Corrections or additions?
This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the May 30, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At the Movies
Summertime, and the living is . . . dangerous. Perhaps
this is the summer to cease bathing in incendiary sunshine and trying
to dodge those visiting West Nile mosquitoes and Lyme disease-bearing
ticks. Maybe this is the summer to spend indoors, where it is nice
A good place to start is the New Jersey International Film Festival,
sponsored by the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center,
the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, and Eastman Kodak.
The annual festival kicks off Friday, June 1, with Nagisa Oshima’s
"Taboo," and runs right through the month of July concluding
with "The Witness," an award-winning animal rights documentary
by Jenny Stein. In between, the festival feature almost 30 films on
This year’s festival is particularly exciting for director and curator
Albert G. Nigrin. "This is the first time we’ve been able to
the festival between name-recognizable films, revivals, and newer
films with unrecognizable titles that often are in need of
he says, in an interview from his film-saturated office on the Rutgers
The first part of the series is made up of what Nigrin calls "name
recognizable" films that people have requested to see. "These
are films that people have heard about that perhaps didn’t play in
their neighborhood, but maybe only in New York or up in
says Nigrin. So due to popular requests, films like Kenneth Lonerman’s
Oscar nominated "You Can Count on Me" and Terrence Davies’
"House of Mirth" have been included in this year’s festival.
Also, an ample helping of revivals make up much of this year’s
such as Jacques Tourneur’s 1941 cult classics, "Cat People,"
and a double bill with "I Walk With A Zombie," as well as
the recently re-released 1956 H.G. Clouzot documentary, "The
of Picasso," in which Picasso is seen creating over 20 different
paintings, all later destroyed by Picasso after the film was
"Hearts of Darkness," Fax Bahr’s searing 1991
documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s "Apocalypse
Now" is also a festival highlight.
But the heart of the festival is the screening of the less well-known
films, such as Tom Streiff’s "The Wedding Cow" and Sam Wells’
"Wired Angel." These are films by highly talented filmmakers
that stand to profit most by these festival showings. And for Nigrin,
a film maker and member of the Rutgers film faculty, this is the most
satisfying part of his labor of love. "This is what we’re all
about," he says. "We really want to turn people on to films
that we feel they need to support and try to get distribution for
these films that so desperately need it."
"The Wedding Cow" is a prime example. "It is a romantic
comedy with a subtext," says Nigrin. A plumber, traveling with
a cow, picks up a hitchhiker on his way to his wedding. "It’s
a sophisticated film with many different levels to it," says
"It’s not just a surface film like so many of the formulaic
comedies that Hollywood churns out. This one takes another path. It
is spiritual, as well as funny and moving."
Another example is Sam Wells’ "Wired Angel." Ten years in
the making and shot in black and white, it is an atmospheric
reinterpretation of the legend of Joan of Arc. "It’s intensely
interesting to watch, very painterly, and quite reminiscent of David
Lynch’s `Eraserhead,’" says Nigrin, adding that it doesn’t share
"Lynch’s violence and silliness."
"Just watching these films you can tell that the filmmakers aren’t
just interested in lining their wallet with dollars. They’re
in provoking a response in the viewer, being a catalyst for
Yet high-profile films do play their role in the success
of the festival from year to year. "We do have to look at the
bottom line," explains Nigrin. "We’ve always been fiscally
sound, because we know that there are always going to be one or two
films that will pretty much pay for the rest of the program, and we
try hard to figure out what those films are going to be."
It was a lesson that Nigrin learned quickly. "Early on in doing
this festival it became obvious that we needed to provide these name
recognizable films to people and then hope that maybe they would come
back later in the festival to see some of the unrecognizable
But he adds, "Everything we’re showing is wonderful in some way,
shape, or form." But the long-term goal is to wean audiences off
the name brands and have a festival devoted primarily to new,
Nigrin also feels that having a festival that lasts one or two weeks
with intense programming from noon to midnight, as in Cannes or
is optimum. "But that, of course, is a long way off. I just don’t
think we’d get anybody to see a film at noon on Monday," he says,
with a chuckle. "If we were a resort, maybe, but we’re here in
the hub of New Jersey, and when the university is out for the summer,
this place turns into a ghost town. But the city of New Brunswick
likes that we do this festival now because it brings people into the
Although it is largely connected to the university community, the
festival also attracts people from throughout central New Jersey,
as well as from New York, Atlantic City, and eastern Pennsylvania.
