Celluloid Heroes: Second Annual Golden Door Film Festival Puts Local, International Filmmakers in the Spotlight


Things are about to get “reel” with the second annual Golden Door International Film Festival, which will take the city by storm the same weekend as the Jersey City Artists’ Studio Tour.

Golden Door, which will run from Oct. 11 to 14, is one of the largest cultural undertakings in the city this year and aims to bring in cinephiles, filmmakers from around the globe and stars like Vincent Pastore, Chris Kattan and the Sorvinos (Bill Sorvino, nephew of Paul and cousin of Mira, is the event’s founder).

Sorvino says the inaugural film fest last year was a huge success and that he hopes its sequel is “twice as good.”

“Last year’s event went beyond our expectations… the overall energy and enthusiasm and the response from filmmakers and film-goers was tremendous,” says Sorvino. “This year, I don’t know how we’re doing it, but I’m over the moon on how it’s all coming together. Through word of mouth between filmmakers, we got amazing submissions — the quality of films we received were so high!”

In total, this year’s fest has 53 films competing for various awards including the brand-new Women in Film Alice Guy Blaché Award, named for the woman who many consider to be the first narrative film director (who had her movie studio in New Jersey). Also, three student films by Jersey City high school students will compete for the Student Filmmaker Award after being screened at the Mildred Hunke Theatre, located at the Five Corners Library.

Some of the standouts in the main competition categories include Just Crazy Enough, a comedy starring Chris Kattan set for opening night at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 8 pm, and Union Square, starring Mira Sorvino, which will screen Friday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 pm, also at the Loew’s.

One of Bill Sorvino’s personal favorites is Shouting Secrets, which focuses on the little-discussed lives of modern-day Native Americans starring Chaske Spencer, Q’orianka Kilcher and Tyler Christopher. In the film, a Native American writer who shunned his family after the success of his novel must return home to the reservation when he finds out his mother is hospitalized.

“There’s a lot of dysfunctional stuff in the movie. And you don’t think very often about how Native Americans live in the general population, so to see that juxtaposed with how they live on the reservation is really interesting. The story is so great and I thoroughly enjoyed the film,” says Sorvino.

Shouting Secrets screens Friday, Oct. 12 at noon at Brightside Tavern, one of the festival’s sponsors.

Another one of Sorvino’s favorites is Surviving Family by Jersey City filmmaker Mara Lesemann, which will screen as a double feature with Union Square.

In the movie, a young woman already reeling from the challenge of planning her wedding in under a week has to deal with secrets she uncovers about her dysfunctional family — her dad’s alcoholism, her bipolar mother’s suicide, and a secret half-sister. (The last detail, Lesemann says, was inspired by her own discovery that an alcoholic uncle had a daughter no one knew about.)

Surviving Family has been screened at festivals around the country, winning multiple awards including Best Feature at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival in Vancouver and Audience Favorite at the Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Cleveland.

Lesemann says she’s looking forward to bringing her film to her hometown.

“It’s very exciting for me not just because I live in Jersey City, but because we shot 25 percent of the film in Jersey City,” says Lesemann. The movie, she says, includes scenes at Lucky 7’s Tavern, Pecoraro’s Bakery and City Hall, where Pastore’s character, a fictional mayor, works (pictured above).

“I think Bill Sorvino is doing a amazing job putting this together. I’m both impressed with what he’s doing and excited about it,” she adds. “I’ve lived in Jersey City a long time, so I love the fact that we have a festival like this in our city.”

The festival will also include other activities and events like seminars on Saturday, Oct. 13, about finding one’s acting niche (at noon), succeeding in the film business on any budget (2 pm) and crowdfunding (4 pm) at the City Hall Rotunda. There will also be several big parties like an opening night gala at the Loew’s, a Friday night after-party at Vu Lounge in the Hyatt Regency, another glitzy after-party sponsored at Cityside Bistro on Saturday, and a closing gala and awards ceremony at the Loew’s on Sunday.

In addition to the aforementioned screening venues, moviegoers can also catch the festival films at locations like Art House Productions and Panepinto Galleries/Studio 371.

As a Jersey City native, Sorvino hopes the festival shows off what Chilltown has to offer as a cultural destination and helps it grow as an arts community. At the event, he says even local small-time filmmakers can find ways to connect with big-budget execs from across the country.

“For me, it’s always been about creating an environment where every filmmaker, actor and crew member… can have the opportunity to spend time with like-minded individuals no matter how big their budgets are or how famous they are,” he says. “Networking is critical in filmmaking, like in any business.”

More importantly, he says, the festival is about good films.

“We’re turning everyone’s brains to mush in America with useless entertainment. I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, I only watch things on Netflix and indie stuff. I want people to be exposed to that,” he says. “I want audience members to see that there’s more to the movies than going to the multiplex, than seeing explosions and car chases. There are movies out there that are thoroughly enjoyable and that give you more to go home with.”

The festival runs Oct. 11 through 14 at various venues. Visit their website for more information and a full schedule of screenings.

See more images from Surviving Family:

Photos courtesy of Mara Lesemann

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.