The Trenton Film Society is bringing the world to Trenton with its 14th Trenton Film Festival, a combination of international and local films running from Wednesday through Sunday, June 10 through 14.
Headquartered at the Mill Hill Playhouse, the festival promises a total of 53 films — ranging from narrative features to documentaries to new media — from 16 countries as well as the immediate region. Participating filmmakers include the established and the emerging.
Trenton takes a leading role in two of the offerings. One is the Thursday, June 11, showing of “The Joke’s on You,” Hamilton Township filmmaker Ron Saunders’ short documentary on Adrian Colon, a Trenton stand-up comedian who struggles with crippling anxiety. Colon took a two-year hiatus from the stage because of his condition, and the film documents his journey back.
It’s Colon’s courage to overcome his condition that provides the spark for film. “I like to face my fears because I don’t want that to ever stop me from attempting anything,” he says in a recent interview, adding that he overcame a fear of heights by going skydiving.
Colon’s first thought was to take business classes at Mercer Community College, but he soon realized he was in the wrong business and wanted to be in the arts. He says the reason has something to do with his family. “I love the arts because when my father — still a Trenton cab driver — was young he was a musician. He would play the guitar and teach us songs. My mother was always a drama queen. She can cry at the drop of a dime. She always dreamt of being an actress but was never given the opportunity. My brother, Ruben, who is my writing partner, is also writing a book. My younger brother, Abrahan, plays the violin, piano, flute, and plans on learning the harp. So talent runs in the family,” he says.
Then a funny thing happened. In order to address his anxiety about being in front of people, Colon took an improvisation class. When a fellow student mentioned an open microphone night at a club, Colon wrote a routine and showed up. “The first time I got on stage I was petrified. Luckily people were supportive. I remember being outside smoking my 10th cigarette and the host told me, ‘If you are scared, tell the crowd.’ So I went up there I introduced myself and started off by saying that I was scared. After I heard the first couple of laughs I was able to relax, and I had so much fun that night. I got so much great feedback and encouragement from the other comics.”
With an interest in being on stage and making a living, Colon says he went back to Mercer and studied television production. “I figured if I don’t become a comic I can still work creating TV or films and be happy doing that,” says Colon.
Then something unfunny happened: the anxiety and worry that stopped Colon from performing onstage opened the door to the film. “I met Ron Saunders while we were in college. I had always admired his work and wanted to work with him but never had the chance to. He has his own company, Cinema-Styles, so I approached him. Originally my idea was to follow other comics and the hardships they face, because — trust me — it is not easy to be a comic and try to pay your bills. So I wanted to capture the darkness behind the scenes because people just see the person on stage.”
But Barry Levy, one of Colon’s professors, thought that Colon and his anxiety should be the focal point. “I was reluctant at first,” says Colon. “I didn’t want my personal struggles with anxiety shown to everyone, but I agreed to it anyway. While going through the footage the story came together. I didn’t realize how hurt I still was about my upbringing. That all just unfolded while I was doing the interviews. I am glad I did it, though, because I can share my story with the public and hopefully inspire others. When you talk about anxiety or depression there is a certain stigma that you are crazy and that is not the case at all.”
“Being on stage is frightening enough but knowing that you are being recorded for people to watch is even worse. During filming I actually bombed on my first two performances because of how self-conscious I was that the camera was there. It was like the pressure of having to be funny intensified. I was also drinking before shows.
“I don’t think I have ever performed sober before. I shared that with my friend/mentor Marion Grodin, who is a great comedian/author, and she told me to stop the drinking right away. So I finally got the opportunity to perform at Gotham in New York and decided to do it sober. That was quite risky because that was the closing performance for the documentary. So if I bombed again then this documentary would be about me bombing and the title would have been ‘The Joke’s on Adrian.’ Not only did it go well with the crowd, but it showed me that I don’t need alcohol to perform anymore.”