"You’d be surprised how big our mailing list is," says Nigrin.
There are basically three types of festivals, according to Nigrin.
The "marketplace" festival, like Toronto or Cannes, which
are designed to expose films to potential distributors. Secondly,
there is the "showcase" festival, such as the New York Film
Festival, that primarily shows off films that have been already picked
up by distributors.
The New Jersey International Film Festival fits into a third category.
"And then you have a festival like us, as well as the Virginia
Film Festival," says Nigrin. "We’re academically based and
at present we are mostly revival or showcase driven. We’re not here
primarily to give out prizes." says Nigrin, "we’re here to
provide films to the area. We’re kind of a hybrid."
The New Jersey International Film Festival receives about a hundred
submissions per year, which is modest when compared to other festivals
that receive upwards of 1,400. The process that determines which films
get selected is fairly straightforward. "Our jury is balanced
between academic and media people," says Nigrin. "I’m the
point person, like Al Gore used to be. I break the ties."
And the festival has a strong regional component. "Jersey Fresh
Media," is a film and video series by emerging New Jersey artists.
This year, Jamsheed Akrami, who teaches at William Paterson
will show his documentary, "Friendly Persuasion: Iranian Cinema
After the Revolution," on June 21. After the screening, he will
answer questions from the audience.
The opportunity to hear and meet visiting directors is another major
attraction that brings many to the festival. "We’re bringing in
more filmmakers than we ever have before," says Nigrin. "Sam
Wells, will be with us for all three nights of the screening of `Wired
Angel’ and Tomi Streiff from the `Wedding Cow’ will be here, as well
as Jenny Stein for her film, `The Witness.’" And there will likely
be others, as yet unannounced. Each filmmaker takes part in a question
and answer discussion with audience members after the screening of
"And we don’t jack up the price, like other festivals, just
the filmmaker is here," Nigrin adds. "Our goal is to keep
things accessible for as wide an audience as possible."
So rather than cower behind mosquito netting all summer, enjoy the
great indoors and take in a film or two.
— Jack Florek
the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, New Brunswick.
Screenings are Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College
Avenue Campus (near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street).
Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College
Campus (near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street). All
begin at 7 p.m.; $5 non-members. Information 732-932-8482; Website:
- Taboo. Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s latest film,
set in a 19th-century samurai school, about the arrival of an
handsome new recruit, starring Beat Takeshi; Friday to Sunday,
June 1 to 3.
- You Can Count on Me. Kenneth Lonergan’s independent film
that won Oscar nominations for actress Laura Linney and Lonergan’s
screenplay; Friday to Sunday, June 8 to 10.
- The House of Mirth. Terrence Davies’ adaptation of Edith
Wharton’s 1905 novel. Friday to Sunday, June 15 to 17 .
- Iranian Cinema after the Revolution. Director Jamsheed
Akrami is guest speaker at the screening of "Friendly
his new documentary about Iranian cinema after the 1979 Islamic
Thursday, June 21.
- Journey Swiftly Passing. Barbara Klutinis’ award-winning
experimental film. Friday to Sunday, June 22 to 24.
- Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali. Screening of two French
classics: Bunuel’s "Un Chien Andalou" (1929) and "L’Age
d’Or" (1930) by Dali; Thursday, June 28.
- Dud. Akira Tetsuka’s award-winning student film. Friday
to Sunday, June 29 to July 1.
- Cat People. Jacques Tourneur’s 1941 cult classic
$8, Thursday, July 5.
- The Mystery of Picasso. The 1956 collaboration between
Picasso and filmmaker H.G. Clouzot in which the motion picture screen
becomes the artist’s canvas. Friday to Sunday, July 6 to 8.
- Solaris. Metaphysical science fiction by Soviet director
Andrei Tarkovsky. Thursday, July 12.
- Wired Angel. Director Sam Wells presents the screening
of his experimental feature that reinterprets the 15th-century legend
of Joan of Arc; Friday to Sunday, July 13 to 15.
- Hearts of Darkness. Fax Bahr’s harrowing documentary about
the making of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic "Apocalypse
Thursday, July 19.
- The Wedding Cow. Tomi Streiff’s funny road movie.
to Sunday, July 20 to 22.
- The Witness. Jenny Stein’s documentary about a
worker’s aversion to animals. July 27 and 28.
Corrections or additions?
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