MFF: hometown heroes, ‘Made in Montclair’
Made in Montclair:
‘‘Made a Movie, Lived to Tell’
Saturday, April 28, 9:30 p.m., Clairidge 2
Sunday, April 29, 12:30 p.m., Clairidge 2
An extended Q&A with directors William J. Murray and Keith Reamer, DP Dan Karlok, and cast members David Swift, Kenneth McGregor, and Sharon Mason follows the screening.
‘The Eminent Carmine Craig’
Monday, April 30, 5:30 p.m., Clairidge 2
Tuesday, May 1, 6:15 p.m., Clairidge 1
Wednesday, May 2, 6 p.m., Clairidge 1
Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. Clairidge 4
Q&A with directors David Sanders and Steve McCarthy to follow both screenings.
By GWEN OREL
The Montclair Film Festival began with friends and talks in kitchens, and festival programmers are proud that locals not only support MFF, they also create films that appear in it.
On the Montclair Film Festival website, montclairfilm.org, you can search for films by genre. One of them is titled “Made in Montclair,” and includes nine links.
Clearly, Montclair loves its film.
‘MADE A MOVIE, LIVED TO TELL’
Late in the documentary “Made a Movie, Lived to Tell,” about the making of an obscure 35mm feature “Primal Scream” (originally titled “Hellfire”) filmed in New Jersey in 1983, an actor says that shortly after the film was done, he was embarrassed about it.
And now he’s not.
The documentary retrospective, directed by William J. Murray and Montclairite Keith Reamer, captures the group’s enthusiasm, energy, and hope as they made their space film noir in Atlantic City.
The idea to make a film with themselves as talking heads, using archival footage from the film and from the making of the film, came when a journalist approached them for an article, Reamer said. “A lot of things just started bubbling up,” he said. “We started interviewing each other and immediately started realizing that there was much more to the story. There was something to the story that was universal. And it grew into a film.”
The experience that they shared in their early ’20s was something none of them had ever let go of. Interest from a third party made them say, “let’s make a movie,” not unlike their original impulse.
The film didn’t launch any big Hollywood careers, though many of the people involved stayed in the industry: Murray lives in Brooklyn and works as a filmmaker. Reamer is a professional film editor.
Looking back at this project has filled him with gratitude, Murray said.
For Reamer, distance and time have made him feel he was fortunate to have done it. “We all sort of feel that it formed us to a greater or lesser extent,” he said.
One of the more touching moments of the documentary is when Murray describes how the night before the filming he was so scared he cried. He was living at home in Northfield, New Jersey, outside Atlantic City. Though they had been preparing for the shoot, knowing that they would be responsible the next day for several locations and crews was overwhelming and terrifying.
Reamer said that half the crew was sleeping in his parents’ house, splayed aroundthe floor.
They postponed the shoot to regroup.
“There’s various ways people tell their stories in the film,” Murray said. The journey of making the original film and how it shaped them is more than the film, which didn’t really come out that great.
“No one’s ever heard of this film, and nobody has ever heard about it, and nobody’s clamoring to see a documentary about it,” Reamer said. The story lands with people anyway. “They identify with the hopefulness and the disappointment. Everyone who’s ever tried to do something, or start — and that’s all of us.”
‘THE EMINENT CARMINE CRAIG’
Among the more unexpected offerings in the Made in Montclair section is the musical “The Eminent Carmine Craig.” Written by MHS alum James Feinberg (son of MFF Founder and Chairman Bob Feinberg), the musical stars another MHS alumnus, Sam Norrie, as a popular, wealthy kid who takes out a serious girl.
The 36-minute film uses much of the same team that made the MFF short, “Let’s Go to the Movies,” and has a similar old-time-movie-musical, almost surreal, style. At one point, for example, Carmine and Julie are having dinner in a local restaurant. Suddenly the diners break into song.
Adam Roat asked Feinberg to make a feature and while a feature wasn’t feasible, making a short film was, Feinberg said. “There are Montclair connections because it’s very much about the idea of suburbia, how life in suburbia, at least my experience, had long periods of subdued life with very little happening, puncturated by periods of extreme catharsis. That seemed like a good thing to base a musical around. Whenever someone onscreen has an emotional breakthrough it’s very clear, because they’re singing.” And Roat’s work is very much about loneliness, he said.
Norrie got involved when Feinberg reached out to him. People who had shown up for auditions weren’t quite right, Feinberg said.
“It was my goal to get as many Montclair people involed as possible,” Feinberg said.
The film doesn’t go exactly where you expect it will: the ending is hopeful in the sense that Carmine Craig has grown. But it’s not that Julie decides she likes him. “I’d like to think that Carmine changed throughout the better in the film,” Norrie said. To get basic, he learns you can’t judge a book by its cover, he said.
Feinberg said he’s overjoyed to have his first film in MFF. Norrie, who is working at a catering company, actually worked a job at Montclair Film Festival the other day. Looking through the booklet and seeing his own picture as he passed out hors d’ouevres felt “very classic actor,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s a special thing,” Feinberg said. “The more people who can see it the better.”
“Hayatuna,” directed by MSU professors in the School of Communication and Media Steve McCarthy and dave Sanders, follows Henrik Melius and his work with the Swedish NGO Spiritus Mundi to bring music to a group of orphaned, refugee, and handicapped youth.
What makes the project even more special is that the children involved are in Jordan. McCarthy and Sanders went with several MSU students over the course of two years to document the project.
The Dean of the College of the Arts, Daniel Gurskis, narrates.
McCarthy and Sanders also worked on the opening short musical promo that will run before films during MFF. The MFF/MSU partnership is a strong one, McCarthy said.
Family is so important in Jordan, McCarthy said, that kids without families are stigmatized. The project began in 2014 — it took two years to film and two to write, he said. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 17.
While there are no current plans to keep the project going, McCarthy has stayed in touch with one of the Jordanian girl’s parents on Facebook.
Melius had visited MSU for a panel on Arab Spring, and that’s where the idea to film Spiritus Mundi began, McCarthy explained. McCarthy had reported in the Middle East since 1996. What inspired him about this project was that “this was an effort to bring art to people who needed it, to express themselves. We saw this as a real opportunity to document an important effort.”
The Spiritus Mundi project brought in people from Sweden, as well as local pedagogues. One local teacher argues against using Western music, in the documentary: he is overruled. It’s an interesting fly-on-the-wall moment, McCarthy said.
Taking students to an Arab country and watching them discover how Arabic people are not very different from them was particularly meaningful for him. “Two of the students were in the sixth grade when 9/11 happened. They’ve been bombarded by negative stereotypes about Arabic people,” he said. Watching the students look past stereotypes was the “best lesson” he could have taught, he said.
Some of the students, who have now graduated, will come for the screenings, he said. “I think this is right up Montclair’s alley. It’s a town that values arts, education, human rights, and social justice.”