The Trenton Film Society is getting back to basics with the return of its defining event, the Trenton Film Festival.
This celebration of independent films returns after a five-year hiatus and will run Thursday through Sunday, June 19 through 22.
Submissions for the juried event include 30 local and international filmmakers working in narrative, documentary, and animation. An updated entry of the festival is the recently added “new media” category. That includes experimental, music video, and spoken word.
“Film technology has become much simpler, and lots of people have access to creating footage, so there is a lot of experimenting out there. We are looking to capture traditional film but also new, edgy, crazy stuff,” says Trenton Film Society president David Henderson.
Films will be screened at the small city-owned Mill Hill Playhouse, a theater renovated from a 19th-century Gothic revival church in Mill Hill’s historic neighborhood.
Fueled by a small but highly energized team of volunteers, the Trenton Film Society launched a season that included the Oscar Shorts Festival and the Trenton International Film Festival, curated this past year by New York Anthology Film Archives programmer Jed Rapfogel. The season concludes with the newly revived Trenton Film Festival.
Since the Trenton Film Festival has an Internet submission platform, the film offerings attract diverse submissions from around the world. Henderson says the he was especially inspired to see that two films had been submitted from Russia (“The Story of M” by Anna Arlanova and “Butterfly Fluttering” by Roman Kayumov) and one from Iran (Seyed Sajad Moosavi’s “Non-splendid Life”).
The festival’s films are selected by a nine-member team of adjudicators who represent a mix of academics, established and emerging filmmakers, film school graduates, and film lovers.
This year’s jurors are Alan Amtzis, director of a master’s in education program at the College of New Jersey; John Anastasio, veteran area broadcaster and communications and broadcaster instructor at Hunterdon Central High School; Andrew Kienzle, media production professional and longtime TFS member; Katherine Ferguson, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey and former TFS Board president; Pat Thompson, a Trenton-based film lover; Travis Mauro, a senior at Rider University who twice screened his films at the TFS student film festival; Jack Walz, former Montclair State film professor; Judy Singleton, film lover; and Ranjana Madhusuhdan, a TFS volunteer and film lover.
Each submission is seen by three jurors and scored numerically — 1 to 10 — to make the first cut.
Evaluation includes originality/creativity, direction and writing, cinematography, and production value. Performance and technical aspects are also considered.
The second round of reviewing is geared more to the overall lineup of the festival.
“The outcome is never thematic; there is no agenda or polemic. It’s more a commitment to screening quality films,” says Henderson. “Often these films are heavy on ideas and thought and light on financial resources. What’s ironic is that film has become a lot less expensive to make but distribution has become less available.” It’s now easier to see independent films online but far more difficult to see them in a traditional setting.
The Trenton Film Festival encourages participating filmmakers to attend the festival so that they see and hear the audience reactions and get feedback. Henderson feels that it is part of their creative process to get the film in front of people and then get to talk to them about what they saw and felt.
“What’s unique about this film festival is that you get very accomplished filmmakers and people who have never screened a film publicly before. They are all thrown in together and get feedback from the audiences. The filmmakers get to mingle and meet each other and the audience,” says Henderson.
In return, audiences get access to the filmmaking process through talk-backs with filmmakers after screenings and through informal conversations.
Just like the Trenton’s highly successful Art All Night community arts festival (which also runs Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and 22, and features a night of free films mainly by area filmmakers), the Trenton Film Festival looks to take Trenton’s underground film scene and bring it above ground.
Henderson says that the decision to have the film festival the same night as the all night event was driven by both the TFF’s need to have its season complete before July and the Mill Hill Playhouse schedule. “Once we realized this was date, we reached out to (Art All Night producing organization) Artworks to collaborate and cross-promote. There will be lots of film that weekend between AAN and us, which is pretty cool.”
Fittingly — in addition to films from Poland, United Kingdom, and India — the capital city event features accomplished Garden State artists, including the Princeton Junction-based Janet Gardner, showing her “Lost Children,” a film about child soldiers in Cambodia; Princeton-native A.D. Pearson’s film on a superstorm, “Landfall: The Eyes of Sandy”; Hunterdon-county filmmakers Dean and Nicole Greco’s “100 Signatures,” a study of an election campaign; and Hamilton-based filmmaker and production company owner Brad Shutack’s music video featuring the Trenton-area band Anomaly.
The schedule also spotlights emerging filmmakers: TCNJ student Jeffrey Skomsky’s “The Renaissance: A Better Way for the Capital,” Montclair State University’s Claire Fishman’s “Fat Ass” and “Hair Lockets,” and Rutgers University’s Jessica Dotson’s “Kyle Dotson vs. The Universe.”
The choice for Trenton Film Festival’s official opening night is Gabriella Kessler and Jean-Loic Portron’s “Braddock America,” a French and American documentary about disaster-stricken post-industrial cities. Henderson says that the film distinguishes itself with its degree of commitment and its refusal to fetishize urban ruin.
