West Windsor Film Fest

NJ Film Festival

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This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the January 28, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Film Festivals in New Hope and West Windsor

After making its debut last year, the Algonquin Film Festival, a four-day celebration of local and national filmmaking talent, returns to New Hope from Thursday, January 29, to Sunday, February 1. A host of distinguished guests, including some of the “grand dames” of American theater and film, will be on hand to discuss, reminisce and view the work of independent filmmakers.

A valuable resource and venue for independent auteurs and screenwriters, the Algonquin aims to feature work emerging from the “genius belt,” that inspirationally quaint and bucolic region between New York and Philadelphia, which has been the home to some of the biggest names in American writing — including James A. Michener, Pearl S. Buck, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Hammerstein. Today the region is as popular as ever among the New York literati as well as some of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, including Ted Tally who won an oscar for his “Silence of the Lambs” script.

Still a nascent presence on the festival circuit, the Algonquin is already expanding, stretching the original two-day event to four days and attracting some of the industry’s A-list crowd. Last year, despite limited publicity, the debut festival nearly sold out, according to festival founder and organizer Donna Dudnick.

“The plan from the beginning was that, little by little, we could support more filmmakers,” says Dudnick. “In order to try to give more indie filmmakers a forum for their work, this year we decided to show each film only once.”

More than 35 films will screen over the long weekend, including Dudnick’s short film, “Middle Voice.”

Dudnick says her decision to launch a festival came as a result of her attendance at some other festivals. “I thought, ‘Gee I could do that better,’” she says. A filmmaker who has had her work screened locally and who has attended film festivals around the country, Dudnick set out to create Algonquin, named as a nod to the luminaries who occupied the New York’s literary Alquonquin Round Table — Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber, among them — who also spent their weekends in the quiet of rural Bucks County.

Dudnick and her 20 volunteers have a tall task this year, with the likes of playwright and screenwriter Chris Durang, director Susan Seidelman (of “Desperately Seeking Susan” fame), and legendary actresses of stage and screen Patricia Neal, Celeste Holm, and Elizabeth Wilson on hand for the premiere of the documentary film “Broads.”

In addition to attending screenings, filmmakers are invited to bring a two-minute trailer (VHS only) for the “Trailer Slam” that takes place on Thursday and Friday, January 29 and 30. Screenwriters and filmmakers with an idea for a film are invited to participate in the Pitch Fest on Friday, January 30, at 1 p.m. A panel of experts including casting agent Kathy Wickline, Oscar-winning producer Tammy Tiehel Stedman, acquisitions expert Eugene Haynes, and Doylestown resident and screenwriter Mark Rosenthal (“Mona Lisa Smile,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Planet of the Apes”) will give feedback.

Just to be democratic in its representation of film professionals, the festival will also offer an on-camera acting course on Thursday, January 29, taught by Philadelphia’s premiere casting director Mike Lemon, whose “less is more” philosophy for performing in front of a camera has helped a number of actors make the leap to the big screen. Lemon’s short film “Touched,” which won the audience award at the 2003 Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, will screen on Friday morning.

Two of the biggest events of the festival however, involve the celebration of women in film. First, the Algonquin’s Indiefest “Hoopla” award will be presented to director Susan Seidelman for a body of independent films including “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Smithereens,” and “Gaudi Afternoon.” Seidelman’s latest, “A Cooler Climate” starring Sally Field and Judy Davis, will be screened as well.

On Sunday, February 1, the premiere of a new documentary film by Philadelphian Ray Glanzman will be enhanced by the presence of some of its subjects. “Broads,” Glanzman’s tribute to Hollywood’s legendary female character actresses, will be introduced by Patricia Neal, Celeste Holm, Elizabeth Wilson, and perhaps some additional surprise visitors, according to both Dudnick and Glanzman.

The film, which Glanzman ventured to do after meeting actress Maureen Stapleton to discuss a screenplay he was trying to produce, has been two years in the making and still requires additional editing. It boasts anecdotes by the actresses in attendance as well as Shirley Knight, Anne Meara, and Frances Sternhagen. It also features the last interview given by actress Kim Hunter (legendary for her performance of Stella in Kazan’s film version of “Streetcar Named Desire”), who died in June, 2002. Glanzman says the film tackles the issues of ageism and sexism in Hollywood via the personal stories of these extraordinary actresses of the stage and screen. “It’s a piece of history,” says Dudnick.

Dudnick feels fortunate to be able to attract such high caliber talent to a small film festival and admits she does a lot of begging to get the big names to New Hope. “There’s a lot of follow-up and presenting, trying to get them what they need.”