Colon says he supports his dream through a variety of endeavors: “I have done everything from being a notary public to being an auditor for a cemetery product company. Yes, my job involved going around and taking inventory of caskets, like people are lining up to steal them. I mean really? Even if you could sneak that giant thing into the trunk of your Honda Civic, who are you going to sell it to? Dracula? Even though with the crime rate in Trenton I would probably have a solid clientele. I currently work for a payroll company and bartend. I am saving up my money with plans of relocating in the future and continue pursuing a career in entertainment whether as the entertainer or the guy behind the scenes. I was involved in all aspects of this film even when I was not in front of the camera. So I am well rounded and enjoy that side of it, too.”
About the film being shown in the area, he says, “What I want people to get out of this film is to get out of their own way and don’t let fear stop them from pursuing something. My motto is ‘I’d rather live a life filled of failed attempts, than one filled with regret.’”
Another festival film with Trenton focus is Princeton University student Adam Hunt’s Sunday, June 14, showing of “Kayla,” a documentary short about Kayla Massenat, who became a builder to make a better life for herself and hopes to own her own business and build a dream house for herself.
Hunt produced the film earlier in the year as an assignment for a film seminar course led by Oscar-winning filmmaker and professor Purcell Carson. The series of short films, called “The Trenton Project,” were screened at Artworks in Trenton this January.
Other films in the festival take on the world and a world of ideas. For example, seasoned television and film editor Erinnesse Rebrisz makes her directorial debut in “Shoulder the Lion,” which she calls a “visual essay that makes the viewer question how our abilities dictate how we see the world around us.”
The film uses the situations of three artists who have each lost a sense defining their work: a blind photographer in a visually saturated world, a hearing impaired musician, and a painter who in addition to being the inspiration for the hit film “Million Dollar Baby” suffers from a brain injury. Press materials say that the “documentary cuts right to the core of humanity and asks what it takes for someone to keep on going in times of uncertainty.”
Then there is Iranian filmmaker Masoud Soheili’s narrative short “Blue Eyed Boy,” a collaboration with poet Saeed Ghorbanian. In the film, a boy is born with blue eyes in a small traditional village and the villagers claim he has the “eyes of the devil.” It’s a multilayered story where tradition clashes with modernity.
The complete schedule of films is also multilayered and runs as follows:
Wednesday, June 10
6 p.m. Shorts: “The Blue Marble Of Joys and Sorrows,” U.S., director Paolo Pizzi, Cypress, California, 34 minutes.
“The River is Moving,” U.S., director Gio Toninelo, Denver, Colorado, 5 minutes.
“Light Study,” Canada, director Josephine Massarella, 12 minutes.
“Ardoyne,” U.S., director Philip Clayton-Thompson, Portland, Oregon, 5 minutes.
“Reveal” Iran, director Ghader Farivar, 8 minutes.
“Sky,” France, director Sophie Chamoux, 4 minutes.
“Infrastructures,” Switzerland, director Aurele Ferrier, 7 minutes.
“Corinthian,” UK, director Mark Brown, 5 minutes.
8 p.m. “The Sound of Road,” Iran, Barzan Rostami, 3 minutes.
“cyberGenesis” U.S., director Andre Silva, Wilmington, North Carolina, 13 minutes.
“Materia,” Russia, director Natalia Naftalieva, 69 minutes.
Thursday, June 11
6 p.m.: Documentary Shorts: “Unafraid: Voiced from the Crimes Victims,” U.S., director Karin Venegas, Astoria, New York, 44 minutes.
“Alegria — A Humanitarian Expedition,” Switzerland, director Christoph von Toggenburg, 29 minutes.
“The Joke’s On You,” U.S., director Ron Saunders, Hamilton, New Jersey, 25 minutes.
“Holi,” U.S, director Jeffrey Waldron, Los Angeles, California, 9 minutes.
8 p.m.: “Shoulder The Lion,” U.S., director Erinnisse Rebisz, Ridgewood, New York, 74 minutes.
Friday, June 12
7:30 p.m.: “M Cream,” India, director Agneya Singh, 113 minutes.
