With a Little Help from the Crowd, Jersey City’s John Trigonis is Ready to Premiere His Latest Film, ‘Cerise’

Photo: Jennifer Weiss

When the hip-hop crew ruled in school, he listened to heavy metal. While the popular kids played football, he liked hackeysack.

John Trigonis skipped his first day of high school in Weehawken because he was worried he’d get his head flushed.

While he may not have been cool by mainstream standards, Trigonis says he enjoyed “a weird respect” back then. A poet, independent filmmaker and adjunct professor living in Jersey City’s Heights neighborhood with his two cats, Trigonis makes movies about the kind of guy he relates to best: the underdog.

In his latest short film, Cerise, the 32-year-old Trigonis uses Jersey City both as home base and backdrop. The movie, which will have its first screening December 3, centers on Josh Kermes, played by David Arkema, who lost a spelling bee two decades earlier on the word “cerise” and never got over it. His failure has taken hold of his life in different ways — for example, cerise means cherry or a deep or bright red, and Trigonis has Josh unable to see the color red.

“This could have been the thing that threw him into a new world,” Trigonis says of Josh’s spelling bee. But it wasn’t, and the film follows Josh as his life unravels.

Trigonis and his crew shot in Jersey City using funds raised through old-fashioned sweat and crowdsourcing. Through his teaching, he’d saved $10,000 for the project — Trigonis, who has an MFA, is a regular at Fairleigh Dickinson, William Paterson, Bergen Community College and New Jersey City University — and his goal was to raise $5,000 more.

He used Facebook, Twitter and the website indiegogo.com, posting a pitch video to friends, former students and strangers and promising a producer credit to anyone who gave $500 or more. He wrote a poem to each donor, no matter how small.

In the end, Trigonis, the film’s writer, director and editor, raised $6,700.

The internet helped in other ways too, bringing in an offer of donated music from a musician in Serbia who found the project on Indiegogo. Another band, Icewagon Flu, donated the title song.

“I got more involved with people’s lives because of this,” Trigonis says. “You do something like this and you see people are good and genuinely want to help others.”

The film was shot partly at the Warehouse Cafe, the Bay Street coffee shop where his girlfriend and marketing manager Marinell Montales works and where he often sits for hours with a notebook and pen, his worn leather bag and a book — on a recent day, Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

While he admires the Coen Brothers, his list of favorite directors is heavy with foreigners — Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Krzysztof Kieslowski — and his favorite film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Trigonis calls poetry his life’s passion — he has been published in journals in the U.S. and U.K. and produced five chapbooks, with his sixth due out in January. But he likes how films provide a home for thoughts and scenes he can’t work into a poem.

Sometimes, he makes poem-play hybrids — his first film, Cog, was based on his poem “Cog in the Corporate Wheel.” Another, Perfekt, made with his frequent collaborator Alain Aguilar, is about a malcontent’s search for the perfect woman and involves poetry as means of flirtation.

Friends and family say filmmaking “is my therapy, because I can’t afford therapy,” he says with a smile.

Trigonis, who lost his mom to cancer when he was a child, lived with his dad in Weehawken until he passed away in 2006. He moved to Jersey City with little more than a dresser. A guy who tries to live with only the basics, he says he cooks a mean pasta and, like many artists, has not had health insurance at all in his adult life.

While he worries about a future without the stability of a salaried job and insurance, Trigonis is focused on the now — on his teaching, Cerise, and his other creative projects, one of which is a feature-length vampire movie with elements of science fiction and dark comedy.

“I could do this for a while longer,” he says. “As long as I have something to say and it can’t be told in a poem or a story, it’s got to be done.”

THE DETAILS

Cerise preview; Friday, December 3 at 8 pm; The Millennium Film Workshop, 66 East 4th St., NYC. To RSVP or for more details, visit the event’s Facebook page.

a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, and Agence France-Presse. She is also a former editor for Jersey City Independent.