Festival opens to rocking crowd
PRINCETON, New Jersey, April 19 -- This past weekend marked the presentation of the 2nd annual Princeton Film Festival. The event celebrated 53 short films that successfully made the cut to compete in the Festival’s annual competition, which takes place on the campus of Princeton University and this year expanded from two days of film to three.
Friday - A night of rock and horror
The festival-open featured selections from the horror and experimental genres. The opening-night jumped off to a musical start with performances by the Princeton University Rock Ensemble (P.U.R.E). The band’s edgy and explosive sound set the stage and more than warmed the audience for the dark and mysterious collection of film that followed.
“The horror genre is one of my favorite genres of filmmaking,” admitted festival founder and director, Emma Michalak. “We were excited to expand the festival this year as the selection of fabulous films expanded beyond our expectation!” said Michalak.
Among the horror creators in attendance was Irish film writer and director, Declan Loftus, making his first trip to the United States, to present his film The Presence. Loftus was one of the handful of successful filmmakers who made the cut to official selection from among the more than 700 plus filmmakers from around the world who submitted to this year’s festival.
Loftus, the spritely and almost contagiously delightful creator of The Presence, shared his nation’s enthusiasm with the themes touched upon in his film. “The Presence is a sort of ghost story, a horror; a real member or part of that genre. In Ireland, the genre of the supernatural, the genre of the ghost, is very prevalent in its mythology and history ... so it's like we [Irish] are very entrenched in that sort of imagery and that kind of ... I don't know ... symbolism.”
With a more meditative demeanor, Loftus adds, “In a way, it's sort of in our collective zeitgeist, or in our psychology; so I actually think that more than anything is why I chose to do this sort of film. In a real way, The Presence is mainly a drama, and that is what I think comes across the most -- it's subtly disguised as a genre film.”
Also among the horror and experimental films shown at Friday's opening were: If They Had Eyes, Predations, Scheherazade, The Boudoir, Meat, El Tren and Roar.
In addition to including music, this year festival organizers have added a number of panel discussions to the line-up. “The expansion of the festival is really an indication of the growth and demand that we have seen since our inaugural season. There is a strong and palpable interest in film in central New Jersey and here at Princeton” shared festival director Michalak. “We are really just answering the call.”
Saturday - A profound and meditative day of film
This day was focused on the celebration of the solemn, the consequential. Among Saturday’s films were Forgotten Bird of Paradise, Poop on Poverty, 3000, iNTERFACE, It’s Not You, It’s Me, The Sound of Bombs, Penile Code, Douai, Les Freres Champion, Drifters, and Lassie and the Sea. The day’s films focused upon the exploration of the conscience and suffering of mankind. The films represented a study in faith, fairness and the responsibility of being our brother’s keeper. This was truly a thoughtful programming design.
In addition to the provocative lineup of films, was the pragmatic talk by speaker Jon Stahl on pitching one’s screenplay to Hollywood agents, managers and producers. Stahl informed emerging screenwriters about the roles of the central figures in the movie business, where to find them and then shared his insight on how to best prepare the pitch — “the oral recounting of a writer’s story”.
Sunday - A day of diversion and inspiration
The final day’s selection of films decidedly represented a celebration of beauty and amusement. Among the films screened that afternoon were: Tony Windberg: A Painter in the Woods, Fox Tale, Low/Fi, Total Awesome Viking Powers, The Red Thunder, Food + Water/Earth, Seventh Heaven, Cooped, and From The Mouth of the Mariner. There was delight in the cinematography and animation, as well as in the stories told. From the beauty in nature and altered landscapes to a peek inside the life of an old Welsh sailor, the films stirred the soul.
The day also included a thought-provoking filmmaker panel discussion which included seasoned television movie producer and Princeton alumnus Dick Atkins and a keynote address from feature film director Adam Salky.
The panel discussion centered around choosing one’s path in the film business, the importance of the pre-production work involved in filmmaking, and the issues of diversity in the movie industry.
In the keynote talk by Adam Salky, he shared three pivotal moments from his life that shaped and informed his journey into the creative world of filmmaking. His overarching message was: Don’t give up, “get real” and “build a practical life to support [your] dreams of directing films”. According to Salky, “even though it was difficult at times, keeping this dream alive — and a little scary — I kept feeling that I couldn’t give up; and that, even though it was hard, I was in the right place.” Salky continued, “once you realize that you’re in the right place, chances are you are going to have to fight for your right to stay there. You have to persevere, but you have to get real along the way. It is possible that choosing a creative career might not be your primary job for even decades, but if you get real and you get a job and you don’t give up, that will pay off and you will still be able to pursue your dream.”
The Princeton Film Festival provided more than 18 hours of film, accompanying entertainment, film industry discussions and opportunities for networking. Not a bad way to spend a weekend in April and best of all, the events and films were free.