You may not know them by name — at least not yet — but the local filmmakers whose six short films comprise the Trenton Film Society and PopUp Anthology screening and reception on Friday, September 16, and those whose work will be shown at Rutgers University’s New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, September 17, represent the reality of what it takes to make movies, either in front of the camera or behind it.
The PopUp event starts at 7 p.m. in Trenton’s Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street. Tickets are $10 and include everything — all six films, a Q & A session with the filmmakers, and a coffee and dessert reception. Proceeds go to the Trenton Film Society.
Hailing from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the directors and performers include Trenton director and native Jeff Stewart, whose 2014, five-minute music video “One Love” showcases the talent of Trenton rapper Byron Marshall, whose rap name is Black Collar Biz and whom friends call “Biz.
Marshall has a dream, and it echoes through his music and the hopes he expresses: He wants to be a good father to his son, who turns 10 in October, and daughter, 1, both of whom he co-parents with their mothers. And he wants to help restore Trenton to an earlier time when crime was minimal and the city was a destination for families and tourists alike. If it takes a rap video like the one he and Stewart are contributing to the PopUp, so be it. You have to start somewhere.
“I think this city has a stigma on it, but I think if it had a night life, if there was a cafe open late, things could change,” Marshall says. “You gotta be yourself. Don’t be a follower.”
Rappers don’t choose their rap names, he points out. Audiences do. And Marshall feels rap is the most expressive way he has for musical expression.
“I’ve been called “Busy Bee’ ever since I was a kid,” he says. “Now I’m thinking of just calling myself ‘Collar.’”
One of three children born to a family that moved from home to home as his mother, Benita, worked three jobs, Marshall rattles off the names of Trenton streets and places where he once lived — Oak, West Rutherford, West State, the projects. With an older sister and a younger brother, he grew up in what he calls “a broken home in the city of Trenton,” but insists that both parents managed to be there for their children. “My dad (Byron Marshall Sr.) made sure he was there,” even after both parents remarried. Both parents eventually moved to Pennington.
“So I like to say we had two sets of parents because the people my parents married were good people. I came from a broken home, but I had great parents. My stepmother, Hope Marshall, was a poet. I had an advantage as a kid despite where I came from.”
His mother’s membership in Trenton’s Greater Harvest Church led to Marshall’s gospel influences, so there is little surprise that the positive “Blessings on Blessings” is the rapper’s signature song. And he is not too proud to explore whichever jobs he can get to support his own children, daughter Rhylie Williams, who lives in Trenton with her mother, and son Rey, who lives with his mother in the city. Marshall co-parents his children, working at places like Amazon and Isles to pay the bills. He is also currently working on a new album called “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”
People who were there still talk about Marshall’s performance at the 2013 Art All Night, where he offered a 40-minute set that included “Let Me Be Great,” “Can I Kick It,” and “Lack of Soul.” A demonstration of his raw talent and the diversity of his influences — gospel, blues, hip hop, R&B, and soul — the performance was a launching pad that served him well when he joined artist Will “Kasso” Condry, founder of Trenton’s S.A.G.E. Coalition, a nonprofit consisting of artists, volunteers, and others devoted to beautifying inner cities through public art.
By 2012 they helped create the Trenton Atelier and the rapper’s audience grew. A year later Marshall worked with a new band — The Blackout Kings — and his Art All Night performance solidified his growing reputation as a local master of ceremony and performer.
An easygoing conversationalist with realistic goals, he is not hoping for a career as a rap mogul dripping gold bracelets. “If I can make a teacher’s salary making music, doing what I love, then I am good,” he says in his online biography.
At age 33, Marshall acknowledges that he is “no whippersnapper” in the world of rap, even with some singles to his credit. What is important to him, he says, is restoring Trenton to its former glory.
Also part of the PopUp films coming to Mill Hill Playhouse is Hamilton comedian Adrian Colon, whose 25-minute, 2014 documentary, “The Joke’s On You” is in the mix. Trenton native Rihki Kennebrew will show “I Can’t Breathe,” a three-minute music video he made last year.
Philadelphia film and theater artist Amy Frear has “Another Time,” a 24-minute fictional tale shot last year. Also from Philadelphia, filmmaker Catalina Jordan Alvarez is offering “Paco,” a 12-minute experimental comedy made this year. “Trending,” by Morris Country resident Rosalie Tenseth is a seven-minute comedy series trailer the writer/director/actor finished this year.
Tickets to the Mill Hill Playhouse films and reception are available online at trentonfilmsociety.org or popupanthology.com
Up in New Brunswick, a film festival of another sort will be celebrating its 35th anniversary with 35 films that fall under the banner of the New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2016 at Rutgers University under the guidance of Al Nigrin on select Thursdays through Sunday evenings between September 17 and October 28. The biannual festival will showcase international, American independent features, short subject, experimental works, animation, and documentaries.
If you want to be the first to experience most of these cinema presentations, selected by a jury of students, journalists, academics, and media professionals, note that 22 of them are having their New Jersey or area premieres.
Opening the festival is a work by Heather Freeman, a Princeton native who grew up “just over the border” in Montgomery Township, and who comes from a family of educators who influenced her life choices. Her mother was on the Montgomery Township School Board and her grandfather, Ralph Gallagher, was the superintendent of schools in Bound Brook. Her father, whose interest in things technical stemmed from his job at David Sarnoff Research Center, also proved to be an influence or, as Freeman puts it, “was responsible for my early digital chops.”
Now an associate professor of art in the digital media program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Freeman is opening the festival at Rutgers with her 3 minute, 40 second stop-motion animated film “Artemis” on Saturday, September 17, and has entered it in a long list of other festivals.
She cheerfully points out that the $3,000 work concerns “an unfortunate driver who witnesses what happens to a stag’s spirit and body after it’s struck by a car. The ghost of Elvis, Apollo, and Artemis all appear in the film.”
Freeman juggles her responsibilities as mother of son Quinn, 7, and wife to fellow digital media educator, Jeff Murphy, along with her filmmaking ambitions. It has been a while since she “spent days looking for fairies along the D & R Canal.”
Also part of the Rutgers lineup is Princeton filmmaker Eric Hayes’ “The Observer Effect” about a dangerous time travel experiment. The 39-minute film will be show on September 23 and be followed by a Q&A session with Hayes.
Veteran filmmaker and festival curator and executive director Nigrin points out that he’s proud the fall festival is “still kicking” after 35 years. He recalls when only 20 people would show up for screenings. That number is now 100 or more per screening and a proper viewing space with 250 seats.
The 388 submissions this year included 150 shorts, 20 music videos, and 30 experimental films. A variety of nights and choices remain at prices ranging from $9 to $12 a ticket. Most screenings are held in Voorhees Hall #105, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Visit www.njfilmfest.com for the full schedule.