On what makes a successful film festival and what it means to Montclair
Interview by Gene R. Sower
MFF: What makes a great film festival in general?
BF: You know there are lots of different kinds of film festivals. Some are huge in places like Berlin and Toronto, some are smaller, some are real industry meeting places like Sundance. For Montclair’s film festival we’re really focusing on a community-based festival. A festival that’s going to bring great films, of course, but also going to bring out the community. All the different facets of this incredible community of ours will contribute from Montclair State, to the art museum, to the people who live in Montclair and work in media and folks who are just interested in seeing fun movies.
So a number of these art institutions in the town of Montclair have unfortunately either left town or closed their doors, 12 Miles West, Luna Stage, The Montclair Arts Council. So those of us who have been working on the film festival really see it as one event to help keep the arts in Montclair and help keep Montclair in the regions’ view as a home for the arts. The Montclair arts community has come out to support what we we’ve been doing. The Montclair Art Museum, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary in the town, was one of our first partners. Montclair State University with Kasser theatre, their film program, their broadcasting program are also one of our early partners. We’re really getting support from every aspect of the community and what we’re finding is people came to Montclair in many respects because of its commitment to the arts, they don’t want to see that commitment go away and our film festival is going to help keep the arts here. Not just for a week in May, although that’s when the festival itself will happen, but all year round and hopefully some of you have already had the chance to come out to our summer film series, what we call Cinema Montclairismo, which is now about to begin its third season. We started with three films on Church Street in the first summer, last summer we had a film on Church Street and a film at the Presby Iris Gardens. This summer were going to be back at the Presby Iris Gardens, at the Van Vleck house, on Church Street and at Montclair State University. So summer outdoor films during the year, we’re doing screenings in the movie theatres in town, panel discussions, learning opportunities, we did a full day of seminars for high school and college students about how to get into the movie business and we’re going to keep doing things like that. The Montclair film festival is a year round festival, although May 1st through 6th is really the heart of what we’re doing.
MFF: Talk about the historical commitment to the arts in Montclair and the impact you hope this festival will have on this community going forward?
BF: Well, Montclair as a town has a deep commitment to the arts and I’m sure anyone living here now recognizes that. People have been here longer and I’ve only lived in town for ten years, but people who lived here longer will remember things like The Whole Theatre Company that was founded by Olympia Dukakis who lived in Montclair for 30 years and I’m told that when Olympia Dukakis won the Academy Award for Moonstruck the town put together an impromptu parade to celebrate her. So the whole theatre company was one of the commitments of the town to the arts and culture. Of course people probably remember 12 Miles West and Lunar Stage, unfortunately all of these have left town.
MFF: So why Montclair, why not a Clifton film festival or a Verona film festival?
BF: Well I live in Montclair so that’s probably the easiest answer for why it’s a Montclair film festival. The idea really came about three years ago when I was giving my friend John a tour on Montclair. John grew up in Manhattan, lived in Manhattan his whole life, was moving out to Montclair with his wife and their daughter. He is in the TV and film business and I drove around Montclair with him showing him the Claridge cinema talking to him about independent film, showing him Montclair State, talking about the people of the Montclair and one point John turned to me and said, “So when’s the film festival?” And I looked at him and scratched my head and said, “What film festival?” He said, “Well, a town like this, a town like Montclair has got to have a film festival, right?” And of course that’s really how the idea was born and from there we set out talking to as many people as we could and uniformly the response we got was, hey that’s a great idea we should have a film festival in Montclair. So that’s really how it all got started.
MFF: So what is the impact of having a film festival in Montclair, so close to New York City? Is New York City having any impact on this?
BS: Well I think New York City is going to have a really positive impact on the Montclair film festival. First of all we scheduled the film festival for May so that it will fall immediately after the Tribeca film festival and we’re certainly hoping that people will come to New York City for Tribeca and maybe stick around for a few more days and come out to Montclair to see what’s going on here. We’ve got, of course, incredible talent in New York City and we’ve been able to bring some of the talent out to Montclair in particular our festival directors, Tom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen live in Manhattan, although we’re trying to convince them to move out to Montclair with their young son. They program a couple of film festivals in Manhattan. Tom also programs documentaries at the Toronto film festival, but we’ve been able to get them to come out here.
They’re actually living in Montclair now as in we’re in the sort of home stretch to prepare for the film festival. So we see the proximity to
Manhattan as a great resource, an opportunity to invite people to hop in a car, hop on the bus, hop on a train, come out to Montclair for a day or for an evening and see what this film festival is all about.
MFF: I also think, like you said, there’s a lot of people in the business who sort of live in Montclair.
BS: That’s really been an amazing thing because what we found is that a lot of people sort of live in Montclair, they have their kind of Montclair life, their families and then in the morning during the week they get up and they go into the city and these are people who are doing incredible things in the media world. Films, television, journalists and we’ve really been able to tap into these people who are all incredibly supportive of what we’re doing. So again, we’re really mining the resources here in Montclair and everybody has been just incredibly generous with their time and with their creativity to make the Montclair film festival really a great success.
MFF: So what makes a great film festival in general?
BF: You know there are lots of different kinds of film festivals, some are huge in major cities around the world, some are really for the industry and their marketplaces for people to buy and sell films. For us, the Montclair film festival is a community film festival. It’s about great films, of course, great talent and great directors but it’s also about getting the community engaged. Our restaurateurs, our retailers, our cultural institutions, the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair State University. It’s really about electrifying the community around film. Our Tagline is, “Culture, community, and cinema.” And that’s really what it’s all about and I think that’s what’s going to make the Montclair Film Festival a great festival.