For lovers of offbeat films, it’s one of the best things about living in or near Red Bank.
For student filmmakers, it’s a rare opportunity to get their work up on the big screen in front of an audience of more than just classmates and family members. Ditto, frankly, for many of their older counterparts.
And for folks simply looking for intelligent cinema that’s out of the ordinary, the selection could hardly be better.
We’re talking, of course, about the annual Red Bank International Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow night and runs through Sunday at the Clearview Cinemas on White Street.
This year’s slate of more than 50 films, long and short, offers a range from amusing to heavy, with emphasis on chuckles and some tongue-in-cheek-macabre thrown in for bonus yuks.
“All in all, I think it’s a very tight film festival,” says Marc Leckstein, president of the Freedom Film Society, which puts on the festival, now in its seventh edition. “It’s got basically anything anyone would want.”
Anyone, that is, who doesn’t require a steady diet of blazing guns, crashing cars and one-dimensional protagonists. This, like all good film festivals, is where movie aficionados go to see the small gems that almost never hit the multiplexes: rich stories, no matter how short, that bring a blast of fresh air to the moviegoing experience.
One small change, and a convenient one for attendees, is that the RBIFF is returning to the single-venue format of its origins. Last year, in addition to the Clearview, films were shown at the Count Basie Theatre and the Two River Theater. Expect a busier rotation and more chances for mingling under the Clearview’s awning.
The weekend kicks off at 7:30p Friday with Golden Door, a Martin Scorcese-“presented” story about a married Sicilian couple emigrating to the United States in 1904. It stars the quietly captivating Charlotte Gainsbourg.
First-night festivities then get immediately raucous with a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Good thing FFS chairman Andrew Malecki is a manager at the Clearview; corporate won’t have to know about all the toast and rice that goes flying in the theater.)
Saturday at noon there’s the Emerging Filmmakers series, with a dozen shorts, ranging from 3 minutes to just over 13 minutes, by high school students. Most of them are local to this area, so expect lots of beaming moms, dads and other relatives to crowd the lobby before and after.
That’s in theater one of the two-screen venue. At 12:30 in the other theater is an animated shorts segment, with offerings from Bill Plympton (who’ll be making a live appearance afterward at Cel-ebration, the animation art store on Monmouth Street), Signe Baumane (the Latvian artist who curated the segment) and eight others.
The international side of the festival deepens at 3p on Saturday with screenings of six shorts grouped together under the heading “Spanish Fly” and featuring works by Spanish and Mexican filmmakers.
These include some tantalizing premises for narratives. A man’s TV breaks just when the Pope is arriving in his country, so he decides to cobble a new one together using a parabolic dish. A man agrees to his wife’s demand for a divorce on the sole condition that they re-enact, in exacting detail, their very first meeting. A Mexican immigrant working at a California fast food franchise finds the product appalling and decides to depart from the menu by sneaking his own ingredients into the tacos.
From there, things take a sharp turn toward Jersey at 3:15p. First comes the Jersey Fresh segment, offering up a couple of shorts followed by “Shooting Johnson Roebling,” an 85-minute feature co-written and directed by former Little Silver resident Christopher Burke. (The production company, called Seven Bridges Productions, was founded by Burke and co-writer Tommy Walsh, formerly of Brielle.)
The film, a comedy, tells the story of a fledgling filmmaker who embarks on a search for an avant-garde performance artist in New York, where the film is set.
That’s followed at 5:45p by “Snake Hill,” a documentary by Monmouth County filmmakers about a now-closed, nearly forgotten sanitarium in Hudson County. When the Freedom Film Society screened “Snake Hill” at the Clearview in June, turnout was so strong that some people had to be turned away. Here’s a second chance to see it. Fans of Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger note: he’s in it, too, in his day job as an archaeologist.
At 6p, there’s a detour to Thailand (the comedy “Last Stop for Paul“) before we return to the Jersey shore with a film titled “Greetings from the Shore,” about a young woman’s last summer at the beach before heading off to college. “The film was shot on an island off the coast of New Jersey, Barnegat Island, in the same seaside town where the real events occurred to [writer Gabrielle] Berberich,” the festival wesbite claims. We’re not sure about that “off the coast of New Jersey” wording, but hey, when it comes to summers at the shore, the suspension of disbelief is often helpful.
The 8p feature “Outsourced,” by John Jeffcoat, sounds appealing. It’s about a Seattle guy who’s about to lose his job to lower-paid workers in India, and he’s sent there to train his replacements. Love may or may not ensue with a charming, opinionated young woman he meets there. You’ll just have to find out for yourselves.
Killer Shorts, a collection of seven taut mini-narratives that aim to refrigerate your spine, starting unspooling at 10:15p. A must-see for proponents of the White Street parking garage is “Take Out” by New Jersey filmmaker Jonathan Budine. The five-minute film tells the story of a woman going into a parking deck to get her car. “Heart-pounding suspense may make this the most tension filled car retrieval ever,” says the press material.
Saturday wraps up with an 11:30p screening of Lon Chaney’s 1923 classic, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Of course, it’s a silent, but not with local musicians Rotting Moldy Flesh in the orchestra pit providing a live soundtrack. The group, led by Don Yarosz and Russ Bucci, and featuring a large rotating cast of players, describes itself as “space age band” trafficking in “industrial/ambient/creeping in space music.” A must-see-and-hear, even if it goes on for two hours and makes you late for Sunday services, because you’ll want to ring the bells when you get there.
More animated shorts open Sunday’s program at noon, including offerings from the aforementioned Plympton and New Jersey artists Sarah Cortese and Michael Attardi.
At 12:15p, there’s something called “The Adventures of Ratman” (13 minutes long) from Canada, followed by a 90-minute doc, “Bill’s Big Pumpkins,” about a guy trying to grow the world’s biggest you-know-whats, or at least Minnesota’s.
“Gulf War Syndrome: Killing Our Own,” at 2p, is a doc by the prolific Gary Null that tackles issues of mysterious illnesses suffered by American veterans of the war in Iraq, and the inadequate attention being paid.
Thirteen more animated shorts selected by the aforementioned Signe Baumane fill up a nice chunk of Sunday afternoon.
“Veritas” (4:30p) follows, a doc about a college wrestler who forges on despite the possible loss of his eyesight.
At 5p are two short political docs, one (“The Professor“) about a former president of Liberia now living in a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of New York, and the other (“Big Known Names“) about a photographer, Lester Cole.
The festival’s penultimate offering sounds like intriguing filmmaking, and acting. “Commit,” by Mickey Blaine, is 90 minutes long and was shot in three uninterrupted takes.
Finally, there’s a collection of shorts called “Sick, Sad Relationships” (somebody on the festival committee deserves a prize for that title): five films, 7 to 20 minutes in length, about well, let’s see if the label sticks.
Tickets are priced at $10 per film or segment; $30 for a day pass; and $85 for all-access. Freedom Film Society members get discounts.