October 24, 2018

An Expanded Film Festival Aims to Inspire Social Action

FILM FEST: “Poles Apart,” a short by Paloma Baeza, is among the many movies being screened November 14-17 at the fourth annual Princeton Independent Film Festival.

By Anne Levin

Since taking over the Princeton Independent Film Festival last year, Programming Director Ryan McDonald and Executive Director Claire Elaine have made it a priority to program screenings, talks, and other events that lead to positive change.

This year’s festival — the fourth since it was started by Sara McDermott in 2015 — is November 14-17 at locations in and around Princeton. The emphasis is on films that inspire viewers to get involved in issues like climate change and gender politics, and the final event of the festival is designed to help people do just that.

“Our mission, beyond showcasing really wonderful quality films, is to take the energy and inspiration that comes out of those films, harness it, and make a difference,” said Elaine. “We’re asking filmmakers what they want people to take away from these films, whether it’s volunteering, or maybe donating to a nonprofit. So it can happen right here. We want to capitalize, in the best sense of the word.”

Judges of films competing for the festival’s top honors include actress Ana Asensio, director Cameron Beyl, actors Hubert Burton and Tom Hanson, director Jimmy Keyrouz, sound editor/designer Selim Azzazi, Princeton University student Alexander Kim, and director Christian Monnier.

The festival begins the evening of November 14 at the Hopewell Theater, with a showing the short films The Best Fireworks Ever, Nightmares by the Sea, Bonobo, and Third Kind. A cash bar offering drinks from each of the countries represented — the U.S., German, Poland, and Switzerland — will be available, and ticket-holders can dine at the nearby Brick Farm Tavern for a fixed price of $50.

The next night, Princeton’s Garden Theatre screens the award-winning Matria, sponsored by the Princeton University Women’s Center, and the feature documentary Genderbende. A Q&A follows with Myrsini Aristidou, the  writer and director of the short film Aria. “She is coming all the way from Cyprus for this, which is so exciting,” said Elaine. “Her film was nominated at Sundance.”

Friday’s location is McCosh Hall 50 on the Princeton campus. Another Q&A is scheduled, this one with Kevin H. Wilson, writer and director of My Nephew Emmett that won last year’s student Academy Award and was nominated during the 90th Academy Awards main competition. The Carl A. Fields Center for Equality + Cultural Understanding is sponsoring this free event.

The final program on Saturday, also at McCosh 50 and free, is an all-day event presented by the Princeton Film Society. The remainder of films in the competition, including those on the environment, will be screened. Representatives from the organization Grist Fixers will be on hand to help viewers address climate change in everyday interactions.

The closing film, Three And A Half by Dar Gai, is a narrative feature shot in three continuous takes. The day ends with an after-party and award announcement, and patrons will get the chance to try out the latest in VR technology.

Elaine and McDonald, who are married and live in Doylestown, Pa., got involved with the festival after McDonald met with the founder last year. McDonald is a former actor and model who did a six-year apprenticeship with a master teacher from The Juilliard School, Elaine said. She is a graduate of Montclair State University with a degree in metalwork and jewelry, and she ran her own design company.

“He’s a crazy film fanatic,” Elaine said of her husband. “He told her [McDermott], ‘I would love to do this but if we’re going to do it, it can’t be a hobby. We’d be moving toward making this our livelihood.” And she said, ‘That’s great.’”

Once the couple signed on, Elaine created a new logo for the festival. “Last year, there were only three of us. We had a great program, but we didn’t really have high numbers and the marketing budget was, like, $150,” she said. “This year, we have an actual budget, because we’re being sponsored by SAGindie, which helps filmmakers with education on how to get registered and other aspects. It’s fabulous to have support from them, because it’s indicative of them seeing we have something going on.”

Additional support is from local companies and organizations, which has allowed for increased activity and, hopefully, larger audiences. “I’ve never really found anything that has driven me to work as hard as I’ve worked on this,” said Elaine. “So it’s really going to be a pleasure when we can actually do this full time and really dedicate ourselves to it.”

For information and tickets, visit www.prindiefest.com.