Saturday, June 13
10:30 a.m. “Ferdinand Knapp,” France, director Andrea Baldini, 15 minutes.
“Into The Gray,” U.S., director Anthony Berenato Jr., Hammonton, New Jersey, 17 minutes.
“The Tide,” U.S., director Jeff Mason, Wilmington, North Carolina ,13 minutes.
“Banana Dartboard,” U.S., director Carshuan Davenport, Teaneck, New Jersey, 15 minutes.
“On the Path,” Iran, director Amir Sarrafha, 15 minutes.
“The Blood Of Love,” U.S., director Jeff Meyers, New York, New York, 19 minutes.
12:15 p.m. “Nick” Andorra, Director Jose Pozo, 107 minutes.
2:30 p.m: “Blue Eyed Boy,” Iran, director Masoud Soheili, 18 minutes.
“Cold Choices,” U.S., director Nick Jones Jr., Sherman Oaks, California, 14 minutes.
“Max,” U.S., director Rajesh Naroth, San Jose, California, 6 minutes.
“Hands to the Sky,” U.S., director Kimberly Townes, Los Angeles, California , 16 minutes.
“Liyana, On Command,” U.S., director Eryk Pruitt, Durham, North Carolina, 12 minutes.
“The Last Girl,” Denmark, director Bjarke de Koning, 13 minutes.
“Fixed,” Australia, director Burleigh Smith, 7 minutes.
“Failure Groupies,” U.S., director Mandira Chauhan, Mt. Freedom, New Jersey, 13 minutes.
4:30 p.m.: “Decay,” Poland, director Michal Stern Sterzynski, 15 minutes.
“The Cart,” Bangladesh, director Ashraf Shishir, 76 minutes.
6:15 p.m.: “Scammerhead,” Canada, director Dan Zukovic, 105 minutes.
8:30 p.m.: “Positive Visualization,” U.S., director J. Wilder Konschak, Los Angeles, California,3 minutes.
“Rock Is Not an Attitude, U.S., director Xiaoxiao Tang, New York, New York, 5 minutes.
“Last Supper,” U.S., director Param Gill, California, 90 minutes.
Sunday, June 14
10:45 a.m.: “Starting Over: A Record of Faith,” U.S., director Kendra Arsenault, Santa Cruz, California ,24 minutes.
“Kayla,” U.S., director Andrew Hunt, Princeton, New Jersey, 6 minutes.
“La Lutte,” Netherlands, director Marlijn Franken, 46 minutes.
“That Bites!” U.S., director Jack Yonover, Wilmette, Illinois, 34 minutes.
1 p.m.: “Winter’s Hold,” U.S., director Ian Voglesong, Brooklyn, New York, 9 minutes.
“The Bravest, the Boldest,” U.S., director Moon Molson, Los Angeles, California,17 minutes.
“Best Before End . . .,” France, director Nicolas Fogliarini, 15 minutes.
“Capsized,” U.S., director Brandon Freer, Arcadia, California, 13 minutes.
“The Man Who Fed His Shadow,” Greece, director Mario Garefo, 18 minutes.
“A King’s Betrayal,” U.S., director David Bornstein, Los Angeles, California, 8 minutes.
“A Mercedes for Sierra Leone,” Germany, director Robert Fuhrmann, 4 minutes.
“Dollar Night,” U.S., director Marco Antonio Martinez, Jersey City, New Jersey, 18 minutes.
“1-0,” Iran, director Saman Hosseinpuor, 1 minute.
3 p.m.: “Poverty Inc.,” U.S., directors Gary Null and Valerie Van Cleve, New York, New York, 111 minutes.
5:15 p.m.: “God Forgive Us,” U.S., director Michael Bachochin, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 90 minutes.
7 p.m.: Awards Ceremony and recognition for Best Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Animated Film, New Media, and audience choice.
Trenton Film Festival, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton, Wednesday through Sunday, June 10 through 14. $8 per screening or $25 festival pass. www.trentonfilmsociety.org.