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NJ Film Festival Celebrates 34 Years in New Brunswick

Fall Season Kicks Off With Screenings on September 11
Casting Couch
Casting Couch is a film being screened on October 9. Tobi Sigona and Keith St. Lawrence will be available for questions after. NJ Film Festival

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Jersey Film Festival, celebrating its 34 year anniversary, is beginning its fall season with film screenings on September 11 at 7:00 p.m. at Rutgers University's Voorhees Hall, Room 105.

The Film festival is a project that spans over five months, with winners announced after the screenings on Saturday, October 9, 2015

It is founded by the The Rutgers Film Co-Op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with Rutgers Cinema Studies Program, and focuses on First Run and Second Run Art House Independent films, with some revival films.

This includes playing a wide variety of independent films, both domestic and international, such as experimental films, short subjects, classic revivals, and documentaries. Full length feature films are also showcased.

New Brunswick Today sat down with Albert Nigrin, the longtime Executive Director and Curator of The Rutgers Film Co-Op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in a tiny office hidden in the corner of the Loree building.

An experimental filmmaker and professor, Nigrin is a soft spoken man, with a sharp sense of humor, and a deep love for community.

“The goal is to provide this service to the community, where they can not only see great films, they can learn how to make them," Nigrin told New Brunswick Today.

Many of the films in this season's lineup will include a question and answer session with filmmakers.

Nigrin spoke about the history of the organization, which spans three decades, and shared familiar anecdotes and described how it changed over time.

“As a film curator, and as a film arts administrator, I see myself as Madonna,” Nigrin joked.  “You evolve, you’re like a chameleon. You change your skin. We were able to do that, where in the very beginning as you start to see that it’s changing, you find a way to keep yourself viable.”

Having been involved in the New Brunswick community, the festival has served audiences since the 1980's.  Nigrin says that the organization had to learn and evolve with each new decade.

This has led to thematic switches that Nigrin has made in regards to the content of the festivals, such as switching from revivals films to a wide variety of independent films.

Nigrin discussed how it is essential to be versatile as the festival grew and audiences changed.

“I think as far as the local community, it changes because it’s such a transient community, given that it’s students, but with Facebook and social media, we’re able to maintain these people and keep them in the loop.”

As one of the three oldest film festivals in New Jersey, including Newark Black Film Festival and Black Maria Film Festival, it has been a challenge for Nigrin to keep the festival relevant to college students at Rutgers, as well as other communities across the state.

Still, Nigrin said students are not as aware of the festival as he would like them to be.

“I think what the young kids, the millennials, are so focused on themselves that they don’t realize they need to look outward," he told NBToday.  "I think that’s one the reasons that the film festival is important. You have this world class film festival that’s right in your own backyard, and a lot of kids don’t even know about it.”

Nigrin, who has run the festival since its inception, said that it has positively influenced many audience members' lives, sometimes in extraordinary ways.  He described how a subculture has formed around the festival, connecting various community members.

"Every few months, I’ll get an email from a person who’s come to the festival [saying] 'I would have never met my husband if it wasn’t for your film festival.'"

"We’re not really a pick up joint, but for artists looking to find art-minded people, it’s a nice place,” he said.

Nigrin spoke of the importance of having a different environment for modern-day moviegoers, one that is not at the behest of the market, and that its existence gives artists the opportunity to utilize the media to enact positive change:

“It’s about making sure that there’s an alternative to the mainstream, which is usually very corporate, and not really invested in helping people’s lives... I think you can help society through art, through cinema.”

What is really unique about the New Jersey Film Festival, aside from creative work that it showcases, is Nigrin’s push for authenticity and his efforts to stand apart from other film festivals in New Jersey.

“The website is funky, we know it,” Nigrin said with a smile. “The minute it’s glitzy and corporate-looking, I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s a grassroots festival with no pomp and with no circumstance, and I think I always wanted to keep it that way.”

Out of the 25 films premiering this fall, the lineup includes several from New Jersey filmmakers, including two from East Brunswick.

The lineup for this season includes films with the following names:

  • The Cart by Patrik Eriksson (feature)
  • Rosehill by Brigitta Wagner’s (feature film)
  • Welcome by Serena Dykman’s (short film)
  • Angel of Nanjing by Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo (documentary)
  • Foster Dog by Lisa Alonso Vear (short film)
  • All in Time by Chris Fetchko and Marina Donahue (dramatic comedy)
  • David Jansen & ’s Däwit by Sophie Biesenbach (animated short)
  • It Plays Like Love by Jeremy Waltman and Adam Lucas (feature feature)
  • Right Footed by Nick Spark (documentary)
  • The Moment: Bonnaroo by Reuben Meltzer (documentary)
  • Lords of BSV by Maria Soccor (documentary)
  • Archie’s Betty by Gerald Perry (documentary)

For more information on the screenings, go to the funky website at www.njfilmfest.com.