The New Jersey Film Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, starting with a Spring Festival that runs on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between January 28 and February 20, 2022. As a result of COVID, the festival will be a virtual once again this Spring. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. Tickets are $15 per program, or $100 for Festival All Access Pass.
In addition to presenting wonderful features and insightful documentaries, the festival is known for showcasing experimental films and shorts as well. It is also the home of the annual United States Super 8mm Film & Digital Video Festival. New Jersey Stage spoke with Rutgers University Professor Albert G. Nigrin, the Executive Director/Curator for the New Jersey Film Festival, to learn more.
What are a few of the films you're most excited about for the Spring Festival?
There are really so many great films that we will be screening this Festival. I think all 40+ of them are all excellent. To be honest they had to be as they went through a rigorous judging process and are the crème de la crème of the 633 entries we received from around the world. Here are some of the ones I personally really enjoyed. Nora Jacobson’s enlightening documentary Ruth Stone's Vast Library of the Female Mind was a revelation. So much so that I listed it as one of my top 10 films for 2021.
Central Jersey native Stacy Chu’s ¡Llámame Chinita! is gorgeous and very easy on the eyes. Metuchen, New Jersey resident and Rutgers Grad Charly Santagado’s terrific animation mise en abyme was really well thought out and very quirky. New Brunswick native Robbie Banfitch’s psychological horror film The Outwaters is also quite special. It really reminds me of The Blair Witch Project but this one is shot in color and has a great sound design. If you like creepy films this one is for you.
Lindsay Martin’s humorous and dark animated film Pottero resonated with me as I love cats. Cléa van der Grijn hauntingly beautiful experimental film from Ireland entitled Flux still resonates with me after having watched it four times. Jun Hoskulds’s gorgeous fantasy feature Twotwo which focuses on a mysterious muse played by Morgan Makana is absolutely beguiling as the lead actor. You can’t take your eyes off of her. New Jersey Film Festival alumnus Peter Luisi (who won Best Feature for his film The Sandman back in 2011) is back with his new amazing feature film entitled Princess. Yehuda Sharim’s documentary Letters2Maybe offers a fluid and eclectic tapestry of physical and emotional movement of different immigrant communities in the USA. Isaac Yowman’s Memory Builds The Monument which focuses on Houston’s legendary Club Matinee is also a must see.
Manos Triantafillakis’s touching short from Greece Just Like Water is really beautiful as is Bianca Di Marco’s lovely short Threads of Desire which was shot in Italy. Lastly, don’t miss Mike Schiff’s eye-opening documentary The History of Heavy Metal and Horror. It took six years to make!
Considering we are in the third year of covid now, did you notice a difference in the number of films submitted to the festival? I'd imagine shooting films might have been difficult the last few years with covid restrictions.
It is funny, Gary, I thought that would be the case and that we would see a reduced number of entries because of COVID as well. But in actuality, we saw an increase. 633 films were submitted for this year’s Festival. For Spring of 2021 we had about 470 and for the Spring of 2020 which was pre-COVID we had 611. So, as you can see, we are above pre-COVID levels for 2022. I have no idea why this is the case but I am glad the levels did not drop off. We rely on the entry fees to do what we do.
You always set up a lot of great Q&As with filmmakers - some which take place in the theater, some online. Is it easier to get more filmmakers involved when you do a ZOOM interview as opposed to in-person? Or are more filmmakers interested in being at the festival?
Everyone wants to be at the Festival in-person. The filmmakers want this. Jersey residents want this, for sure, and we want this too. However, there are many filmmakers who cannot make or afford the long journey to our Festival because they are in Asia or Europe or on the other coast in the USA or Canada. We used to have travel money available for the filmmakers but that funding dried up in the late 90s when Arts groups were cut by the powers that be. Now with the ZOOM interviews and Q+As we can talk and interact with all of the filmmakers. Plus, there is a record they can have of them as well. A few of the filmmakers who participated in these have gone on to use them as supplementary material or as special features for their Blu Ray release. In addition, everyone who is connected to us on social media can have access to these as well. So, in a sense they are available to everyone. Not just the in-person patron.
The New Jersey Film Festival had to go purely virtual before; I was wondering if you noticed any particular trends with that festival? For example, did short films do better than feature lengths? Or vice versa?
Not really. Each New Jersey Film Festival is different. Some years the feature films are very strong. Other years it’s the documentaries or the shorts. It really varies and I don’t think COVID has changed this that much. One thing I can say is that last Spring and Fall we received much fewer feature films. I am sure that is because of COVID. But this year we are back to normal.
Did the viewing habits online mirror those you are used to with the in-person festivals? Is there anything learned from your first purely virtual festival that might be put in place this time?
Somewhat, but there is nothing like watching a film with an audience in our big beautiful screening space with its huge screen. Nonetheless, I think we will become a hybrid Festival in the future as we have opened up a new audience online and its thanks to them that we are still around. We got hit pretty hard with funding cuts and we lost a major sponsor last year because they ceased to exist. So, we are grateful for the outpouring of support from people all over New Jersey, the USA and throughout the world.
Finally, how can people purchase the Festival All Access Pass? Is there a direct URL for it?
New Jersey Film Festival All Access Passes are very popular! They can be purchased here.