Debut of Montclair Film Festival Shines Light on NJ

Michelle Michalos |
Where: Venues across Montclair
When: May 1-6

Just across the river from Tribeca, a film festival of a different variety is taking root in New Jersey. The first annual Montclair Film Festival makes its debut on May 1, and while it doesn’t have Robert De Niro at the helm, it boasts a roster of famous names in its advisory board alone, including comedian Stephen Colbert, actress Olympia Dukakis and actor Patrick Wilson.

“In Montclair we’re very much about celebrating New Jersey as much Tribeca is about celebrating New York City,” says festival director Thom Powers, who also programs for the Toronto International Film Festival. “Where Tribeca sets out to be a festival that is very premiere-driven, Montclair is not trying to compete at that level or chase world premieres of films. Nor are we a festival that’s very industry focused, the way that Tribeca is. We’re really a festival that’s for the general public. The positive side to that is that when filmmakers come here, they’re in a lot more relaxed state than they are sometimes at a bigger festival where they’re worried about if their film is going to get sold or not.”

With more than 45 films and over 50 special guests — including Jersey-connected talent such as Judy Blume, Olympia Dukakis and Montclair filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky, whose film “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” will be screened at the festival — the Montclair Film Festival will also feature a special section of films dedicated to New Jersey filmmakers as part of its “NJ Spotlight.”

At "The Road to Batman and Dark Knight" panel on May 6, author Michael Uslan will discuss acquiring film rights to Batman, and Steve Gorelick of the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission will explain New Jersey's role in the "The Dark Knight Rises." Photo courtesy of Montclair Film Festival.

“I think there is a lot of interest in this state in developing more opportunities for studio spaces and attracting those kinds of films,” says Powers, addressing the growth of the film and television business in New Jersey. “There is a whole different kind of landscape here of suburbs, as well as city in Newark, along with the shoreline, which is very different from what you get in New York City.”

Powers cites this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” as an example of a blockbuster taking advantage of New Jersey’s proximity to New York City. “There was a point in the filmmaking where there were things that they wanted to do that they could not do in New York City, so they got in touch with the folks in New Jersey and were able to come film some of those key scenes here, in Newark.”


For “Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie,”
filmmakers Daniel A. Miller, Seth Kramer and Jeremy Newberger tracked down original tapes from the controversial talk show and filmed other fans talking about Morton Jr. in his old studio in Secaucus. Video courtesy of Ironbound Films.

Among the New Jersey-themed films presented at the Festival is “Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie,” which explores the rise and fall of the “Father of Trash Television,” Morton Downey Jr., whose controversial Secaucus-based talk show paved the way for the likes of Jerry Springer and Sally Jesse Raphael.

“The people who would show up for a taping of the Morton Downey Show were people who you’d never seen on television before, except for on maybe “Candid Camera” – working class people, expressing their opinions, regardless of how much education they had, in the New Jersey character, which you never saw before on television,” says filmmaker Daniel A. Miller, who hails from Edison, NJ. “It really drew an audience who wanted to see people like them represented on television. This sort of paved the way for “The Jersey Shore,” “Real Housewives of New Jersey”… shows where the Jersey character is such a strong central element.”


Filmmaker Thomas Bentey started his career as an actor in 2003, but says he transitioned to filmmaking with “At the Jersey Shore” in 2009 to take control of his acting career. Video courtesy of Suburbanite Productions.

Another local film is “At the Jersey Shore,” a rite of passage tale about a young New Jersey journalist seeking bigger opportunities in Manhattan. When he’s assigned to write a story about the singles pick-up scene at Jersey Shore nightclubs, he’s pulled back to the world he tried to escape. Written and directed by the film’s star, Thomas Bentey, “At the Jersey Shore” breaks down the stereotypes presented by the similarly-named MTV reality show.

“When I first started writing the film, New Jersey in general, especially the Jersey Shore, definitely had a stigma attached to it,” says Bentey, who says he has spent his summers at the Jersey Shore since childhood. “With the script, I really wanted to just say, ‘Hey, there are those types of individuals and there are those types of areas, but there’s so much more as well.'”

“MTV’s reality show [‘The Jersey Shore’] kind of changed everything that we were doing, but it kind of solidified what we were doing at the same time by bringing us a lot more exposure nationally and worldwide,” says Bentey. “We were lucky enough to film in the same clubs and the same areas, but at the same time we’re different from them; where they’re focusing on absurd characters and petty drama, we’re showing more of the beauty, more of the substance, the complexities and the nuances of the characters of the area that a lot of people aren’t familiar with.”

A New York City-based documentary by Katie and Nelson Dellamaggiore of Rescued Media, “Brooklyn Castle,” makes its East Coast debut in the festival. The film spotlights I.S. 318, an inner-city public school that is home to the most winning junior high chess team in the U.S.. The school faces the threat of budget cuts that could jeopardize the students’ hard-won success. Following the story of five young teens, the story emphasizes the potential public schools hold when given the proper resources.


“Brooklyn Castle,” which makes its East Coast debut at The Montclair Film Festival, had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2012. Video courtesy Rescued Media.

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