The first Princeton Independent Film Festival — a three-day event dubbed the PrindieFest — opens Thursday, September 17, with an expressed mission “to make the unseen ‘scene.’”
The “unseen” are the 20 independent films that will be screened over the weekend. The “scene” is plural and includes screenings at the Princeton Garden Theater and Nassau Inn as well as opportunities to meet filmmakers at the Triumph Brewing Company, Infini-T Cafe, and the Alchemist and Barrister. With each ticket holder given a link to an online shorts bonus, the scene extends to the home.
“I feel like I’m doing something that’s a perfect combination of my talents and interests,” says organizer Sara McDermott Jain. “I’m a film fan, and I love to organize events and recommend great movies to friends. Now I’m getting to recommend movies to an entire town.”
Jain, 33, says the festival was conceived over the past year when as a new mother she found that “watching films was one of the things I could do when I was home all day with a baby.”
But it is more than that. Jain is a filmmaker and screenwriter. Her short film “Chance” won an award in the Williamsburg International Film Festival and her feature length screenplay “Left” — about an aspiring pianist who preserves despite losing the use of her left arm — has been sold to Gaddis Visuals and is now in post-production.
Jain came to film indirectly. She went to Immaculata University in Malvern, Pennsylvania, to study English. Then during a theater study program where students wrote and performed their own works, Jain took it to another level and made a feature-length film in her senior year. She received a master’s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College in 2004 and worked in international marketing at Perseus Books Group for a number of years before finding her way back to filmmaking.
Raised in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, Jain was influenced by education. “My dad taught history at West Chester East High School. My mom taught at Sharon Hill Elementary School, fourth grade for most of her career, although she was a reading specialist at the end. My dad now teaches martial arts at Bodyworks Karate in Media, PA, and my mom focuses on Tails Around Town, a pet care business she started.”
Jain — who is listed as a co-owner of Tails Around Town — and husband Ajit Jain — an analyst for Iconic Capital — married in 2011 and lived in New York City before deciding to move elsewhere to raise a family. “We’d been fans of Princeton for a long time and had dreamed and talked of moving here for years. The baby gave us the final push to do it!” They have lived in Princeton for a little more than a year.
While putting the film festival together Jain viewed more than 80 submissions. Each film was seen at least three times by a group of film friends and volunteers who were looking for films that bring in a different perspective. “We showcase different countries, different cultures, and different struggles from the ones you usually see in the media,” says Jain.
Jain is using a combination of volunteer and out-of-pocket expenses to fund the project and hopes that ticket sales will offset costs and lay the foundation for future events.
The Thursday, September 17, opening night features Jay Cuato’s Short film “A Box Came to Brooklyn,” about a cardboard box is left in the middle of a quiet Brooklyn street, causing escalating panic and paranoia among the neighbors. It’s accompanied by Paul Sapiano’s feature-length dark comedy about a young man’s experience with the police in Hollywood, “Driving While Black.” “A Box Came to Brooklyn” actor Anthony DeVito from will be there for a casual Q&A session. And a “Drinks with the Filmmakers” event to be held at Triumph Brewing.
The Friday, September 18, portion of the festival starts at 9 a.m. with an “Early Bird Special” that includes several film shorts. They’re followed at 10:30 a.m. by “Exported From Michigan,” a documentary that looks at art, urban farming, microbreweries, and innovations in wind, solar, and hybrid electric power-providing global solutions.
The afternoon includes the 1 p.m. showing of shorts and the feature-length documentary “Trichsters,” which focuses on seven individuals struggling with a hair-pulling disorder. At 3:30 p.m. the festival moves to Infini-T Cafe for a filmmakers’ roundtable discussion.
At 7:30 p.m. the Nassau Inn becomes the center for an evening of “Friday Night Thrillers.” Included in the showings is the feature-length film “A Wheel Out of Kilter,” a “genre mashup of character drama, philosophical documentary, buddy comedy, and psychological horror film” about a Zen Buddhist mountain biker.
On Saturday, September 19, the festival returns to the Garden Theater at 9 a.m. with several shorts and the feature documentary “Art & Spirit,” a visit with 91 year-old abstract expressionist painter Harold Garde “who shares insight into his philosophy on art as well as leading a successful life.”
At 10:30 a.m. the festival screenings conclude with “Mercy’s Blessing,” about a brother and sister living in a small African village where an education is the most important path to a better life. It is accompanied by the world premiere of the feature documentary “Time Simply Passes,” about a Florida orange picker who in 1967 was wrongfully convicted of murdering and was imprisoned until 1989 when his conviction was overturned by “miraculous circumstance.”
At 1 p.m. the festival moves to the Alchemist & Barrister for an awards party with live music, appetizers, and the results of a panel of judges, including Linda Palmer Cardonne, director of “Halloween Party,” shortlisted for an Academy Award for best original song; Patrick DiRenna, president of New York City’s Digital Film Academy; and cinematographer Pawel Biel.
Princeton Independent film Festival, Thursday, September 17, through Saturday, September 19. Garden Theater, Triumph Brewery, Infini-T Cafe, Alchemist & Barrister, and Nassau Inn, $8 to $10 for films, $10 minimum for food at discussions, $25 for awards party. www.princetonindependentfilmfestival.com.