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NJ Film Festival takes final bow for Spring 2024 season

Carl Weingarten, director of "The Rocket Movies," was among the contributors at the 36th Annual Super 8 Film & Digital Video Festival. – Photo by Nick Diodato

Last week, the New Jersey Film Festival closed the curtain on its 42nd ceremony and shifted toward another event, the 36th Annual Super 8 Film & Digital Video Festival. Despite the events being separate, the two festivals are run by the same group, held in the same location and share the same love for independent filmmaking.

The major difference is that the 36th Annual Super 8 Film & Digital Video Festival stipulates that submitted work must be presented in Super 8 millimeter/8 millimeter film, digital video or 8 millimeter video formats.

Here were the standouts.

"Roses, Pink and Blue" - Julia Yezbick (Detroit)

Yezbick takes us on an experimental journey as poetic text flashes on the screen over beautiful Super 8 millimeter footage of a beach. The text tells a narrative of a young girl who lost her balloon — simple enough, but the audio reveals there is a horror that can never be seen, only heard.

Many experimental films often feel lost in themselves or have a pretension that prevents the audience from understanding what is going on. "Roses, Pink and Blue" doesn't fall into that trap, as the story is grounded and well-structured through its abstract visuals. 

Warning: It may make children with balloons cry.

"Silent chirping of invisible Digits" - Vera Sebert (Austria)

Moths flashing, distorted clicking and baritone music — sounds like an entomologist just snapped.

Here, we have a pure experimental filmmaker whose narrative can't be read, heard or seen — it can only be felt by giving it our full attention. The short is an overload on the senses: vibrations and buzzing build to distorted and changing frequencies. 

It ends with a moth untangling itself from a spider web, escaping death. This existential design of a bug was a genius perspective on a mundane subject.

"Lager Hogger" - David Thomas Dibble (Hanford, California)

In this charming piece, we see a drunkard play with his elaborate model train station. Expertly shot, Dibble shows competence as a visual storyteller, giving an eccentric character a range of emotions that clash with his trains: disappointment, apathy, joy and, of course, sleep.

"you thRill me" - Phil Docken (Minneapolis)

This film acts less like a distorted tale and more like a collage that could be interpreted as a series of events that don't have a real plot. The only concrete thing about this film is that it can be seen and should be interpreted.

Shot in beautiful black and white, there's also a dull sense of dread throughout the piece with its slow, rhythmic sound design. It leaves the audience with a breadcrumb trail and asks them to follow it to their own conclusion. With an ending that alludes to death, not much can be known about the characters — they're figures of meaning, not people.

"Errors and Trials" - Brook Pruitt (Pharr, Texas)

A Texas home is utterly gutted with experimental imagery and digital effects. Shot on Kodak Super 8 millimeter film, shots clog every subject into this bizarre contortion of reality. There's everything from highlighters to sleepy cats to flowers.

Trying to draw a conclusion feels like trying to make sense of a bizarre dream. "Errors and Trials" has a perfect name, as its attempts at making a digestible world feel indescribable. 

"artifacts of you and artifacts of me." - Brecht De Cock (Brussels, Belgium)

While little context is provided within the film, knowing about its inception is vital to appreciating its ambition. De Cock recreates the death of his father through animation, live-action and photogrammetry, the scientific technique of creating depth using multiple images.

What comes out is this sharply produced, personal experience that many would misunderstand if looked at on the surface. It's a brilliant experimental narrative.

"The Rocket Movies" - Carl Weingarten (Alameda, California)

A sweet, serene documentary adapted from the filmmaker's essay on his life, this film chronicles his childhood dream of flying in the sky and his passion for his Super 8 millimeter camera that he would attach onto rockets. 

Using archived footage, the nostalgic undertone plays through the film, exemplified by Weingarten's score. It's a beautiful story of a 12-year-old recognizing the limitations of humanity and fighting the odds to fly. The ending is circular, with Weingarten piloting a modern-day drone, going up in the sky, stagnant, looking down and never falling. 

"Dream Screen" - Albert Nigrin (Somerset)

This Lynchian short features disturbing flashing imagery, with mirrors pointed at the camera, repeated shots and dark lighting. 

This submission was not considered for the competition, as it was created by Nigrin, a lecturer in the Cinema Studies Program and the curator of the New Jersey Film Festival. 

The sound was wonderfully done, and Nigrin understood which elements could culminate in a sense of dread. Utilizing Super 8 millimeter and digital video, there's a bizarre sense of contrast when the film switches between the mediums. It was hallucinatory, strange, endearing, horrifying and engaging.

"Witchblossom" - M. Wild (Los Angeles)

"Witchblossom" is a whirlwind — it's a maximalist fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, horror and romance film.

There isn't any sense of storytelling or structure or characters. It's in total opposition to the traditional ideas of visual storytelling. Instead of a coherent world, every scene has a new set of rules, with all subtexts purposefully drowned out by bizarre ideas and acting. 

Nothing in this film was made to make sense. It follows the concepts of anti-cinema. It's actively meant to turn people away, but it still holds this intriguing aesthetic that makes it worth watching. The only accurate way to sensibly describe the film is to see it.

Still hungry for more films? Don’t worry! The New Jersey Film Festival will return this fall with its 43rd installment.

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