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New Jersey Young Filmmakers’ Festival

By Christopher Benincasa,

originally published: 03/08/2017

New Jersey Young Filmmakers’ Festival

Today the New Jersey Young Filmmakers’ Festival is open for submissions!

For 43 years, the festival has created a space where students can share their films with a broad audience, and develop their skills while exploring the medium. In this conversation, we get in to how the festival works, who can enter and what kind of films make it to the top. This interview was conducted via email with Festival Director Jane Steuerwald and Advisory Board Member Chris Corey.

Culture Vultures: How did the New Jersey Young Filmmakers’ Festival get its start? Why was it created?

Jane Steuerwald: The NJYFF was established more than 40 years ago. At that time, there were literally no opportunities for students and young people in New Jersey to have their films evaluated and shown in public venues outside of their school environments. NJYFF took up the mission to create a festival that young filmmakers could participate in while they honed their craft.

Now, in our 43rd year, we are proud of the longevity we have achieved in support of so many emerging filmmakers, and are working to develop new opportunities including scholarships, special events, and public screenings.

Chris Corey: The goal is to empower the students as artists, and allow them to build confidence as image makers and story tellers. NJYFF is a festival that truly celebrates the filmmakers for their unique vision and individuality. We’re not driven by profit. We truly see our purpose as being the benefactor to emerging arts in the medium of film.


CV: What winning films stick out in your memory? What are some examples of films that make it to the top at the NJYFF?

CC: The films that stick out to me tend to be the animations and experimental films. People attending the festival will be pleasantly surprised by the caliber of work being produced by emerging filmmakers.

JS: I agree with Chris that animation and experimental films often rise to the top in terms of the work submitted to the festival. I have also seen deeply touching documentaries and wonderful narrative films by students too. Young people have fantastic imaginations – all they need is a chance to express themselves. Some standouts from the 2016 competition were Deanna Rivera’s “Watermelons,” Hali Merrill’s “La Cadeau,” and Marc Tabin’s “Kandinsky’s Boat.”



CV: How does the NJYFF work in real time?

JS: We are open for submissions today! The deadline for uploading submissions is May 5th. Open to ages 12 through 29 – filmmakers must attend school or reside in N.J.

CC: Awards are announced May 15th, and this year’s festival will take place on Saturday June 10th at the Thomas Edison Historic Site in West Orange.


CV: What are the judges looking for? What’s the criteria? What makes for a winning film?

JS: Imagination, creativity, technical competence and inventive storytelling.

CC: Work that tells a story through visuals that are uncommon. What makes an award-winning film is the ability of the filmmaker to communicate with the audience on many levels, whether the film is straight forward or abstract.


CV: Do a lot of these young filmmakers go on to work in the industry?

CC: I currently have students who exhibited at the NJYFF who were accepted into the film programs at NYU and Emerson College for this fall.

JS: They absolutely do go on to big things. In fact, at a recent event in September at the North Bergen Free Public Library, all of the top award-winning student filmmakers were either enrolled in university film programs, or were deciding where they would attend. Students who were NJYFF winners almost always go on to attend excellent media programs at the college or university level. Many have kept in touch with me. Many festival winners have gone on to impressive careers in producing, directing, editing and teaching.


CV: NJYFF is under the umbrella of the Black Maria Film Festival, which has been happening every year since 1981. It’s a really interesting, unique festival. Could you explain the name?

JS: The Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium was incorporated in 1981 to promote, illuminate, and advocate innovation in the art of the moving image. This mission was endorsed by the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, and the central project of the Consortium became the Black Maria Film Festival. The festival was named for Thomas Edison’s West Orange, N.J. film studio dubbed the “Black Maria” due to its resemblance to an old type of black-box police paddy wagon known as a “black maria.”


CV: I always think of the film industry in the U.S. as an analog to Shakespeare and the Globe Theater in England. Everybody knows what Hollywood is, the whole world watches American movies and television, but I don’t think most people know that New Jersey is where it all started. It was sort of the first Hollywood. So, I just think it’s really cool that the NJYFF awards ceremony takes place at Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange. It’s really a pretty prestigious, and maybe even auspicious, venue.

JS: Thank you – I agree! That is why I approached the Thomas Edison National Historical Park folks to partner with them to showcase the NJYFF. Our festival premiere has now grown into an exciting event held under the stars in an enormous tent at the park, right next to a replica of Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria” film studio. The winning filmmakers attend with their teachers, family and friends – and they also have the opportunity to tour Edison’s workshops before the show!


CV: The “moving image” or “motion picture” (or “movie”) was invented along with the modern light bulb and the phonograph by Thomas Edison, who is, of course, one of the world’s most interesting historic figures. He was kind of like Steve Jobs if Steve Jobs had invented more dramatically fundamental things like the entire electric utility system. It’s that inventor’s spirit that sort of gives shape to your mission, right?

CC: Yes – the NJYFF is for the filmmakers of tomorrow.

JS: Exactly.



CV: OK, last question: What message, or bit of advice, do you have for the young filmmakers planning on entering the festival this year?

CC: My advice to students who are planning on entering the film festival this year would be to keep their ideas simple and think about a unique way to tell their story. If you get into the festival, take a moment to look around and realize that all these people will be seeing your work on the big screen. Enjoy that moment!

JS: Our entrants are enthusiastic, smart, committed, talented young people from every walk of life, and from all over the state, from Paterson to Cape May. Storytelling is one of the richest ways to unleash creativity. All of the films we view are evidence of the vast creativity young people have. All they need is an opportunity to create in a safe and supportive place. It is a testament to the absolutely essential importance of the arts in the lives of our children. That’s what this festival is all about.


The NJ Young Filmmakers’ Festival is open for submissions today! The awards ceremony will be Saturday evening, June 10th, 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, 211 Main Street, West Orange, N.J.

The New Jersey Young Filmmakers’ Festival is a project of the Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium. It provides young filmmakers, who either live in or attend school in the State of NJ, the opportunity to exhibit work and have it evaluated by prominent representatives in the field of media arts. Since its inception, the purpose of the festival has been to recognize, celebrate, and encourage emerging young talent in New Jersey, the state in which Thomas Edison first developed the motion picture.

About the author: Christopher Benincasa is an award-winning producer of arts and culture programming, and a founding member of PCK Media. He’s won six regional Emmy Awards (Mid-Atlantic and New York) for his work on the series State of the Arts, plus a CINE Golden Eagle Award. Most recently, he produced stories about Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn, silversmith and MacArthur Genius Award-winner Ubaldo Vitali, and gypsy jazz guitarist Stephane Wremble. A graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, Christopher has a BFA in Visual Art and a minor in Religion.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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