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When the first-annual Newark International Film Festival (NIFF) runs this weekend (Sept. 9–11), short films created by six Rutgers University–Newark undergraduates will receive quite an honor: They’ll be screened alongside feature films from veteran filmmakers and be seen by thousands of moviegoers and industry professionals from all over the country and world.
The student films, most of which were shot and edited this spring, were accepted this summer by the NIFF selection committee, whose mission is to foster young talent, especially in and around Newark, while continuing to acknowledge and expose audiences to the work of seasoned filmmakers.
The six undergraduates produced their films from original screenplays in RU-N’s Narrative Video Production class, one of many advanced-level courses offered by the school’s bourgeoning Video Production Program.
“The RU-N filmmakers selected for NIFF were extremely committed to fulfilling their creative visions,” said Associate Professor Kimi Takesue, an award-winning filmmaker who guided many of the student works appearing in the festival. “They made films that are personally meaningful and tap into their diverse communities to create stories that speak authentically to their experiences and insights.”
RU-N’s Narrative Video Production class is an intensive workshop where students translate scripts written in a prior screenwriting class to screen. They focus on script analysis, cinematography techniques, working with actors, casting, visual strategy, staging scenes, collaborating with crew, editing aesthetics, and post-production picture and sound from rough-cut to final film.
Students must complete beginner- and intermediate-level video production courses, as well as the screenwriting class, before moving into the advanced-level workshop, where they crew for one another to enable all to fulfill their cinematic vision.
The six whose works were accepted by NIFF are all video production majors at RU-N. Their films explore teenage suicide, fractured families, strained friendships and domestic violence, while featuring complex characters who demonstrate strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
“I have friends from broken homes, and I wrote my screenplay about a young girl whose father walks out on her without any explanation,” said Jamella Braithwaite, a senior from East Orange, N.J., whose film The Long Road was accepted into the festival. “When writing my scenes, I wanted my audience to feel her pain and confusion when she walks through the door and sees her father packing his bags.”
Gabrielle Mendoza, a senior from Union, N.J., double majoring in video production and journalism, created an imaginative film titled Crimson, about a down-and-out homeless superhero, living on the streets he once saved, who encounters his last teen fan.
Adam Velez, a recent alum from Bloomfield, N.J., was asked by Takesue to submit his film Cellophane to the festival. The work contains two overlapping narratives that intersperse and move back and forth in time: One follows the main character, who commits suicide, while the other splices in friends and family talking at the camera to an unseen psychologist about their guilt and grief.
“It is a tremendous amount of work to complete a narrative film within one semester,” said Takesue. “Many of our students are working jobs as well, or have other responsibilities at home, making the process even more challenging. Yet they are determined and manage to produce high-quality work.”
More than 800 films across various genres were submitted to NIFF from over 50 countries, and some 150 projects will be screened. Festival organizers expect to attract 30,000 people to Newark—the birthplace of film—for the premiere 3-day showcase.
NIFF also includes a youth festival for aspiring filmmakers age 19 and under.
Screenings during the film festival will be shown throughout the city, including Rutgers University–Newark, Newark Symphony Hall, the Newark Museum, Newark Public Library, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Essex County College, Military Park and the Cityplex Theater.
Downtown Newark will also play host for a number of workshops for actors, directors, producers, filmmakers and writers, as well as stunt exhibitions, pitch opportunities and auditions for TV and film, and celebrity meet-and-greets.
Newark has a rich history of fostering artists and innovators: It is the birthplace and/or workplace of names like Seth Boyden, Thomas Edison, Hannibal Goodwin, Brian De Palma, Savion Glover and many more. Goodwin, an Episcopal priest, invented celluloid film in Newark in 1887. NIFF will present the Hannibal Goodwin Award for Innovation in Filmmaking in homage to him.
RU-N’s Video Production Program is a core instructional component of Express Newark, the school’s arts collaboratory set to open in spring 2017 in the former Hahne & Company department store. When the program moves into the facility, it will have a large new production studio with a green screen, new editing facilities and upgraded video equipment.
Takesue says the RU-N Video Program is excited about the move to Express Newark, where it will be part of a vibrant artistic hub composed of RU-N students and the larger Newark community. She is also thrilled to see the program’s student work showcased to the larger Newark community.
“We are proud of our students’ accomplishments and are pleased that they are receiving greater exposure and validation as they transition to their professional careers,” said Takesue. “We hope that this will inspire even more students to join our program.”
Top inset photo still: NO ESCAPE, Directed by Yu-Hsuan Wu
Bottom inset photo still: ARLINGTON, Directed by Bruno Ferreira
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To learn more about the film festival, see the lineup and events, and buy tickets,
Below are the RU-N student films that will be screened at the Newark International Film Festival:
Directed by Gabrielle Mendoza
Logline: A former hero of the city-turned-homeless man walks the streets he once saved as he encounters his last known fan.
Length: 12:28 minutes
Directed by Yu-Hsuan Wu
Logline: A young woman has responsibilities way beyond her years as she fends for her sister and self when faced with domestic abuse.
Length: 11:49 minutes
Directed by Bruno Ferreira
Logline: An uncertain young man decides to confront the skeptic that is in all of us.
Length: 6:43 minutes
THE LONG ROAD
Directed by Jamella Braithwaite
Logline: A young woman struggles to cope with a dysfunctional home and her parents’ sudden separation.
Length: 10:11 minutes
Directed by Carlos Palaguachi
Logline: Two young men try to heal their friendship after a tragedy creates a rift between them.
Length: 13:30 minutes
Directed by Adam Velez
Logline: On the verge of suicide, Christian reflects on his life choices, as scenes with close friends and family talking to a psychologist are interspersed throughout.
Length: 11:22 minutes