New Film Festivals Pop Up in Jersey City, Adding a New Dimension to the Arts Scene

Whether you’re into documentaries, indie shorts, or more abstract video art, a pack of Jersey City film events happening in the coming weeks promise to bring film screenings in Jersey City up to a new level.

Three of the four events are new this year, starting with Friday’s launch of the three-day JC PowerHouse Short Film Festival. Also happening this weekend are the Manhattan Short Film Festival at LITM and a VideoArt.net screening and Q&A at Mana Contemporary. And just a few weeks away is another ambitious project designed to put Jersey City on the film map: the Golden Door International Film Festival.

Get your tickets, kick back and enjoy.

Golden Door International Film Festival

The idea came to Bill Sorvino in a dream. The actor and former rocker (yes, he’s related to Paul and Mira Sorvino, his uncle and cousin) dreamt last spring that he had a film festival in Jersey City, where he was born and raised and where his parents still live in a house his grandfather bought in 1929. He threw a party the next day, bringing together different members of his Jersey City circle, and the brainstorming and planning began.

The festival kicks off October 13 with an opening night gala and screenings of two films: Another Day, Another Life, a short film by Rohit Gupta about a man struggling with loss in our tough economic times, and Night Club, directed by Sam Borowski, about three students (including Zachary Abel of ABC’s Make It or Break It) who start an illegal night club in a retirement home (whose residents include Paul Sorvino, Ernest Borgnine, Sally Kellerman and Mickey Rooney). An after party is planned at Michael Anthony’s.

Bill Sorvino sounds elated as he talks about the festival, which he hopes will provide filmmakers a “golden opportunity” in what has become an increasingly cash-strapped industry.

“There’s not the budget that there used to be, and a lot of talented people that just don’t get their chance,” he says. “This is kind of that chance.”

Of the 42 films screening at the festival, one-fourth are features, another fourth are documentaries and the rest are shorts. The festival, which will screen films at locations all over Jersey City, including the Loew’s Jersey Theatre and Art House Productions, also includes a handful of seminars for filmmakers on Saturday. Jersey City filmmaker John Trigonis raised thousands of dollars online for his short film Cerise, which screens at the festival, and will host a seminar on crowdfunding with IndieGoGo co-founder Slava Rubin.

Standout film selections at the festival include Fatakra, by Soham Mehta, winner of a Student Academy Award, about a man who leaves India for America and is joined three years later by his wife and son; Common Ground, a short documentary about director Hollie Fifer, of Melbourne, Australia, finding “common ground” with Uncle Bob Randall, an indigenous Australian who was brought into “civilized” society by force; Mandala Maker, also by Borowski, about a woman attempting to heal from a past tragedy by painting Tibetan Mandalas; Business is Dead, by Vito LaBruno, about a funeral director who resorts to selling body parts to pay his debts; and The Secret Life … of My Small Urban Backyard, John Dunstan’s study, through a macro lens, of the insect life in his Jersey City yard.

As someone who has at times been on or off an A-list based on whether Mira or Paul Sorvino was with him, Bill Sorvino says everyone at this festival will be treated equally — like a star.

“I want to be an elite festival, not an elitist festival,” he says.

Visit goldendoorfilmfestival.org for a schedule and updates.

JC PowerHouse Short Film Festival

Anitra Thomas went to France in February and attended the annual Clermont-Ferrand international short film festival. She came back to Jersey City inspired.

“I thought, Jersey City is pretty amazing, it would be great to have a short film festival here,” she says.

An actress who produces short films and lives in the Powerhouse Arts District, Thomas wanted to program films that reflect the city’s diversity and culture. She decided to highlight short films because they are often the hardest to find.

“I always talk to people who ask, ‘where can I see the Oscar-nominated short films?’” she says. (The festival will have two this year: Wish 143 and The Crush.)

The festival includes 56 films in all, screened in tents along Provost Street in the Powerhouse Arts District, and selections include documentary, narrative and animated shorts. Several of the filmmakers are from Jersey City and many are international; countries represented include Spain, Portugal, Israel, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Armenia and France.

