NJ Shorts 2, Dark and Edgy

Less is more was the lesson learned by viewers at New Jersey Shorts 2 presented at the Montclair Film Festival on Saturday, May 9th. Although films ranged in length from only 6 -18 minutes, they were all thought provoking and had a long lasting impact on the viewer. These films had a dark edge, in some cases lightened by ironic humor and plot twists. The viewer was not merely told a story, but asked to interpret often ambiguous action. A mood was created and the audience was hooked, becoming emotionally involved. We thought we knew what was coming next, but weren’t always right about that.

Falling to Pieces focuses on a young widow whose husband dies in a freak accident. Trying to let go and find meaning in his death, she tracks down his organ recipients. It doesn’t go well, and the film is injected with irony and humor despite its serious subject.

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The Emissary features a woman played by Margo Martindale who is obsessed with a young man who resembles her son. It explores the relationship between reality and fantasy through the eyes of the protagonist. The filmmaker plays the male lead himself.

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Till Dark follows the interaction between 3 friends: two teenaged boys and a girl at a waterfall on Halloween. Will obsession turn to violence is the question we ask ourselves in this beautiful, yet spooky setting.

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Exit Road contains very little dialogue as it follows a man on the day he is released from prison. It is a powerful view of addiction, since he is a former drug addict. As he returns to the old neighborhood, we observe that although he wants to remain clean, the deck is stacked against him.

Justine is less than 7 minutes long, but manages to convey the powerful story of an insecure transgender teenager. The film is a lot more than a first date story as it shows us that there are many different forms of violence.

Gone in the Dark, is a terrifying tale of a home invasion by a serial killer with a strange M.O. Inspired by the real crimes committed by a stalker who raped and killed his victims in California and was never caught; it was hard to watch although most of the violence occurred off-screen.

All films were made by New Jersey filmmakers and most were set in New Jersey or New York City. After the screenings, artists from all the films participated in a Q & A led by the Montclair Film Festival’s Susan Skoog. When asked about their inspiration, Chris Connolly replied that he saw an ad for organ donation on a NYC bus and immediately envisioned it with a humorous spin. Chris has a special connection to the film festival since he grew up in Montclair. His excitement was apparent as he described seeing movies at the Bellevue as a boy, and was now watching his own film Falling to Pieces, in the same theater.

Yuri Alves wanted to make a film for the featured actor and chose the subject of addiction, which he likened to a “hamster on a wheel” who is trying to break free. He wanted Exit Road to have a documentary, nonjudgmental feel that was “genuine and raw, but not preachy.”

Writer, director, and actor of The Emissary, Rudy Dobrev, was inspired by an opera song which was used in the film. Margo Martingale, an established actress, agreed to star if her role was “glamorous”. He filmed in New York City, but half of the crew was from New Jersey.

Till Dark’s director and producer, Quinn Shepard, found the waterfall setting in Paterson, New Jersey and saw the natural beauty as an interesting contrast to the rest of the graffiti laden city. She thought it would be a place the kids from the town would hang out and went there to “test the waters”. She likes “tongue and cheek” elements as opposed to straight forward storytelling.

The writer/director of Justine, Eric Shahinian, a student at Columbia University, heard the story of a transgender teen who had been a victim of violence from a friend and wanted to communicate that there are many ways that people in this community can be attacked. His project was partly funded through student grants. His film is tied to Montclair since his entire film was shot in two days at the Montclair Book Center.

Finances provided a challenge for most filmmakers and dictated creative decisions regarding the length of the script and shooting schedules, as well as locations. Alves’s film was supported by the Montclair community since he held a fundraiser at the Clairidge and he filmed in the Ironbound section of Newark. Quinn used her own funds to finance her film but has managed to raise financing for her 2nd film. The Connollys used Kickstarter and had to “kill babies,” making several cuts from their original script. Other ways filmmakers cut costs included filming indoors rather than outdoors, trying to time shoots to lessen shooting time, having small casts and hiring non professional actors. Steven Moreno chose his producer’s son who was not a professional actor to play the boy of the family whose home is invaded in Gone in the Dark. He limited himself to one or two takes during shooting of the film.

When asked what was the key to the success of his film, he replied, “collaboration”. The other filmmakers all agreed. And collaboration is what makes it possible for the Montclair Film Festival to bring films such as these New Jersey Shorts to the public’s attention.

Written by MFF Blogger Robin Naphtali