She notes that retailers, hotels, and restaurants have been helpful in providing the comforts appropriate to movie royalty. This year the Algonquin Film Festival will host a social event with entertainment each evening at a different location. On Thursday, a filmmakers “Meet and Greet” will be at Triumph Brewery in New Hope. On Friday, January 30, the River Horse Brewery in Lambertville will host a soiree, and on Saturday the Eagle Ballroom will host a wine and cheese social from 8 to 9 p.m. with entertainment by the Lizanne Knott Trio.

The festival’s other participating venues, for film screenings, panel discussions as well as social events include the Sand Castle Winery in Erwinna, Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, and Mother’s Restaurant in New Hope. The combination of good cinema, the picturesque setting, and a wealth of filmmaking talent and resources should give the Algonquin a good push forward into the expanding sea of film festivals.

Admission is sold on a “per day” basis and a daily pass, which includes entry to films, workshops, and panel discussions, is $32. Passes can be purchased on the Web at www.Algonquinfest.org and at participating vendors.

— Angelina Sciolla

The Algonquin Film Festival, New Hope, Pennsylvania. www.Algonquinfest.org. Thursday to Sunday, January 29 to February 1.

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West Windsor Film Fest

Alquonquin is not the only film presenter aiming to edge out Sundance and Toronto, West Windsor is getting set to debut its own international film festival, with plans to make it an annual event.

“A Journey Across Cultures,” three films filmed on three Friday evenings (January 30, February 27, and April 16), is the brainchild of Elane Gutterman, a board member of the West Windsor Arts Council and a research scientist who, with her husband, runs the consulting firm Health Data Analytics.

She experienced the West Windsor school system’s “impressive amount of cohesion and activities that bring kids from different groups together” with her own children, but Gutterman, says that the community’s adult residents often “miss out on some of that.”

Each evening of the festival will include one film — one Indian, one Chinese, and one American — introduced by a speaker who will comment on the film’s cultural and historical context. The film will be followed by discussion and culturally-themed refreshments. “I wanted to make this festival a step in helping adults see the rich traditions that are in the community but also bring them together on an interpersonal level,” says Gutterman.

The festival kicks off Friday, January 30, with “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer,” directed by Aparna Sen, a film about the bond that forms between a young south Indian upper caste Hindu wife (played by Sen’s daughter) and a single Muslim photographer when the bus they are riding is attacked by a band of Hindu extremists.

The speaker will be Ram Kolluri, president of Global Value Investors in West Windsor and the chairman of the board of the Indian American Civic Forum, dedicated to enhancing understanding between the Indian and non-Indian communities in Middlesex and Mercer counties.

On Friday, February 27, the festival will present the 2003 film of Chinese director Chen Kaige (who also plays the lead), best known for “Farewell, My Concubine.” An American film will be shown on Friday, April 16. (Licensing agreements preclude the festival from announcing the titles of the Chinese and American films in advance.)

A Journey Across Cultures, Grover Middle School, Village and Southfield roads, West Windsor, 609-919-1982. $10 adult; $8 students & seniors; $25 series pass. Www.WestWindsorArts.org. Fridays, January 30, February 27, and April 16, 7:30 p.m.

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NJ Film Festival

New Jersey Film Festival screenings are Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, Rutgers College Avenue campus, near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street. Admission $6; all programs begin at 7 p.m. Information 732-932-8482 or www.njfilmfest.com.

Contested Territory. Directed by Carolyn McGrath of West Windsor (2003), a documentary about suburban development and open space preservation. Guest appearance by McGrath; Thursday, January 29. Lost in Translation. Directed by Sofia Coppola (2003), starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johnsson; Friday to Sunday, January 30 to February 1.

Eyes Without a Face. Two-part retrospective of films by Georges Franju features “Eyes Without a Face,” (1959) and “Blood of the Beasts” (1949). In French with subtitles; Thursday, February 5. In My Skin, an exploration of the human body as a boundary, debut film directed by Marina De Van; Friday to Sunday, February 6 to 8.

Judex. Retrospective of films directed by Georges Franju continues with 1968 film. French, subtitles; Thursday, February 12. Zero Day, directed by Ben Coccio (2003), who makes a guest appearance; Friday to Sunday, February 13 to 15.

U.S. Super 8 Film & Digital Festival. Three-day screenings of competition winners; schedule at www.njfilmfest.com; Friday to Sunday, February 20 to 22. Notorious, part of Alfred Hitchcock retrospective; Thursday, February 26. Girlhood, directed by Liz Garbus, who makes a special guest appearance, (2003); Friday to Sunday, February 27 to 29.

Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock retrospective screening of a rare Technicolor print; Thursday, March 4. Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant, winner of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize; Friday to Sunday, March 5 to 7. North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (1959); Thursday, March 25.

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