Film Festival

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This article by Christopher Zinsli was prepared for the February 25, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Hollywood Heads to Trenton

You stride down the red carpet, shoes polished, tuxedo pristine. You stop to chat with the press and to pose for the paparazzi, bathed in the glow of their popping flashbulbs. Your entrance is greeted with champagne and schmoozing, before you take your seat for a four-star dinner, accompanied by the most famous personalities in film and television today.

Are you in Hollywood? No, you’re still in New Jersey, but if the Trenton Film Society has its way, the Garden State could soon make good on its self-appointed role as Hollywood East.

This Sunday night, February 29, the Trenton Film Society will bring a little Hollywood glitz to New Jersey with its First Annual Silver Screen Soiree at the Trenton War Memorial. Film enthusiasts will gather to watch the Academy Awards ceremonies broadcast on a big screen and enjoy the kind of glamour usually reserved for celebrities, red carpet and all.

There will be paparazzi on hand, says Michelle Emerson, chair of the Silver Screen Soiree committee. The media, including Princeton TV 30, the cable television outlet, will be on hand to cover the guest arrivals, a la Joan Rivers. There will be fine dining, courtesy of the Trenton Marriott. And of course, there will be a red carpet.

Jamie Griswold, the president of the Trenton Film Society, looks forward to holding the Soiree, a prelude to the first annual Trenton Film Festival. "In the center of the state, where there’s really little in the way of independent film," Griswold says the society aims to make its mark.

Of course, the society is no stranger to independent film, or to the Oscars. Last April, the society screened the Academy Award-nominated short documentary "Why Can’t We Be a Family Again?" and the Academy Award winner "Thoth." Lynne Appelle, producer of "Thoth," attended the screening and answered audience questions, fulfilling the society’s mission to bring audiences and filmmakers together.

"We’re not only showing movies, but giving the audience a chance to talk to the people directly involved," says Emerson.

Another tenet of the society is to nurture local and independent filmmaking. "One of our goals," says Kevin Williams, the society’s artistic director, "is to get local filmmakers the education they need" to launch careers in the film industry. To that end, the society has held independent filmmaker networking events and seminars on screenwriting and film criticism.

The support seems to be working. At a workshop event last October, co-sponsored by Trenton’s Passage Theater, 50 area actors discussed industry matters with casting agents and representatives from the Screen Actors Guild and Actors’ Equity. One attendee, a student at Rutgers University, landed a job offer during the workshop intermission, resulting in a recurring role on the CBS series "Hack."

As a group interested in the prosperity of independent film, the Trenton Film Society seems to have picked an appropriate time to launch the Soiree. Several smaller movies, including independents and foreign films, have been nominated in key categories this year. Sofia Coppola’s bittersweet "Lost in Translation," though a major player in this year’s race with nominations for Original Screenplay, Lead Actor, Directing, and Best Picture, is a tiny film by Hollywood standards. And "City of God," a kinetic movie about life on the streets of a Brazilian slum, surprised many by garnering four nominations, including Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In fact, the screenplay categories this year are filled with independent and foreign nominees. The intellectually smug French-Canadian "The Barbarian Invasions," the quirky documentary-narrative hybrid of Harvey Pekar’s comic book saga, "American Splendor," and the engrossing international production "Dirty Pretty Things" all received notice for their scripts, as did "Lost in Translation," "City of God," and Jim Sheridan’s "In America."

Also acknowledged this year were many actors who turned in strong performances in independent films. Charlize Theron’s transformation into a prostitute-turned-serial killer in "Monster" won her a Golden Globe, and she is widely believed to be the frontrunner in her category. She’s up against 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, a surprise nominee for the Maori film "Whale Rider," and Samantha Morton for "In America." Also in the mix are Djimon Hounsou for "In America," Holly Hunter for "Thirteen," and Patricia Clarkson for "Pieces of April."

"There’s been a surge of interest in independent films in the Academy in recent years," says Griswold. "Hopefully that will continue."

