By Sally Deering
First Cannes, then Sundance, now Teaneck? Yes folks, Cedar Lane Cinemas in Teaneck rolls out the red carpet for the fifth annual Hoboken International Film Festival, which used to be held in Hoboken, but because of some snafu, will now wow film-lovers a few miles north of Sinatra’s hometown.
The indie film fest promises to be a feast for the eyes, 115 feature-length films, documentaries, shorts and TV pilots presented on the silver screen with in-person appearances by Oscar-winning movie stars, Emmy-winning TV stars and the writers and directors who nurtured their films from their first baby-steps.
Some films were made by accomplished writers and directors; others by up-and-comers who likely financed their flicks with credit cards while staying afloat on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches. But these filmmakers all share the same passion: to create their film, their way, with the freedom to uphold the integrity of their script and sustain creative control over every frame without big studio interference. And since many festival entries get picked up by big studio distributors, film festivals are a great way for an independent filmmaker to get their foot in the door. It’s like when an Olympian goes pro. All the hard work earns the gold medal which leads to the deal for the Wheaties box.
“The main reason a filmmaker wants to put his film in a festival is distribution,” Festival Chairman Kenneth DelVecchio says. “We pride ourselves in being able to show the edgiest and hottest filmmaking and to give these films a shot at getting distribution. The Grand Prize this year, the film that receives the Best Feature Film Award will get an automatic distribution contract from Light Year Entertainment. As a filmmaker you can have your dream made and get a distribution contract.”
DelVecchio started this East Coast happening with a nod to his roots. A Hudson County native, DelVecchio grew up in Kearny, attended St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City, graduated law school and served as a New Jersey judge. An accomplished writer who wrote his first book while still in law school, Del Vecchio has numerous writing and producing credits under his belt, including the hit Rules for Men. His new comedy, O.B.A.M.A.Nude is being shown at the festival, along with the controversial courtroom drama he wrote and produced about gay marriage called An Affirmative Act. But DelVecchio is not a contender in the festival he’s producing. Although his films will be screened, they’re not part of the competition, assuring the integrity of the awards given out to the winning films at the end of the 7-day event.
Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling of The Howard Stern Show, who took on a part in Rules for Men and An Affirmative Act, which also stars Academy-Award winning actor Charles Durning, will host major events at the festival including the opening reception on June 4th and the Awards Gala on the 10th.
Of the 1500 submissions, 115 films were chosen by a 15-member screening committee that helps determine the final entries. Of those 115 entered in the festival, some interesting local entries include Asbury Park and The Pope of Jersey City – both made by New Jersey filmmakers; Venus to Vegas by Luis Moro of Union City and Santorini Blue a film written and directed by Matthew Panepinto, starring Panepinto and Deirdre Lorenz who also serves as Executive Producer. Lorenz describes the five-years it took to make the film a labor of love. One that also came with labor pains from raising the financing. Lorenz says she reached out to everyone she knew to get the bucks and even received a check by a stranger in a scene that sounds straight out of a Hollywood movie.
“I met a guy in a diner, he saw me talking and asked me what I was so passionate about,” Lorenz says, “and the next thing you know he’s writing me a check.”
Father vs. Son, also in the feature-length category, is a comedy directed by screenwriter Joe Ballarini who has written for big studios like Warner Bros, Disney and Miramax. Ballarini co-wrote the script with Paul Wolff, his screenwriting teacher and mentor at the University of Southern California. Wolff’s writing resume is also impressive with TV credits that include Little House on the Prairie and Life Goes On.
“I wanted to make a movie about dating in your 60s,” Ballarini says. “And I mentioned my idea to Paul. I’m 30, and I was talking about how difficult it is on the dating scene and he’s 60, and he was talking about how difficult it is on the dating scene. Not much changes from thirty to sixty and we shared some hilarious stories about different dates we’d been on. So we wrote it together. I’d been writing for studios for about seven years at that point. I love being a screenwriter, but I wanted to make a film I can call my own and direct.”
When working on an indie, what you lack in budget, you get back in creative control, Ballarini says. He shot Father vs. Son in 21 days with a crew of friends and classmates at USC. It premiered at the Houston International Film Festival a couple weeks ago and won the Critics Choice Award from the Houston Film Critics Association.
Like all indie festivals, outstanding films at the Hoboken International Film Festival will be awarded prizes for Best Narrative Feature Film, Best Screenplay, Best Documentary and other achievements at the Gala Award Ceremony on June 10th where DelVecchio will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert Loggia, star of TV and films including Scarface, Independence Day and Big. But not all film festivals are equal, DelVecchio says. The Big Kahunas like Cannes, Sundance and the Tribecca Film Festival are more like film markets, because they provide venues for big studios to premiere blockbusters.
“They’re showcasing big films, studio films and not independent films,” DelVecchio says. “As a filmmaker making movies, I saw all these film festivals and decided to start my own. We started in 2005 and now we’re in the top ten-to-fifteen percent in the whole world. My film festival is a true film festival. ”
It’s also big for Cedar Lane Cinemas, a 1930s movie house that shows big blockbuster hits, art and foreign films, says General Manager Diane Walker. There are two pipe organs, too, which will be played between shows and because they expect a huge attendance, they’ll be hiring extra ushers and popcorn-poppers to pop fresh corn before every screening.
The Hoboken International Film Festival turns on the kliegs at the Cedar Lane Cinemas where tickets are still available for film-lovers hankering for fresh popcorn, independent films and some Hollywood glam. And for one week only, Teaneck’s got the hottest tickets in town.
The Hoboken International Film Festival runs from June 4 through June 10. For ticket information and a list of the films and screening times, go to www.hobokeninternationalfilmfestival.com.
Cedar Lane Cinemas
503 Cedar Lane