The locally made selections include Hearts Suspended, by Jersey City filmmaker Maghna Damani, about highly skilled South Asian women denied the chance to work in the U.S. because of their H-4 visa status, and Soaked, Stephanie Daniels’ comedy about an out of work ballerina on her way to New York City for a callback. Thomas herself was executive producer of The Martyr, about a painter in love with his model.

Thomas also created some clever promotional video content for the festival, including a spot that features the vocal stylings of Mayor Healy.

“Jersey City is a fast-growing city with so much culture and diversity,” she says. “I feel just like the Tribeca Film Festival is important to the New York City/Tribeca area, I believe the JC PowerHouse Short Film Festival can have that same identity in the Powerhouse district.”

The festival opens this Friday and continues through Sunday. For a lineup of films and more information, go to jcpowerhousefilmfest.com.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival at LITM

Jelynne Jardiniano first met Nick Mason as a regular at LITM. Four years later, LITM began hosting the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which Mason organizes.

“Meeting fellow film lovers within the community has been a memorable part of hosting the festival at LITM,” says Jardiniano. The LITM owner, a fan of Australian humor, says she particularly enjoys seeing the selections from down under each year.

The 10 films chosen as finalists for this year’s festival from a pool of nearly 600 films from around the world screen Sunday at 7 pm sharp at LITM (140 Newark Avenue). Tickets will be limited to 50 seats and entry costs $5. Attendees can vote for their favorite film and their votes will be tallied with voters from more than 250 other participating venues on six continents.

This year’s selections include Dik, about a young boy who brings home an art piece that has his parents questioning whether he is gay; Sexting, by Neil LaBute, in which a text message leads a woman (Julia Stiles) to meet her boyfriend’s wife; Mak, about a 14-year-old living in Switzerland who has just given birth; and Martyr Friday, an inside look at the events surrounding the 2011 uprising in Cairo.

Visit manhattanshort.com or litm.com for more information.

Videoart.net at Mana Contemporary

The New York-based Videoart.net now has a small screening room on the sixth floor of Jersey City’s sprawling new arts center, Mana Contemporary (888 Newark Avenue). On Saturday, October 1 from noon to 6 pm, a kick-off event will feature selections from the group’s 2010 Video Art & Experimental Film Festival at Tribeca Cinemas and Q&As with the artists. Brittany Stanley, a video artist, Jersey City resident and the group’s editor-in-chief, will host the discussions.

The event will take place in Mana’s sixth-floor lobby; artists Marco Castro and Bil Thompson will take part in person, and Yael Bedarshi and Gerald Guthrie, from Tel Aviv and Illinois, respectively, will participate via Skype.

The mission of Videoart.net is to provide a community and meeting place for artists, says Stanley — a particularly important undertaking considering how new video art is in the grand scheme of things.

“We have cave paintings from millennia ago, 2D art has existed for generations, but video art is such a brand-new thing, it’s still up in the air as to where does it belong?” she says. “Does it belong in galleries? Does it belong outside of galleries? The history is really being written still.”

“We need to be there to create that community that we think a lot of video artists are lacking and needing,” she adds.

Videoart.net’s films are experimental in many different ways, through content, execution, editing, style or the technology used by the artist/filmmaker.

“It’s trying to work with the medium and the format to really find new ways to communicate, to connect with your audience,” Stanley explains.

Videos may include snippets of independent films, documentation of a performance, or an art piece where the camera moves as a paintbrush might.

It’s about “interacting with the environment and the world, using the camera as the only way to disseminate the experience,” she says.

This weekend also marks the launch of Videoart.net’s new blog. Novelist Mark Alpert will give an introduction to the site at 4:30 pm, and a wine and cheese reception will follow.

The second annual Video Art & Experimental Film Festival takes place December 8 and 9 at Tribeca Cinemas.

© Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.

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.