Still, plenty of worthy indies went unnoticed this year. Clarkson just might have been nominated for the wrong movie, having given a strong performance in the Sundance Film Festival favorite "The Station Agent" (shot in New Jersey) alongside the equally deserving Peter Dinklage. Peter Sarsgaard, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for "Shattered Glass," was likewise overlooked. Less surprising was the Academy’s failure to notice director Danny Boyle’s genre-redefining horror film "28 Days Later," which opened to critical acclaim last summer. It also avoided the widely misunderstood "Party Monster," starring Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin as club kids in the late 1980s.

Although their zeal for smaller, more intimate films is reflected in their personal favorites, some Trenton Film Society board members seemed skeptical about the chances of indie films returning home with awards come Sunday.

"`Mystic River’ is my personal choice, even though I’m sure `Lord of the Rings’ will win," says Emerson. Kevin Williams agrees that his favorite, "Lost in Translation," will also likely lose to director Peter Jackson’s Tolkein epic, though he holds out hope that Bill Murray will take Best Actor.

Silver Star-level Soiree guests will have the opportunity discuss their own Oscar picks prior to the gala at a Champagne and cocktail reception featuring an open bar and musical entertainment by the North Jersey-based jazz group, The Rob Sayles Trio. The debate will likely continue through the Awards ceremony, during which attendees can compete for door prizes and join in trivia contests during all those commercial breaks.

No matter who wins the Oscar statues, more than anything the Trenton Film Society members aim for an engaging evening. They’ve planned a full night of entertainment, including a silent auction at which attendees can bid on a host of movie-related items, including a walk-on role in a Philadelphia film or TV production. And if this year’s ceremony is at all like last year’s, what with surprise wins by Eminem and Roman Polanski, Michael Moore’s feather-ruffling acceptance speech, and Adrien Brody’s passionate kiss with Halle Berry, the soiree’s tuxedo and evening gown-clad partygoers should have plenty to talk about in between sips of champagne.

So does the Trenton soiree’s dress code really mandate black tie? Emerson says formal wear is admired, but not required. Mostly, she says, "We just want you there enjoying the party!"

– Christopher Zinsli

Silver Screen Soiree, Trenton Film Society, War Memorial Ballroom, Trenton, 609-396-6966. "Silver Screen Soiree," an Academy Awards-style party. Black tie preferred. Ticket prices begin at $75. Sunday, February 29, 8 p.m.

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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

Notorious, part of Alfred Hitchcock retrospective; Thursday, February 26. Girlhood, directed by Liz Garbus, who makes a guest appearance, (2003); Friday to Sunday, February 27 to 29. Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock retrospective screening of a rare Technicolor print of the classic thriller, 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) stars Cary Grant, Thursday, March 25.

Crimson Gold, directed by Jafar Panahi (2003); in Farsi with subtitles, Friday to Sunday, March 26 to 28. The Station Agent, directed by Tom McCarthy and filmed in New Jersey (2003), winner of the 2003 Sundance Film Festival best drama award, Friday to Sunday, April 2 to 4. To Be and To Have, directed by Nicolas Philibert (2003), in French with subtitles, Friday to Sunday, April 9 to 11.

Balseros, directed by Carlos Bosch and Josep Maria Demenech (2003); in Spanish and English with subtitles, Friday to Sunday, April 16 to 18. Don’t Look Back, cinema verite documentary of Bob Dylan’s now-historic 1966 English tour, created and directed by D.A. Pennebaker (1967), Thursday to Saturday, April 22 to 24.

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Mainstream Movies

Confirm titles with theaters.

Against the Ropes. Meg Ryan manages and trains a boxer. AMC, Destinta, Multiplex.

Along Came Polly. Slapstick comedy stars Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. AMC, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

Barbershop 2: Back in Business. Ice Cube stars in comedy about a new business in the hood. AMC, Destinta, Loews, Multiplex.

Big Fish. Albert Finney tells tales of his travels around the world through the younger Ewan McGregor; Tim Burton directs. Oscar nomination for score. AMC, Loews, MarketFair.

The Butterfly Effect. Thriller with Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. AMC, Destinta, Loews.

Calender Girls. Helen Mirren and Julie Waters star in a comic staging of the true story of women in the north of England who used their bodies to benefit their Women’s Institute. Montgomery.

