Oct. 21 marks the start of the 10th annual Montclair Film Festival, a 10-day event where global filmmakers deliver audiences their best content designed to inform and inspire.
With a variety of in-person and virtual screenings available for viewing, professors and alumni from Montclair State University have found their place in the festival.
The selection of student works to be presented in the lineup began in August, resulting in a final queue of 11 short films in a program titled MSU New Visions, to be played in person on Friday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Clairidge Cinema 2. Its 130-minute runtime consists of specially chosen senior thesis films from the past two years, each a product of the training received through a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in filmmaking.
Anthony Pemberton, associate professor and co-head of the filmmaking program, notes the investment students put into their roles as filmmakers, essentially revealing their own private stories and pouring out very real thoughts.
“I’m really excited about our festival because it has a wide range of ideas and exciting kinds of films that are made by our students here,” Pemberton said. “I wish the rest of the campus recognized, really, how much creative work is being done in our program. Because students have a really different take on making movies and life.”
The topics touched upon in MSU New Visions vary greatly, from the mafia and homelessness to abuse and grief.
Alumnus Trevor Stephney, who graduated in June, aimed to create something comical. This culminated in his film, “SunflowerBoy,” which tells the story of Johnson, someone faced with the tough decision of continuing a relationship with their real-life girlfriend, Erika, or a relationship with their artificial intelligence companion, MIA.
The purpose of Stephney’s piece is vastly different from that of alumna Alyssa Mullings’, who graduated in May.
Mullings uses the character, Scarlett, to explore the effects of trauma and the process of healing and self-liberation in her work, “Fever.” For this project, she chose to write less in order to convey her message more visually instead of vocally.
“I hope the audience will see that I created an innovative way of storytelling, [using] topics of mental health through the use of facial expressions, light, colors, dance and music, rather than solely relying on dialogue,” Mullings said.
“SunflowerBoy” and “Fever,” two films that seek to achieve very different goals, are only two of the many shorts viewers will have the chance to watch as a part of the compelling MSU New Visions program.
The audience can expect to see the works of several other alumni, including 2020 graduates Paola Ossa and John Caccamo, 2021 graduates Charlee Reiff, Colin Keyes, Jake Wisotsky, Anthony Chidichimo, Angelica Rosario and Tim Jones and 2022 graduate Adam Chhour.
Falling under Montclair Shorts and Shorts for All Ages is 2021 alumnus Jerry Harney’s “Imagination Station,” available to be viewed online or in-person at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29 at Montclair Kimberley Upper School.
For 12 minutes, “Imagination Station” follows a young man who is visited and taught a final lesson by his favorite childhood television character the night before an important pitch for his job.
Harney hopes his film will teach the audience to view children as people.
“I truly believe that kids are the most creative and imaginative people alive,” Harney said. “And instead of telling them what kind of entertainment they want, we really should be asking them.”
Also taking place during the Montclair Shorts block, alongside “Imagination Station,” is adjunct professor Stefanie Sparks’, “Rat Race.”
“Rat Race” is about a young woman, played by “Orange Is the New Black” actress Daniella De Jesús, who becomes addicted to well-paid, high-risk drug trials. The inspiration for this concept comes from Sparks’ participation in a drug trial in early 2018, influencing her to write the first draft of her film just a few weeks later.
As a teacher of intermediate screenwriting, Sparks is constantly immersed in short film scripts and works on helping students find their voices, which she feels has shaped her into a better filmmaker herself.
“I think the festival is getting more and more awesome every year,” Sparks said. “The lineup this year is amazing, not just because they included ‘Rat Race,’ but everything looks great.”
To those involved in the festival, receiving support from peers is the most important aspect of it, according to Stephney.
“Support is the biggest commodity to a creative,” Stephney said. “That alone would mean a lot to everyone who worked so hard to make their visions come to life this year.”
Those interested in watching the hard work churned out by the alumni and professors of Montclair State’s filmmaking program can purchase tickets on the film festival’s website.