In his day job, Henderson aims for the same effect on Trenton’s historical buildings as he does with his involvement with the film festival. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he met his future spouse, Trenton-based architect John Hatch, during graduate studies at the University of Virginia.
Though he worked with the noted Robert Stern Architects in New York City, Henderson, the son of an Andover, Massachusetts, construction company owner and an arts editor and publisher — decided to relocate to Trenton with Hatch. He, Hatch, and Michael Goldstein are partners in HHG Development Associates, which aims to restore Trenton’s neglected architecture. Goldstein’s wife, June Ballinger, is the artistic director of Trenton-baed Passage Theater, whose performances also take place in the Mill Hill Playhouse.
The firm is presently rehabilitating a section of the Roebling factory tract for mixed-used development similar to what Toronto (this writer’s hometown) did in its distillery district — bringing in lofts, retail, restaurants, and office space to a once abandoned urban landscape.
Henderson believes that it is important for film goers to see films in the appropriate viewing, rather than on a computer or television. It is not just the quality of sound and projection; it is the chance to see films with an audience. The festival can also be an economic engine for drawing audiences to Trenton’s downtown area, where visitors will discover other attractions.
The hiatus of the successful film festival was related to the presenting group’s experimentation and growth. “In 2008 a newly formed Trenton Film Society board looked to expand its offerings across the year, ultimately working towards an art house model with a weekly screening schedule. Whereas the organization initially devoted itself for the better part of the year to production of the annual Trenton Film Festival, the new board created several new events scheduled across the year,” says Henderson.
“There was always something special about the Trenton Film Festival that set it apart from the subsequent events that we created,” says Henderson. “Perhaps it was the mix of local filmmakers with filmmakers from all over the world. Perhaps it was the sheer number and diversity of offerings. For one weekend, Trenton was the center of the film scene, and young and accomplished filmmakers interacted with audiences and connected with each other.”
Trenton Film Festival, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Thursday, June 19, through Sunday, June 22. $25 for a three day pass ($12 for students) and $5 for individual screenings. www.trentonfilmsociety.org.
Thursday, June 19
6 p.m.: “Slummy Mummy,” USA, director Jennifer Palazzo, 13 minutes “Sympathy Pains,” USA, Joe Dull, 1 hour and 20 minutes
8 p.m.: “Indigo, USA, John Smith 1 hour 32 minutes
Friday, June 20
8 p.m.: “Braddock America,” France/USA, 1 hour and 40 minutes
Saturday, June 21
Noon: “Butterfly Fluttering,” Russia, Roman Kayumov, 25 minutes “Fat Ass” and “Hair Lockets,” USA, Claire Fishman, 10 minutes “20 Meters of Love in Montmartre,” France, Pierre Gaffie, 5 minutes “The Story of M,” Russia, Anna Arlanova, 23 minutes “Never Stop Cycling,” Canada, Colin Lepper, 4 minutes “Flip,” USA, Isabella Olaguera, 4 minutes “Tonight,” USA, Brad Shutack, 4 minutes “Undead,” USA, Owen Grove, 14 minutes “Mary Ann’s Engagement,” Hungary, Terez Koncz, 33 minutes This Trenton Life, USA, Susan Ryan, 25 minutes
4:15 p.m.: “Kyle Dotson vs. the Universe,” USA, Jessica Dotson, 4 minutes “Roulette,” USA, Randall Turner, 16 minutes “The Urban World,” USA, Warren Bass, 41 minutes “A Void,” Norway, Joseph Hodgson, 4 minutes “Human Monsters,” USA, Jessica Dotson, 4 minutes “Non-splendid Life, The Islamic Republic of Iran,” Seyed Sajad Moosavi, 16 minutes
6 p.m.: “100 Signatures,” USA, Dean and Nicole Greco, 1 hour and 31 minutes
8 p.m.: “The Orchard,” United Kingdom, Clive Myer and Lynda Myer-Bennett, 1 hour and 42 minutes
Sunday, June 22
Noon: “Old Mate,” Australia, Sam Dixon, 13 minutes “Summer Break,” USA, John D’Agostino, 13 minutes “The Last Penalty,” Italy, Max Miecchi, 15 minutes “Desertion,” Canada, Brock Pennie, 27 minutes “Arena”, Poland, Martin Rath, 23 minutes “Champagne, Intimacy,” United Kingdom, Alan-David Martin, 17 minutes
2:15 p.m.: “At Last (Aakhir),” India, Tarun Jain, 16 minutes “Ride the Sky,” USA, Paul Gorman, 1 hr and 14 minutes
4 p.m.: “Shell Shocked,” USA, John Richie, 43 minutes “Lost Child-Sayon’s Journey,” USA, Janet Gardner, 57 minutes
6:15 p.m.: “Landfall: The Eyes of Sandy,” USA, A.D. Pearson, 1 hour and 29 minutes
7:45 p.m.: Award Ceremony