“We literally had a projector explode today, literally exploded,” said Tom Hall, co-head and artistic director of the Montclair Film Festival. Though those aren't the words that moviegoers would like to hear before the start of the festival, opening night went on from there without a hitch.

The 11th annual Montclair Film Festival began on Friday, Oct. 21. Patrons wrapped around the Wellmont Theater as they waited in lines a little longer than expected as the festival organizers scrambled to put a replacement projector in place to show the opening film, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” 

The usually low-key Wellmont was lit up with searchlights reminiscent of a Hollywood premiere. A large LED screen was plastered on the wall, advertising future events at the theater, as movie enthusiasts waited to be let in.

Montclair residents Stephanie and Mark Lurie were excited to attend the festival for the sixth year in a row. “I love that it's here in town,” Stephanie Lurie said. “I love that it's becoming more influential every year, and it just makes us feel really connected to the arts.” 

As moviegoers entered the purple- and blue-lit lobby they were greeted by volunteers who passed out pins that would give them discounts at local businesses. 

And when they took their seats they were offered bags of popcorn and were able to get drinks from the bar as they waited for the movie to start. 

Popcorn bags for ticket holders.
Popcorn bags for ticket holders.

Phoebe Pollinger, who has lived in town since 1982, has attended the festival since its beginning and was excited to see what another year had to offer.

“It looked awfully good from the write-up, and I had already seen ‘Knives Out,’ so I thought this must be good,” Pollinger said, referring to the opening-night film, which is a sequel to “Knives Out.” 

Based on audience reactions, Pollinger was right. The theater erupted with laughter throughout the screening as viewers locked into the murder-mystery written by director Rian Johnson. 

The film stars Daniel Craig, who will be in conversation with Montclair resident and talk show host Stephen Colbert at NJPAC on Friday, Oct. 28. 

In the movie, six friends gather for an annual trip that quickly turns deadly. Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton and Kate Hudson delivered performances that had viewers at times doubled over in laughter, at times holding their breath. 

Prior to the showing, Evelyn Colbert, president of the Montclair Film board of trustees, welcomed everyone and offered a reminder of what the festival means to the community.

“When we began 11 years ago, as a seven-day film festival, we were focused on creating a great film event that was open to everyone,” Colbert said.

“Now, in addition to the festival, we offer year-round film and media education programs for students of all ages, storytelling and performance events, and of course films every single day at the Clairidge, which our team has worked tirelessly to transform into a wonderful moviegoing experience.”

Colbert was referring in part to the Montclair Film + Education program that provides special workshops, like film academy classes for students in grades six through 12. Alongside providing a platform for students and adults to learn film, the festival is running a campaign for The Clairidge, which opened in 1922 as a single-screen theater.

Through the years, the theater added screens, but closed its doors during the pandemic. 

Last year, Montclair Film took over operation of the theater and worked toward its reopening for the 2021 festival. 

Throughout the event, moviegoers will be encouraged to make donations to keep the historical theater open. 

As the Montclair Film Festival continues to expand and invite actors, directors and movie critics from all over the world, it still manages to make those in Montclair feel like they’re the real VIPs. 

Film enthusiast and resident Joe Zilliotto appreciates that Montclair Film is bringing new box office movies right to his front door. He attended the New York Film Festival recently, but prefers Montclair’s. 

“I like how homey this is,” Zilliotto said. “It's a couple of venues, but it's just great films. … We still have the stars coming out to do Q&As with us. So it's nice to be recognized like that.”