Town Square: It’s Sundance, only Jerseyer- and that’s fine with me.
By BOB FEINBERG
Special to Montclair Local
I attended my first film festival about a decade ago. Actually, I stumbled on it. I was skiing with my wife and kids — ages 9 and 11 then — in Park City, Utah. As we drove toward the
ski resort, up Main Street in the Old Town section of Park City, we saw lamppost banner after lamppost banner announcing the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. Pop-up stores selling film festival merchandise and storefronts-turned-sponsor-branded-lounges lined the street. At the main intersection, the brightly colored Sundance Box Office beckoned, sporting oversized grids listing movie titles, venue names and addresses, screening times and participating “talent.”
We parked the car and cautiously went inside to buy some movie tickets. We were civilians and had only passing familiarity with the rarified world of film festivals. Of course, I had heard of Sundance. I’d seen the pictures online of celebrities posing in front of “step and repeats” bearing luxury brand logos in checkerboard patterns. But I had never once tried to buy a ticket at a film festival.
Little did I know that tickets to screenings at Sundance are hard to come by while the festival is in full swing. But I was successful; I scored tickets to an independent, French film that was showing the next day at 8 a.m. in a sports-club-turned-movie-theater. I don’t remember the name of the movie, or much of the plot. But I was hooked nonetheless. The Sundance Film Festival felt to this casual by-passer as though the circus had come to town — to Park City — and I wanted to bring it to my town, to Montclair.
And I wound up doing just that.
I conceived the “Montclair Film Festival” and, along with a group of energetic, philanthropic and unreasonably optimistic friends and neighbors, set about making it a reality.
We held “friend raisers” and fundraisers; we organized summertime movie screenings in parks and on local streets; and we ultimately hired a film festival professional who would help turn our dreams into reality. The first Montclair Film Festival ran from May 1–6, 2012. The eighth Montclair Film Festival will run from May 3–12, 2019.
I just returned from the 2019 Sundance Film Festival earlier this week. I’m more of a pro now. I know how to order tickets in advance, I get invited to a few parties, I have one of those festival passes on a lanyard that I wear around my neck.
During my few days in Park City this year, I saw some remarkable films including first-time filmmaker Rashid Johnson’s devastating retelling of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” all too relevant today in its examination of race and class in America; Avi Belkin’s riveting documentary of the Sixty Minutes icon, “Mike Wallace is Here,” reminding the viewer of not-so-long-ago world leaders laid low by the first of the confrontational TV inquisitors; Timothy Greenfield Sanders’ valedictory “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” recalling the Nobel Prize winner’s lyrical novels against the backdrop of Morrison speaking directly to the camera; and David Wnendt’s Lapland-based, charming rom-com “The Sunlit Night,” evoking Bill Forsyth’s early ’80s fish-out-of-water “Local Hero.”
Will any of these movies make it to the 2019 Montclair Film Festival? Only festival director Tom Hall knows for sure. But this I can promise, for 10 ten days in May, the circus will come to Montclair.
Some 200 films will screen in movie theaters, traditional and improvised. The lampposts will be hung with banners. The Investors Bank Film & Media Center will be transformed into a festival lounge. Directors, producers, filmmakers and actors will share their work and their thoughts. The Montclair Film Festival will once again engage, entertain and educate through the power of visual storytelling. You won’t want to miss it.
Bob Feinberg is founder and chairman of the board of Montclair Film