The Montclair Film Festival (MFF) announced the lineup for its 2014 edition. The festival opens on April 28 with Chef, the new comedy directed by and starring Jon Favreau with a supporting cast that includes John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson, being released nationwide in May. MFF’s popular live conversation series presents eclectic guests including Kevin Smith, Michael Moore and Julie Taymor paired with Stephen Colbert.
The festival hosts six world premiere films including 1 Way Up: The Story of Peckham BMX, presented in 3D, from the executive producers behind the Oscar-winning Inocente. The lineup also has two U.S. premiere documentaries: I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story about the 80-year-old puppeteer on Sesame Street; and Advanced Style based on the eponymous New York City photography blog focusing on fashionable older women. In addition, 56 feature length films will make their NJ premieres.
Representing MFF’s strong interest in comedy, the festival Centerpiece on May 2 is Fort Tilden, an award-winning satire of young Brooklynites, followed by a Q&A with directors Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, plus stars Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty. Closing Night on May 4 features Wild Canaries, a comic mystery starring Montclair-raised Sophia Takal, who will attend.
Expanding its commitment to black cinema, MFF partners with the Blackhouse Foundation to host the annual “House Party” on May 2 and showcases a full day of conversations onMay 3 with distinguished filmmakers including director Nelson George, producer Lisa Cortes, editors Sam Pollard and Lewis Erskine.
“We strive to create a festival that reflects the diversity and wide-ranging interests of our community,” said Artistic Director Thom Powers. “We have a depth of local talent in northern New Jersey, combined with visitors from New York City that make for a festival with big influence beyond this small town.”
Other highlights of this year’s festival include:
Drama section: 14 narrative films celebrated on the festival circuit, 12 of them NJ premieres. Titles include the Sundance Audience Award winner for World Cinema, Difret, set in Ethiopia, with producer Mehret Mandefro attending; and Roman Polanski’s latest Venus in Fur.
Documentary section: 13 nonfiction films spanning global topics including two US premieres (noted above). Among the 11 NJ premieres are Dinosaur 13, about the legal battle over Tyrannosaurus Rex bones, with director Todd Douglas Miller and film subject Peter Larson in person; and Ivory Tower, analyzing controversies in American higher education, followed by a conversation with director Andrew Rossi and New York Times columnist David Carr.
Comedy section: 10 comedy films including the world premiere documentary I Am Road Comic directed by stand-up comedian Jordan Brady who will attend. Eight NJ premieres include Intramural, a send-up of sports films, with actor Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live) attending.
Black cinema: In keeping with Montclair’s African-American heritage, MFF takes a special interest in black stories and filmmakers throughout all sections of the festival. Directors in attendance include Thomas Allen Harris (Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People) and Michèle Stephenson (American Promise), in addition to the special guests for the Blackhouse Foundation conversations on May 3 (listed above).
New Jersey Spotlight: This section triples in size from six feature length films in 2013 to 18 this year. Five world premieres include the comedy Jammed, produced out of Teaneck, NJ, about a couple attending a jam band festival in the woods, andGirl, Adopted by Maplewood, NJ filmmakers, following an Ethiopian orphan girl for five years after she’s adopted by an American family. MFF will screen a work-in-progress version of Althea, a documentary about tennis great Althea Gibson who lived in Essex County, NJ with director Rex Miller attending. Additionally, three programs of short films with NJ connections appear in this section.
Family section: Three presentations including a 75th anniversary screening of The Wizard of Oz, with attendees encouraged to dress as their favorite characters. This section also screens the winners of MFF’s Kidz Shortz film contest featuring short films by young directors in grades 4-12.
Themed sections: MFF has three sidebar sections. Unique to this year is a section called “Focus on Civil Rights” featuring four documentaries that deal with the legacy of the civil rights movement including the NJ premiere of Freedom Summer, timed to the 50th anniversary of the push to register black Mississippi voters in 1964. Two other sidebars return from last year: “Movie Love” features two NJ premiere documentaries, The Dog and What is Cinema? that intersect with film history; plus a retrospective screening of Network, followed by a conversation with Dave Itzkoff, author of the book Mad as Hell, moderated by Stephen Colbert. “Music on Film”contains four films including the NJ premiere of No Cameras Allowed, a documentary about sneaking into music festivals by James Marcus Haney who will attend. Oscar®-winning (and NJ-based) filmmaker Alex Gibney will be in person to present his latest, Finding Fela, about the Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti.
Free Panels: Five free panels are open to the public. Two take place at in the pop-up storefront named the Audible Lounge: “Filming in New Jersey” on April 29 explores how NJ struggles to compete with other states that have higher tax incentives for film and TV; “The New Golden Age of TV” on April 30 looks at the rise of quality television dramas. Three free panels take place at the Montclair Public Library onMay 3, including “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Film School” with filmmaker and teacher Chuck Workman leading the conversation.