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New Jersey International Film Festival returns to spotlight

Singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler is set to perform as a part of the New Jersey International's new concert series. – Photo by @ebruyildiz / Instagram

As the weather begins to heat up, many New Jersey residents and Rutgers students are left looking for inventive ways to stay cool. For anyone tired of the usual beach trips or pool parties, the New Jersey International Film Festival is back with another collection of feature-length films and shorts to keep you refreshed.

On Friday, the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, kicked off the 29th anniversary of the festival with a jam-packed weekend. Filmmakers from around the world were celebrated, all within the comfort of Voorhees Hall and Milledoler Hall on the College Avenue campus. 

The 35 films were sent in from as far as Canada, Denmark, Portugal, Turkey and the United Kingdom, but New Jersey residents will recognize some familiar locations in Bridgewater, Maplewood, Palmyra, Princeton, Shamong and South Orange.

With more than 700 submissions coming in from across the globe, it took the dedication of a team consisting of media professionals, journalists, students and academics to meticulously review and evaluate each entry. Each work would be graded on a scale from one to 10, with only the higher-scoring entries advancing.

Then, it was up to Albert Gabriel Nigrin, a lecturer in the Cinema Studies Program and the executive director and curator of the festival, to make sense of all the finalists and curate a cohesive lineup for audiences.

"After the judges select the films, I try to find a home for them on our schedule," he said. "I try to group films that I think work well together. I think I do a good job doing that and many agree."

While audiences will be able to sit back and relax, the participants of the festival will likely be on the edge of their seats as their features compete for prizes, including the title of Best Feature Film. Winners will be announced on social media after the final screening next Sunday.

The first week of the event wrapped up on Sunday, but the rest of the projects will play next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For anyone unable to make the in-person screenings, the festival offers virtual showings through a video-on-demand service. Starting at midnight on the date of its premiere, films will be available online to rent for 24 hours.

But, anyone in the New Brunswick area should take advantage of the in-person screenings — this is where the festival truly shines. Aspiring filmmakers or devout cinephiles will be pleased to hear that there will be question-and-answer sessions with some of the filmmakers featured in the competition.

Tickets for single programs are priced at $15 for the general public and $10 for Rutgers students. Additionally, all-access festival passes are available for $120.

The festival is also set to culminate with a concert on June 15 headlined by singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler. Tickets are currently available for $25.

Despite the festival's focus on cinema, as Nigrin explains, music and film go hand in hand.

"A good soundtrack can truly enhance a film," he said. "I think music is a crucial element in any good film."

The introduction of musical guests to the festival is a relatively new wrinkle but a necessary one at that. Last September, guitarist Tim Motzer took the stage at the New Jersey Film Festival, marking its first real concert. In the fall, noise-ambient musician Jim Haynes will continue the growing tradition.

Nigrin views this new series as a way to "(reawaken) the dormant New Brunswick music scene," just as the festival did for the medium of film in New Jersey so many years ago. Even as the festival continues to evolve and broaden its scope, its main objectives remain the same.

"The goal has and always will be to keep showing great films and to challenge our audience at the same time," said Nigrin.

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