as in Cannes or

Toronto,

is optimum. "But that, of course, is a long way off. I just don’t

think we’d get anybody to see a film at noon on Monday," he says,

with a chuckle. "If we were a resort, maybe, but we’re here in

the hub of New Jersey, and when the university is out for the summer,

this place turns into a ghost town. But the city of New Brunswick

likes that we do this festival now because it brings people into the

city."

Although it is largely connected to the university community, the

festival also attracts people from throughout central New Jersey,

as well as from New York, Atlantic City, and eastern Pennsylvania.

"You’d be surprised how big our mailing list is," says Nigrin.

There are basically three types of festivals, according to Nigrin.

The "marketplace" festival, like Toronto or Cannes, which

are designed to expose films to potential distributors. Secondly,

there is the "showcase" festival, such as the New York Film

Festival, that primarily shows off films that have been already picked

up by distributors.

The New Jersey International Film Festival fits into a third category.

"And then you have a festival like us, as well as the Virginia

Film Festival," says Nigrin. "We’re academically based and

at present we are mostly revival or showcase driven. We’re not here

primarily to give out prizes." says Nigrin, "we’re here to

provide films to the area. We’re kind of a hybrid."

The New Jersey International Film Festival receives about a hundred

submissions per year, which is modest when compared to other festivals

that receive upwards of 1,400. The process that determines which films

get selected is fairly straightforward. "Our jury is balanced

between academic and media people," says Nigrin. "I’m the

point person, like Al Gore used to be. I break the ties."

And the festival has a strong regional component. "Jersey Fresh

Media," is a film and video series by emerging New Jersey artists.

This year, Jamsheed Akrami, who teaches at William Paterson

University,

will show his documentary, "Friendly Persuasion: Iranian Cinema

After the Revolution," on June 21. After the screening, he will

answer questions from the audience.

The opportunity to hear and meet visiting directors is another major

attraction that brings many to the festival. "We’re bringing in

more filmmakers than we ever have before," says Nigrin. "Sam

Wells, will be with us for all three nights of the screening of `Wired

Angel’ and Tomi Streiff from the `Wedding Cow’ will be here, as well

as Jenny Stein for her film, `The Witness.’" And there will likely

be others, as yet unannounced. Each filmmaker takes part in a question

and answer discussion with audience members after the screening of

their film.

"And we don’t jack up the price, like other festivals, just

because

the filmmaker is here," Nigrin adds. "Our goal is to keep

things accessible for as wide an audience as possible."

So rather than cower behind mosquito netting all summer, enjoy the

great indoors and take in a film or two.

— Jack Florek

Top Of Page
Film Festivals

New Jersey International Film Festival is presented by

the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, New Brunswick.

Screenings are Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College

Avenue Campus (near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street).

Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College

Campus (near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street). All

programs

begin at 7 p.m.; $5 non-members. Information 732-932-8482; Website:

www.njfilmfest.com.

Taboo. Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s latest film,

set in a 19th-century samurai school, about the arrival of an

unusually

handsome new recruit, starring Beat Takeshi; Friday to Sunday,

June 1 to 3.

You Can Count on Me. Kenneth Lonergan’s independent film

that won Oscar nominations for actress Laura Linney and Lonergan’s

screenplay; Friday to Sunday, June 8 to 10.

The House of Mirth. Terrence Davies’ adaptation of Edith

Wharton’s 1905 novel. Friday to Sunday, June 15 to 17 .

Iranian Cinema after the Revolution. Director Jamsheed

Akrami is guest speaker at the screening of "Friendly

Persuasion,"

his new documentary about Iranian cinema after the 1979 Islamic

Revolution.

Thursday, June 21.

Journey Swiftly Passing. Barbara Klutinis’ award-winning

experimental film. Friday to Sunday, June 22 to 24.

Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali. Screening of two French

surrealist

classics: Bunuel’s "Un Chien Andalou" (1929) and "L’Age

d’Or" (1930) by Dali; Thursday, June 28.

Dud. Akira Tetsuka’s award-winning student film. Friday

to Sunday, June 29 to July 1.

Cat People. Jacques Tourneur’s 1941 cult classic

thriller.

$8, Thursday, July 5.

The Mystery of Picasso. The 1956 collaboration between

Picasso and filmmaker H.G. Clouzot in which the motion picture screen

becomes the artist’s canvas. Friday to Sunday, July 6 to 8.

Solaris. Metaphysical science fiction by Soviet director

Andrei Tarkovsky. Thursday, July 12.

Wired Angel. Director Sam Wells presents the screening

of his experimental feature that reinterprets the 15th-century legend

of Joan of Arc; Friday to Sunday, July 13 to 15.

Hearts of Darkness. Fax Bahr’s harrowing documentary about

the making of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic "Apocalypse

Now";

Thursday, July 19.

The Wedding Cow. Tomi Streiff’s funny road movie.

Friday

to Sunday, July 20 to 22.

The Witness. Jenny Stein’s documentary about a

construction

worker’s aversion to animals. July 27 and 28.


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