MFF: Opening with love: Montclair Film Festival and ‘STEP’
MFF Opening Night Film
Friday, April 28, 7:30 p.m.
Wellmont Theater, 5 Seymour St.
By GWEN OREL
Community is what has made Montclair Film Festival a success, says Bob Feinberg, MFF’s founder and chairman of the board. MFF is “not all industry people wearing black.
“It’s not a place where everything sells out immediately and there are velvet rope lines and you can’t get into stuff.
“I love convening the town.”
Stars convene here too: actress Laura Linney, currently starring on Broadway in “The Little Foxes,” is teaching a master class on Friday to a few fortunate students in the festival’s new home at 505 Bloomfield Ave.
From April 28 through May 7, the festival will show 72 features and 57 shorts, to as many as 26,000 people.
The creation process, for Feinberg, is real and physical.
It began with a car trip around Montclair, Feinberg said. He was driving his friend John Servidio around town, “showing him Montclair landmarks, drove up to MSU, up Bloomfield Avenue. I showed him the art museum, the Clairidge, the Wellmont. John is a TV and film guy. He turned to me and said, “So when is the film festival?” A town like this, with an art-house movie theater and university, must have a film festival,” Feinberg recalled with a laugh.
Community is also the heart of MFF’s opening film, “STEP,” directed by Amanda Lipitz, produced by Lipitz and Steve Cantor.
“STEP” follows a few of the girls in their senior year of high school as they struggle to graduate and become the first in their families to go to college.
Cantor said that Lipitz has known the girls at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, who are in a competitive step dancing team, since the girls were in sixth grade.
Lipitz’s mother started the school, he said.
Cantor said he knew he wanted to make this film after seeing a tape of Blessin, one of the girls featured in the documentary, at a summer party with Lipitz and his sister, who are friends.
“I’m always looking for strong central characters to build stories around. She jumped off the screen.”
Blessin is “very gorgeous and super talented, the captain of the step team. She’s like a young Beyoncé, but she’s dirt poor. There’s no food in the refrigerator. She has behavior and attendance issues.
“It seemed like she might not graduate, get into college. On some level I thought it might be a cautionary tale if it didn’t end well.”
The film received standing ovations and cheers at Sundance in January, and since it’s called a “feel-good” movie in the trailer, it’s not really a spoiler to say it ends well.
“It’s weird with docs. You never quite know how it will turn out. It was nerve-racking,” Cantor said. A rough cut was “a disaster.” Then it came together.
At Sundance, the coach and the principal and the girls all came. “The Q-and-As were off the wall. Amanda and I didn’t exist. The girls took over the mic.”
The success of MFF wasn’t always a sure thing either — and now the festival is starting its sixth year in its own home.
The new slogan of the festival, “Fall in love with film,” is about discovery, said Feinberg. “You fall in love with something when discovering it. Falling in love is taking a leap.”