Catch That Kid. Sam Robards plays a father who is injured while climbing Mount Everest. Kristen Stewart plays the daughter who tries to pay his medical bills. AMC, Destinta, MarketFair, Multiplex.

Cheaper by the Dozen. Family comedy stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, and 12 children. AMC.

Cold Mountain. Civil-war drama based on the best-selling novel about a wounded soldier heading home to his sweetheart, stars Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. Anthony Minghella directs. Seven Oscar nominations. Zellweger won Golden Globe. AMC, Multiplex.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Is the most popular girl in the New Jersey high school played by Lindsay Lohan or Megan Fox? AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

The Cooler. Romantic comedy with William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, and Maria Bello. Two Golden Globe nominations; no award. One Oscar nomination. Montgomery.

The Dreamers. Michael Pitt stars as an American college student in Paris, 1968. Montgomery.

Europtrip. Scott Mechlowicz plays the part of an American teen traveling to Europe in romantic comedy. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

50 First Dates. Romantic comedy with Adam Sandler and drew Barrymore. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

The Girl Next Door. Romantic comedy stars Elisha Cuthbert and Emile Hirsch. AMC, Loews, MarketFair.

The Girl With a Pearl Earring. Atmospheric drama set in painter Jan Vermeer’s 17th century Dutch household with Scarlett Johannson as the girl. Three Oscar nominations. AMC, Garden, Montgomery.

In America. Jim Sheridan directs a period drama about an Irish immigrant family in New York. Two Golden Globe nominations; no award. Two Oscar nominations. Montgomery, Multiplex.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Final episode in the epic Tolkein fantasy. Four Golden Globe Awards including best drama. 11 Oscar nominations include best picture. AMC, Loews, Multiplex.

Lost in Translation. Sofia Coppola’s provocative film, set in glitzy Tokyo, stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Golden Globe Awards for Coppola and Murray. Four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Multiplex.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe plays a captain in the British Navy circa 1805, back in the theaters with 11 Oscar nominations. AMC.

Miracle. Sports film based on the true story of how Herb Brooks led a U.S. hockey team to victory over the invincible Soviets. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

Monster. Dark thriller based on a female serial killer stars Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci. Theron won the Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar. AMC, Loews, Montgomery, Multiplex.

Mystic River. Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins star in crime drama based on Dennis Lehane novel. Penn and Robbins received Golden Globes. Six Oscar nominations including best picture. AMC, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

Something’s Gotta Give. Sagging singles Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton star in romantic comedy with Keanu Reeves. Golden Globe Award for 58-year-old Keaton. Oscar nomination for Keaton. AMC, MarketFair, Multiplex.

Starsky & Hutch. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson star in prequel to the tv show. AMC, Loews, MarketFair.

Touching the Void. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates tell their 1985 story in a documentary set in the Peruvian Andes. Garden.

Triplets of Belleville. Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. AMC, Garden, Loews, Montgomery, Multiplex.

Welcome to Mooseport. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Multiplex.

You Got Served. Hip-hop comedy directed by Chris Stokes. AMC, Destinta, Loews.

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AMC Hamilton 24 Theaters, 325 Sloan Avenue, I-295 Exit 65-A, 609-890-8307. Stadium-seating 24-screen multiplex. $8 adults; $6 matinees; $5 twilight.

Destinta, Independence Plaza, 264 South Broad Street, Hamilton, 609-888-4500. Stadium-seating 12-screen multiplex. $7.50 adults; $5.50 students; $5 matinees & Tuesday nights.

Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, 609-683-7595. Two screens with stadium seating. $8 adults; $5 for shows before 6 p.m.

Loews Theaters, Route 1 South, New Brunswick, 732-846-9200. Stadium-seating multiplex. $8.50 adults; $5.25 matinees.

MarketFair-UA, Route 1 South, 609-520-8700. Now with stadium-seating. $8 adult; $5.25 matinees, students, and seniors.

Montgomery Center Theater, Routes 206 and 518, 609-924-7444. $8 adults; $5 matinees.

Multiplex Cinemas Town Center Plaza, 319 Route 130 North, East Windsor, 609-371-8473. Stadium seating, 15 screens. $7.50 adults; $5.25 matinees.

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