Festivals FilmApril 29, 2013

Let’s be clear, the Montclair Film Festival is not just about documentaries. This year’s fiction presentations include “Midnight’s Children,” an adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s epic novel by Oscar-nominated director Deepa Mehta; “Frances Ha,” the new film by director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”); and “In a World…,” a breakout movie starring, written and directed by Lake Bell, who just won a Sundance award for her script. You can choose from dramas, comedies, and rom-coms, such as “Twenty Million People,” a film about a Jersey City barista who finds—then loses—true love.

But if you’re a fan of non-fiction, the Montclair Film Festival is a rare treat, with (by my count) more than 50 documentaries in the schedule. The Festival opens on April 29 with “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” a big budget doc by three-time Grammy-nominated director Morgan Neville.  Neville has made music films about Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, James Taylor and Carole King, but it wasn’t until a legendary record industry executive came to him with the idea to do a film about backup singers that he gave much thought to them.

Darlene Love in “Twenty Feet from Stardom”

“I began to listen to music differently,” says Neville. “Suddenly, I heard backup vocals everywhere. I began collecting hundreds of songs with great backup parts.”  Morgan Neville and Darlene Love – one of the great backup singers of all time – will be at the festival in person to take questions. It’s a New Jersey premiere and a chance to see “Twenty Feet from Stardom” before it’s released theatrically in June.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Shored Up,” a just-finished documentary having its world premiere on the last day of the Festival, May 5. Filmed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in New Jersey on Long Beach Island, the film investigates the effects of sea level rise on barrier islands and the people who live on them. Director Ben Kalina describes the film as “acknowledging the changes that people see around them as real,” and giving them a language to talk about it.

“Shored Up” theatrical trailer

“Shored Up” was shot over three years, a period which ended with Hurricane Sandy. Sandy may not have been caused by climate change, but it was certainly made more devastating, Kalina points out. The film, which had previously focused on the damage done by the massive storm surges of 1962 and 1992, was completely restructured to incorporate the new footage. “Sandy was one of those awful coincidences,” says director Kalina, “that ended up being a perfect object lesson.” Kalina will be at the screening along with the editor, cinematographer and the executive producer of “Shored Up.”

In-person appearances at the Festival don’t stop with Q&As after screenings. Two panels are of particular note: on May 5, the Oscar-winning director Michael Moore will interview a group of filmmakers from around the country in “Dangerous Docs;” and on May 4, Nancy Abraham from HBO Documentary Films will host “Docs in Progress,” where three filmmaking teams will share clips from their current projects. Those who attended last year’s “Docs in Progress” can see some of the finished work in this year’s Festival, including “Gideon’s Army” and “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.”

In its second year, the Montclair Film Festival is already a Jersey Arts People’s Choice Award winner. The Festival takes place Monday, April 29 through Sunday, May 5, 2013. Its presenters expect about 12,000 film fans to attend – almost double of last year – and some events have already sold out. For a full schedule and tickets, visit http://montclairfilmfest.org/.

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Susan Wallner
Susan Wallner

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer and writer. She recently completed You'll Have the Sky: The Life and Work of Anne Morrow Lindbergh about the writer and aviator, narrated by Judith Light and Lily Rabe. She co-produced Ode to Joy, a performance special now airing on PBS. Her national documentaries include Ben Shahn: Passion for Justice, Toshiko Takaezu: Portrait of an Artist, and Michael Graves: The Warehouse. Susan is a principal at PCK Media, where she produces the award-winning weekly public television series State of the Arts as well as a wide range of other projects. Recent highlights include a history series produced for New Jersey’s 350th birthday, It Happened Here: New Jersey, and advocacy videos for the statewide campaign, “Pre-K Our Way.” Susan has an MA from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication, and a BA from New College of Florida. She also studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her awards include 13 regional Emmys, four CINE Golden Eagles, two NETA Awards, a Worldfest Houston Gold Special Jury Award, and a Pennsylvania State Council on the Arts Fellowship.