MFF2013The big news about the 2013 Montclair Film Festival (April 29 – May 5) is that it’s bigger and better, with more than 80 films and events, nearly doubling in size from last year’s premiere event and featuring over 100 special guests including Darlene Love (Twenty Feet From Stardom); Lake Bell (In a World…), plus in-depth live conversations with Ice-T, Alex Gibney and yes, Michael Moore.

Artistic director Thom Powers shared some of the hot tickets for this year’s festival, including the opening night event Twenty Feet From Stardom, a film about backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of all time (Director Morgan Neville and Darlene Love will be Opening Night’s special guests) that had Sundance buzzing, as well as the closing night selection of Concussion, about a suburban lesbian mom seeking new thrills, directed by Montclair resident Stacie Passon. Powers calls Concussion, “a funny, sexy, provocative film that will save marriages — and maybe break up a few!”

The festival Centerpiece on May 4 is In a World…, a comedy about movie-trailer voice-over artists, with writer/director/star Lake Bell in person. Rapper and TV star (“Law and Order SVU”) Ice-T will appear at a screening of the documentary he produced, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp on May 4 and at an “In Conversation” event on May 5. All four films are making their New Jersey premieres.

Two other “In Conversation” events round out the program on May 5. The New York Times’ David Carr and acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks) discuss “Getting the Story,” and Michael Moore leads a discussion with other filmmakers on “Dangerous Docs.”

“We set out to curate a festival that is unique to this community,” says Powers. “Montclair and northern New Jersey are home to many media professionals from the fields of news, music, comedy and family entertainment. We’re fortunate to tap accomplished locals to participate and have them as an influential audience.”

Powers wil give film enthusiasts the back story on this year’s festival tonight at Montclair Art Museum’s Free First Thursday event, with a behind the scenes of how the films are selected.

Other highlights of this year’s festival include:

Drama section: Fifteen narrative films celebrated on the festival circuit and making their New Jersey premieres, such as The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete about two kids navigating Brooklyn’s housing projects, with director George Tillman, Jr. in person; as well as international titles such as You Will Be My Son, about challenging family dynamics on a French vineyard, with director Gilles Legrand in person.

Documentary section: 16 nonfiction films spanning global topics making their New Jersey premieres. Titles include Dirty Wars, about America’s shadowy program of drone attacks, with director Richard Rowley (winner of the Sundance cinematography prize) in person; and The Trials of Muhammad Ali, about the boxer’s battles outside the ring — over religion, politics and Parkinson’s — with Oscar-nominated director Bill Siegel in person.

Comedy section: Four films having New Jersey premieres plus a one-time-only event exclusive to MFF called “The What-Is-It” that features key team members from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — executive producer Rory Albanese, co-executive producer Adam Lowitt, and writer Elliott Kalan — doing live stand-up comedy and riffing off esoteric film clips. Other titles include American independent The Kings of Summer, about three teenagers who build their own house in the woods, with writer Chris Galletta in person.

New Jersey Spotlight: Six films with New Jersey connections: Shored Up (World Premiere) looks at the devastation of Hurricane Sandy; Best Kept Secret (New Jersey premiere) profiles Montclair resident Janet Mino who teaches autistic teenagers in Newark; Gideon’s Army (New Jersey premiere), by Montclair-based director Dawn Porter, follows public defense lawyers in the south, and won the Sundance editing prize and the Miami International Film Festival’s jury and audience prizes. All the directors will be in person for their screenings. Additionally, Fall to Grace focuses on New Jersey’s ex-Governor Jim McGreevey as he attempts to become an Episcopal minister. That screening will be followed by an extended conversation with McGreevey and director Alexandra Pelosi interviewed by New York Times reporter Kate Zernike.

New Jersey Shorts: Over 20 short films with New Jersey connections will screen in six thematic programs. Actor Federico Castelluccio, known for his role as Furio on The Sopranos, directs the short thriller Checkmake, Keep Your Enemies Closer, and appears in person, as part of the shorts program titled “The Unexpected.”

Family section: Three films are featured, a rare big screen appearance of the 1950 animated classic Cinderella, thanks to a special arrangement with Disney. Check out the full family lineup on Barista Kids.

African-American stories: 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 Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners), George Tillman Jr. (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete), Marta Cunningham (Valentine Road), and Oscar-winner Geoffrey Fletcher (Violet & Daisy). They will all be guests for a celebration of black cinema on May 3 called “House Party,” co-presented by the Blackhouse Foundation and the online film news site Shadow & Act.

New sections: This year, MFF adds three new sidebar sections. “Culinary Cinema” features four films on food and drink including Hey Bartender, about the resurgence of cocktail culture, with director Douglas Tirola in person. “Movie Love” showcases two documentaries about filmmaking: Casting By and Love, Marilyn with the directors in person; plus a restoration of the silent classic The Thief of Bagdad; and “Christian McBride Presents” with the revered jazz bassist introducing Bullitt (1968), a film by Peter Yates with a classic jazz score. “Music on Film” presents Muscle Shoals, a new documentary about the famed Alabama recording studios, plus three classic titles by Morgan Neville director of the Opening Night feature Twenty Feet From Stardom.

Free Panels: Three free panels take place at the Montclair Public Library on May 4. “Race & Film” brings together three top critics, Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Morris (Grantland), David Edelstein (New York magazine) and Scott Foundas (Variety) to discuss how they write about race. “Michael Slovis on Cinematography” showcases the work of the acclaimed director of photography (Breaking Bad, 30 Rock), who discusses his craft. “Docs-in-Progress” presents three accomplished nonfiction film teams previewing new works along with Nancy Abraham of HBO Documentary Films.

MFF tickets & membership: Tickets are $12.50 for films and conversations, $10.50 for MFF Members and go on sale Thursday, April 4 for Montclair Film Festival members and Sunday, April 7 for the general public at Special ticket prices for The Opening Night Gala film and reception, Friday Night House Party and Saturday Night Filmmaker Party. Panels are free. During the Festival, tickets are also available at the Festival’s Downtown and Uptown Headquarters and at the box office of each venue. See the website for specific locations.

So what film or event are you most excited to attend?