For central New Jersey film lovers and filmmakers, there can never be too many film festivals in the region, especially if they’re held in such an inviting place as the Princeton Garden Theater. Now there is a new “baby” festival in town, just conceived in January of this year.
Envisioned by Lew Goldstein, a filmmaker himself, president of Plainsboro-based Libelula Productions, as well as assistant superintendent for Princeton Public Schools, the inaugural Nassau Film Festival will be held on Sunday, May 17, at the Princeton Garden Theater on Nassau Street. The idea for the first Nassau Film Festival was to present short films — works that can run anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes in length — by new and current filmmakers. The event is free and open to the public.
All genres and styles of films were considered, and a Best of Festival Award will be given in the student and non-student categories. However, Goldstein believes that even if a filmmaker does not win an award, just to complete a film and have it screened is quite an accomplishment.
“I was thinking about all the other film festivals in Princeton, such as the Environmental Film Festival, and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice to showcase talent in a different type of film festival, attract those who make short films,’” Goldstein says. “It’s a great opportunity, and a way for any upcoming filmmaker to submit a film and gain acceptance, just get their names out there.”
Partnering with Dan Bauer, also a filmmaker and president of Dan Bauer Public Relations and Communications, the two men approached the Princeton Garden Theater with their idea, which was met with enthusiasm.
“They were very receptive,” Goldstein says. “We got a date of May 17, and, thanks to Dan Bauer, we began an ambitious publicity campaign. It’s been quite a challenge to put a film festival together in just two months, as most festivals take a year or more to plan. But this was a good opportunity and it came at a good time, as most of the festivals in the area were completed.”
Bauer says his participation in launching the Nassau Film Festival started over a cup of coffee with a friend.
“Dane Hughes Moorhead wanted to pitch her friend Lew Goldstein’s film, ‘St. Louis Cemetery #1,’ to see how I might help publicize it,” Bauer says. “I was impressed by the film and with Lew, and before we knew it the Nassau Film Festival became a reality. Having had the opportunity to produce my own film, ‘leben um zu sagen (live to tell)’ and admire the artistry of filmmaking on display at such venues as the Princeton Public Library and at the Garden Theater, I am thrilled to be a part of this festival and to give the creative spirit another opportunity to shine in this town.”
“I have a real love and affinity for all artists and find great joy and creativity in sharing their talents,” he adds. “I am so pleased to share these talented filmmakers and their films — which include some incredible works by high school students — with the community.”
Goldstein, who has attended numerous film festivals both large and small, thinks that they not only provide the opportunity to support new talent, but also allow for considerable networking.
“Filmmakers can consult with fellow filmmakers, in fact, they can make life-long friends from networking at a film festival,” he says. “Festivals not only educate, they bring people together and give them something to talk about. Yet another positive aspect is that a festival of this kind attracts tourism, from in and out of the state.”
“If the festival is done well, people will rave about it, as well as the town it’s running in,” Goldstein adds. “It also benefits the local theater — and we chose the Garden Theater for all of its positive attributes and the things it’s done for the community. We hope that more people will get interested in coming to the Garden Theater, and of course visit the businesses in town, especially on Nassau Street. Most importantly, a festival like this inspires community cooperation.”
One piece screening at the festival that both Goldstein and Bauer are excited about is “Santa Cruz del Islote,” by first-time filmmaker and Stanford University student Luke Lorentzen, who funded his opus through a Kickstarter campaign. The film tells the story of life in the three-acre island of Santa Cruz del Islote, located off Colombia’s Caribbean Sea coast. About 50 miles from Cartagena in the San Bernardo Archipelago, it’s unofficially known as the most densely populated island in the world.
Lorentzen’s film beautifully depicts life on the island, and its rich and lucrative tradition of fishing, now threatened. Following the daily routine of one fisherman and his young assistant, “Santa Cruz” shows how residents have grown increasingly dependent on the outside world for resources and jobs, as the environment changes and sea levels rise. It’s been screened around the United States, and won the Best Short Documentary at the 2015 Princeton Film Festival in March at Lewis Center for the Arts, as well as high honors at the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival.
