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While the country is still restricted in its ability to hold concerts, sports games, and even film festivals, that isn't stopping New Jersey's own Montclair Film Festival celebration of independent films. This year's festival will run from October 16-25, and we got an exclusive interview with the Executive Director of the festival Tom Hall to discuss it all.


Facing The Challenges 

Unfortunately, 2020 has been a challenge for all given COVID-19. In March the decision was made to postpose the film festival that was scheduled for May 1-10. When asked about the uncertain challenges the festival faced, Hall shared:

"We had already put together our entire program and had everything ready to go for launch a couple of weeks later. Our organization counts on revenues from the festival to survive and so we faced some very lean months, like so many other people and organizations. We have since rescheduled the festival for October 16-25, and we've had to reimagine the entire event— a completely different film line up, drive-in screenings, and a new, online film screening system so that people can see the films from the safety of their own homes. So, in 6 months, we've essentially created two unique festival, one that never happened, and the one that is happening now. It has been a tremendous amount of work to make that happen, but we're grateful for the opportunity and hope for our patrons to join us and try something new."

What To Expect?

Screenings for this year's festival are both drive-in and virtual. When asked about what audiences can expect Hall stated:

"The Montclair Film Festival program is driven by a sense of discovery, and so one of the things our patrons have come to expect from us is a diverse, thoughtful program that cover a lot of ground, from classics to Indies, documentaries to shorts, and films by people with diverse, thoughtful points of view. I hope that the festival continues to surprise people, but that can only happen if the audience is willing to dive in and explore; we're very fortunate that our audience shares our belief that discovery is important."

This film festival could not be any more diverse as it will include short films, documentaries, documentary shorts and drive-in events featuring presentations of new independent films. Nomadland starring Frances McDormand and directed by Chloé Zhao will open the festival. Throughout the week additional screenings will include Ammonite starring Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet, Blithe Spirit starring an all-star cast of Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Judi Dench, and Leslie Mann while Regina King's directorial debut of One Night in Miami will close out the festival. This year's documentary centerpiece feature is In & Of Itself directed by Frank Oz the voice of Yoda from the Star Wars films.

As for virtual screenings, audiences can expect to see Minari starring Steven Yeun, Black Bear starring Aubrey Plaza, and the documentary Zappa directed by Alex Winter. The festival offers endless hours of content that audiences will have access to throughout the week. Hall believes it is now more important than ever to offer this experience to all independent film enthusiasts:

"I believe deeply in the power of empathy to transform perspectives, to change minds, to expand our ideas and understanding of our communities and ourselves. And I think of film and visual storytelling as a very powerful medium for fostering those feelings and changes. I love art in all of its forms for this reason. I love music, theater, painting, sculpture, and dance, but I think of film as a form that is accessible to audiences in terms of cost, reach, and depth of storytelling. So, as the country and the world continue to create opportunities for introspection, reflection, empathy, and social transformation, I think we, as an institution committed to building collective experiences around diverse stories and perspectives, can be a part of fostering that change."

Teaming Up With Stephen Colbert

Hall also gets to work with one of late night's funniest talk show hosts Stephen Colbert and his wife Evelyn Colbert who is the Board President. Stephen Colbert has been able to share insight interviews for the festival over the years that have featured in-depth conversations with Ben Stiller, Jeff Daniels, Ethan Hawke, Mindy Kaling more. This year's interviews include actress, Sienna Miller and writer and director Aaron Soarkin. The festival will also include a virtual table read of the lost pilot episode of, Sometimes Live. When asked about working with the Colbert's Hall commented:

"We have been so fortunate to work with incredibly talented, generous artists since the festival began, and of course, Stephen and Evelyn Colbert are two of the founding supporters of Montclair Film. I work directly with them to propose possible collaborations and to discuss their ideas as well. We want to be impactful with their time and effort. Evelyn Colbert is our Board President and works with our entire team , so we have a really wonderful collaborative relationship, and remain incredibly grateful for their support, which has been extraordinary, and absolutely crucial to the success and growth of the organization."

Now, if you are still stuck at home and need something new to watch be sure to check out the Montclair Film Festival or if you are in the New Jersey area go online to buy a ticket to one of the drive-in events. Head on over to montclairfilm.org for more info.

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