The New Jersey Film International Film Festival begins its 24th annual screening on Saturday, June 1, at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Featuring more than 20 films, the jury-selected schedule includes independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and documentaries.
One of the films that strikes a musical chord is “Sing You a Brand New Song: The Words and Music of Coleman Mellett.”
The producer is noted jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, and the 51-minute documentary focuses on her guitarist husband, who died in a 2009 commuter airline accident while he was flying to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Bryson is the daughter of songwriter Connie Bryson and celebrated jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. She has her roots in central New Jersey region and lives in East Brunswick — also the home of her late husband, “Coley” Mellett.
Film festival coordinator Al Nigrin interviewed Bryson about her career and her personal project having its world premiere on Saturday, June 8. Here are excerpts:
The idea for making this film was a purely organic one. It came to be in exactly the same way that we felt that Coley’s album just had to be completed. I mean that to say that after the accident, even through the unimaginable grief, there was only a single thought in my mind — and that was that we had to finish Coley’s album of his original music, and we must document the process of recording it.
I knew Coley’s music was a one-in-a-million gift to the world, something I was sure that, given a chance, would touch countless people with his message of love and positivity.
Documenting the recording sessions and interviewing the people that gave their talents so freely seemed the right thing to do — and what Coley would have wanted — to show the audience the generosity of spirit of everyone involved in the recording process.
I started singing professionally in 1980. Since I lived in the Princeton area, most of my first gigs were right around there — in restaurants, bars, private parties, and even Fort Dix playing for the NCO club.
In the early 1990s I signed with an agent in New York who sent me to Holland to record with the Metropole, a 56-piece orchestra. I got signed to Telarc Records in 1993 and made three recordings with them. I did quite a bit of traveling during those years, especially in 1994 when I toured with Terence Blanchard, supporting his record “The Billie Holiday Songbook” on Columbia Records. We traveled all over the world that year — and we were even on the Tonight Show.
I met Coley in 1996, and he started playing regularly with my band virtually from our very first gig together. After he got the gig with Chuck Mangione in 1999, that became his main gig — but he would play with me whenever he could. We worked in Japan, Brazil, and Spain together for extended tours — and it was wonderful to be able to make music together and see the world as part of our work.
I never started out thinking that this was a movie about a love story — it was all about Coley and his songwriting.
Sing You a Brand New Song, Saturday, June 8, 7 p.m. It will paired with the short film “The Reservoir,” about a musician getting an opportunity to travel on the road. Bryson will also be on hand to answer questions.
Other films reflect the international nature of the festival, notably with films from Argentina, China, Croatia, German, Sweden, and around the United States — including a Pennsylvania filmmaker’s study of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons
And the following roster of New Jersey filmmakers and films will close the festival during the final segment on Sunday, June 9, 7 p.m.: “Tulips,” a short drama by Allay Ready of Union Beach; “Window Shopping,” Farmingdale director Russell Kohlmann’s fantasy short; “Domino,” Hillsborough’s Brent Leoni’s short social commentary; and “Anywhere is Here,” Stewartsville director Ian Lettire’s feature film of a teenage girl’s plan to escape her abusive parents going dangerously awry. The directors will also be on hand for Q&As.
New Jersey International Film Festival, Rutgers University, Voorhees Hall, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, June 1 through 9, 5 and 7 p.m. $9 to $14. 848-932-8482 or njfilmfest.com.