There is a special challenge to crafting a short film, Goldstein says, and it takes considerable work to figure out the message a filmmaker wants to get across in a brief period of time.
“You really have to focus on the message,” he says. “A lot of films are shot with an hour or two of footage, and then that’s narrowed down. So a short film takes a lot of editing, shot selection, etc., and for the screenwriters, the script has to be very lean and compelling to pull people in and educate them.”
Goldstein, who grew up in Bergen County, has been with Princeton Public Schools for about 15 years. His father was a chief warrant officer for medical supplies in the U.S. Army during World War II, and after the war worked in the engineering department for the Veterans Administration Hospital in New York City.
His mother was mostly a full-time mom but in mid-life turned to swimming, eventually becoming a New Jersey state swimming champion in the Senior Olympics.
“Then, when she was 64, she went back to college and earned her associate’s degree, and then at age 68, got her bachelor’s degree,” Goldstein says. “We were in college at the same time, and her grade point average was better than mine — she used to tease me about it. Both of my parents were always interested in the arts, in theater and music, often going to Broadway plays and whatnot.”
Goldstein graduated from Lehigh University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism; he then attended Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, earning his master’s degree in public affairs and organizational development in 1980.
He founded Libelula Productions in 2011 to develop shows for cable, radio, movie, and internet productions. Libelula has developed documentary films and worked with companies to promote their business. In addition, working with local cable and internet stations and regional television channels, Libelula provides local shows for programming. Its show, “Focus On,” which Goldstein hosts, has a wide viewership in central and southern New Jersey and northeast Philadelphia market.
Goldstein says he’s always been a film buff, and names Ken Burns as his sole influence.
“I’ve seen everything he’s done, all his documentaries including his most recent, ‘The Roosevelts,’” Goldstein says. “I like the way his films present history, the way they’re narrated and how he edits — so differently from everyone else. There’s so much work to his documentaries and it shows.”
Goldstein’s dream to write, direct, and edit a documentary started to become a reality during a trip to New Orleans, one of his favorite travel destinations. The result was “St. Louis Cemetery #1,” based on the famous burial ground there. So far, he’s had only positive feedback about the film.
“I was in New Orleans with one film project in mind and it didn’t work out, so I took a walk around town, just wandered around, and wound up in the cemetery, which was fascinating,” he says. “So I wrote about the historical importance of the cemetery. When you see the people buried there, it’s like the Who’s Who of New Orleans, but years before the city was founded. It’s an amazing educational adventure.”
“The history of New Orleans doesn’t start on Bourbon Street, it starts in this cemetery,” Goldstein adds. “You know the line ‘follow the money?’ This is like ‘follow the bodies.’ Very famous people are buried there, but the most famous is the Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Her grave is the second most-visited in the United States, behind Elvis Presley’s, and it’s the third most visited in the world behind Elvis’ and Jim Morrison’s.”
(Incidentally, according to a January 26, 2015 article in the New Orleans “Times-Picayune,” there is no longer free public access to St. Louis Cemetery #1. Entrance is limited to family members of the interred or registered tour groups. This was done by the Archdiocese of New Orleans to protect the tombs of not only the Laveau family but also those of the many other notable dead there.)
Putting together the Nassau Film Festival has been a labor of love for both Goldstein and Bauer, and a pleasure as well.
“All the films I’ve seen so far are impressive,” Bauer says. “I love how much story can be told in 20 minutes or less.”
“I do hope the Nassau Film Festival provides opportunities for individuals to get their films seen,” Goldstein says. “I’ve been to quite a few film festivals, including the Montreal Film Festival, and another in Australia. I just enjoy films, and if I’m in a city and there’s a festival, I try to catch it, especially the small ones, which people don’t really hear about.”
“We’ve all heard of the large scale festivals like Sundance, but I enjoy the lesser-known ones, which have given opportunities and more than a few breaks to filmmakers,” he adds. “You never know who’s in the audience.”
The Nassau Film Festival, Princeton Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, Princeton. Sunday, May 17, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. E-mail email@example.com or go to www.nassaufilmfestival.org/fineprint.