The 25th anniversary season of the New Jersey Film Festival presents an ambitious and eclectic array of 30 films to be shown on the Rutgers campus from Friday, September 8, through Sunday, November 19. “The program is designed to educate, inform and entertain,” says Albert G. Nigrin, curator and director of the Rutgers Film Coop. “We want to give people what they want; but we also want to turn them on to what is new and exciting.”
With more than 20 of the films enjoying their metropolitan area or New Jersey premieres at the festival, the slate includes everything from documentaries to Woody Allen to surrealistic animation. “There are evenings to please every filmgoer’s taste,” Nigrin says. Directors and filmmakers often appear with their films and are on hand for Q&A sessions after the screening.
Only two film festivals in New Jersey have equal or greater longevity than this one, according to Nigrin, citing the Newark Black Film Festival, 30 years old, and the Black Maria Festival, a touring program out of New Jersey City University in Jersey City, also 25 years old. Many towns have film festivals, says Nigrin, but they have been “falling by the wayside.” Some of the failures include the New Jersey International Film and Screenplay Festival out of Fairleigh Dickinson University, the New Jersey Student Film Festival, the Lost Picture Show Film Festival in Metuchen and the Highland Park Outdoor Film Festival.
“Ours is an all year program,” Nigrin says, “four nights a week throughout the year. Because we teach film here, we want to take a higher direction. Our selection committee is composed of people who are all involved in academia.” The films are chosen by film students, interns and faculty, including Nigrin’s wife, Irene Fizer, a literature professor at Hofstra University. “Our goal is not to just fill seats,” Nigrin says, “but to be critically selective, to make connections, to bring a level of quality to the film-going community.”
With this in mind, in a tie-in with the current DADA show at MoMA in New York, the schedule includes a group of surrealistic animated films that Nigrin says embellish the museum show with how surrealism is used in film. While the festival committee makes an effort to address the perspective of students and young people, these animation films bridge the generations, says Nigrin. “These films are smart and intelligently made.” The animation programs include several works by the Brothers Quay, two of the most original animators to emerge in the past decade. Says Nigrin: “They are masters of miniaturization, who have created unforgettable worlds, suggestive of the landscapes of long-repressed childhood dreams.” The Quay films “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes,” “Street of Crocodiles,” and “Institute Benjamenta” will receive their metropolitan area premieres at the festival.
A retrospective of the work of Susan Pitt is also featured in the animation category. Nigrin calls Pitt’s films “haunting and whimsical, full of surreal imagery, erotic metaphor, and depictions of the natural world.”
The Cinema 101 Film Appreciation/revival series shows films meant to be seen more than once — “our audience’s favorites,” Nigrin says. “These are movies for which we continue to get requests and which fill the house year after year.” In this group are Nicholas Roeg’s “Performance”; several surrealistic films of Hans Richter, including his mesmerizing “Dreams That Money Can Buy,” “Daughters of the Dust,” and Paul Robeson’s first film, “Body and Soul.”
Halloween will be feted with a 3-D creature double feature and a costume competition for patrons who are asked to come as their favorite creature, ghoul, or zombie. And the unique Street Art Film Festival will deal with graffiti artists from France to California, with several of the street artists on hand to discuss their experiences.
One of the most compelling films on the festival’s docket, premiering on Thursday, October 5, the night before its official opening in New York City, is “49Up,” the seventh installment in British director Michael Apted’s series of landmark documentaries that has followed a group of English citizens and filmed them every seven years for 42 years, starting at the age of seven. In this latest chapter, more life-changing decisions are revealed, more shocking announcements are made, as the participants speak out on love, marriage, divorce, raising children, regrets, joys, class and prejudice — and the impact of this film, both positive and negative, on their lives. “49Up” will also be screened at the festival Friday through Sunday, October 6 to 8.
The children in the film started out in boarding school, prep schools, government schools, and an orphanage. Their careers now span the gamut from cab driver and freight handler to barrister and councilman.
Not everyone gains a family through his life’s work but Apted found one in his early 20s in his first professional project, “Seven Up,” which film critic Roger Ebert calls one of the 10 best films of all times. Apted, then a researcher just out of training with Granada Television, interviewed the youngsters about their lives, hopes, and dreams for the future. Since then Apted has combined a successful career directing mainstream films with his ongoing documentary series, what he calls “the cornerstone of my work.”
In the current film, 49 seems to be the age at which several of the subjects have “found themselves” — either enjoying new happiness within their marriages or moving on to new spouses, with an emphasis on the importance of family among many of them. Several are young grandparents, very much involved with their grandchildren.
Apted has built a relationship with his subjects, maintaining contact with several between the film interviews. “I see some of them a lot,” Apted says via E-mail from England, “others not at all.”
“I like to get them together as a group,” he adds, noting that he had arranged a screening for them with their friends and family in London of his 1999 James Bond movie, “The World is Not Enough.” “49Up” includes footage of a reunion Apted arranged for two of the men who had been at school together as children — one now lives in Australia, the other in England.
“It often takes a lot of persuasion to get them to agree to be revealed,” Apted says. “Reality TV is the big new gorilla that scares them. But that exploits and contrives; my documentary captures life as it happens. It’s compelling,” he says. “Real life with the added bonus of seeing people grow, get old, lose their hair, get fat. Three or four really enjoy being involved; the others need convincing. It opens everything up every seven years — good and bad. And it can be emotionally draining.
“They become more emotional as they get older,” Apted says. “And we are closer. I’m 15 years older than all of them but the gap in our ages seems smaller as we all get older. After all, how many people do we know so well and for so long!”
Two of the original participants dropped out, Apted says, Charles at 21, “a mystery to me because he has worked in film,” and Peter at 28, “because the press gave him a bad time for his honesty in the interviews.” But Apted has kept up with them and hopes that some day they may agree to return in later filmings. “They are very self aware,” Apted says of his subjects. “It’s always new; I never know what will come up.” According to Apted he goes in with no expectations; he starts with “a clean sheet to tell the story.”
Born and educated in England , he studied law at Cambridge. Apted, now 64, has lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades and is married to film writer Dana Stevens. They have a six-year-old son. Apted’s list of mainstream movies includes “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Enigma,” “Gorky Park,” “Nell,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” and many others. He has three other films recently completed, showing a balance between documentary and feature film: an English period movie, “Amazing Grace,” which deals with the anti-slave trade bill in England in 1807; a film on the impact of football (soccer) in Europe, which will open at the Berlin Film Festival in February; and the Hallmark Television documentary “Married in America 2,” which follows up on the nine couples Apted filmed in 2001 for an A&E documentary.
Apted says he enjoys the “change of rhythm” in the variety of his work — working with a crew of seven for a documentary and a crew of 900 for a Bond movie. Active in film industry affairs, Apted is completing his second term as president of the Directors Guild of America. He also serves on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the documentary branch and is on the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute.
The “Seven Up” series is popular at festivals in Europe and is a teaching tool in universities. “This series is the most important work I’ve done,” Apted says. “Wherever I go, people ask about it and talk about it.”
New Jersey Film Festival, Rutgers University, Friday, September 7, through November 19. For a complete schedule visit www.njfilmfest.com or call 732-932-8482.