Chillfest Film Series Kicks Off Fifth Season This Weekend

Chillfest co-founders Charles Ignacio (left) and John Catania (right)

“It’s hard to believe five years of Chillfest have passed,” says John Catania, one of the co-founders of Jersey City’s “mostly gay and lesbian film series.” In August 2005, he and his long-term partner Charles Ignacio, who are both film and TV producers, were looking for a Jersey City location to screen a documentary of theirs that was on the festival circuit. They approached the Jersey City Museum with the hopes of screening The Lady in Question is Charles Busch, the museum came on board, and, voila, Chillfest was born as a weekend-long film festival.

Three seasons ago, they decided to change things up, moving from a weekend festival to a monthly screening series. “We found that people were using Chillfest as a social event,” Catania says, “but what fun is that if we only gather once a year?”

He says the social aspect of the series can be just as important as the films themselves. In fact, Chillfest events kick off with half-hour of food, drinks and socializing prior to the screenings.

“By having a screening every month people return to see friends as well as the films,” he says. “We like this aspect a lot.”

This season of Chillfest kicks off this Sunday, Oct. 11 — National Coming Out Day — at LITM. The first film on the docket this year is An Englishman in New York, a biopic about the late Quentin Crisp.

For those unfamiliar with Crisp, Catania has the quick history of a man he calls “one of great ‘out’ icons of our age.”

“Crisp lived 90 years, and his bio is as rich and colorful as the clothes and makeup he wore throughout his decades,” he says. “He was openly gay, with effeminate behavior and flamboyant dress, all the way back to the 1930s when he lived in London.”

Crisp moved from London to New York City in 1981, which provides the subject matter for Englishman. “We feel it perfect to present this new film about Quentin Crisp,” Catania says, “on National Coming Out Day.”

But that’s not Chillfest’s only connection to Crisp. Catania and Ignacio were lucky enough to meet Crisp while doing interviews for the PBS series In the Life.

“I even got to visit his legendary apartment that he supposedly never dusted,” Catania says. “He always said that ‘after four years the dust does not get any worse.'”

Other films on tap for this season are Little Ashes, Hannah Free, Save Me, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, Transamerica and Shelter. As one can tell from a quick glance at the programming, the fare at Chillfest is decidely highbrow.

That’s why Catania and Ignacio decided to spin off the ChillFX summer film series, which was held at IM Automata Chino this summer and was dubbed ““the edgier, campier and naughtier spin-off of Chillfest.” Catania says the response was wonderful and they hope to do it again.

“It gave us the chance to have some fun with our programming and show a few films we could not screen during our regular season at LITM, where we generally present recent festival award-winning LGBT films,” he says. He recalls when they were screening Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, a documentary about the life of 1970s porn star Jack Wrangler. That night, current porn star and producer Michael Lucas was on hand to give a post-screening talk.

“It was great fun, and Lucas even showed his well-endowed goods upon request,” Catania says. “That is something you will not see at a regular Chillfest.”

What you will see at a regular Chillfest screening, he says, is a mixed crowd, with GLBT locals intermingling with straight folks from Chilltown and a good number of people crossing the Hudson to check out the scene as well.

Keeping the series going has been “more work than we first anticipated,” Catania says, but he and Ignacio are proud of what they’ve accomplished — and they are looking forward to continued growth.

“Jersey City is a great place for Chillfest because nothing like it was here when we began it,” he says. “The GLBT community here is growing and vibrant, so Chillfest has a reason to be around for a long time.”

An Englishman in New York
Sunday, Oct. 11, 3:30 pm (screening begins at 4 pm)
140 Newark Ave.

For the full Chillfest schedule and more information, click here.

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.