Monmouth Film Festival Returns for its Second Year
When the second annual Monmouth Film Festival rolls into Red Bank next weekend, one of the top selections is a movie about the making of a movie — more specifically, one of the most famous movies in Monmouth County history. It’s called “Shooting Clerks.” And yes, it’s a biopic chronicling how in the early 1990s, a budding young director named Kevin Smith sold his comic book collection, maxed out a string of credit cards and corralled his friends to help make his first feature film: “Clerks,” a tale of two chatty, pop-culture-obsessed friends who work at the Quick Stop in Leonardo.
Fittingly, the Monmouth Film Festival will be held just seven miles away from the still-open convenience store, at the Two River Theater in Red Bank — the borough where Smith was born and owns a comic book shop downtown.
Call it a homecoming of sorts.
“Having the film come to Monmouth County is a big deal,” says its director, Christopher Downie.
“Shooting Clerks” will be screened on the final day of the festival, which runs Aug. 11-13.
But it’s hardly the only notable film at the event, which will feature 14 hours worth of independent movies. One film, “Lemon,” stars Michael Cerra of “Superbad” and “Arrested Development” fame.
There’s also a number of other films that take place in the Garden State — like “The Tramcar Girl,” which is set on the Wildwood boardwalk. And a handful of selections are directed by New Jersey natives — such “Tiny Worlds,” about a stick figure come to life, and “The Archivist,” a tale about a future in which we preserve our memories on 16mm film.
Here is a look at how festival came to be and a few of the films in this year’s lineup.
A few years ago, Nicholas Marchese was an 18-year-old from Holmdel who was suddenly gaining attention for a film he made called “My Brother’s Girlfriend.” While many kids his age were focused solely on school, Marchese traveled across the country as the movie was screened at festivals.
But soon, he noticed something.
“I realized I kept going away to festivals,” Marchese recalls. “And every time I came back to Monmouth County, I felt that something was lacking here. I felt it’s a very arts-heavy community, but it was missing a festival that really represented the best of New Jersey and the best of films from across the world.”
So he took components from all the different festivals he attended and put them into a new venture: the Monmouth Film Festival.
It’s not the only film fest in New Jersey. There are others in Asbury Park, Montclair, Atlantic City and even Rahway. But this one is growing quickly.
The first festival was held in December. Now Marchese, only 21 and just out of film school at Montclair State University, is putting on the second installment only eight months later.
Marchese says the event gets “hundreds and hundreds” of submissions from all over the world. And besides screenings, he says, one key component is that filmmakers get chances to network with people in the industry. There’s even a lounge for them to mingle in between showings.
Last year, two of the festival’s feature films were linked up with distributors. This year, the event has partnered with the New York Film Academy, and Marchese has a team of high school interns he is hoping to pass off knowledge and experience to.
“It’s all well and good to go to a festival and you show your film,” Marchese explains. “But what contacts do you leave with? Every time I talk to filmmakers, I ask them: What are you leaving with that you didn’t have when you came in?”
There is also a local focus to the fest. Ten of this year’s movies are from New Jersey, and there is an award given to the Best New Jersey Film.
“When we select films from the state, we try to find things that represent either culture from here or the atmosphere of New Jersey,” says Marchese.
Christopher Downie literally grew up an ocean away from where Kevin Smith did in Monmouth County, but the Edinburgh, Scotland native felt a connection to the off-kilter comedies that Smith became famous for making.
“I was a fan of Kevin growing up as a teenager,” says Downie, 32. “I found his movies interesting in as much as they were ahead of the game. They had the shared universe, the romantic comedy elements, various other things going on that weren’t necessarily going on in films of the same ilk.”
“Clerks” — or more specifically, the making of “Clerks” — especially resonated with Downie. Smith, then in his early 20s, financed the $27,000 picture himself and filmed it at night at the convenience store where he worked, using friends as cast and crew members. Eventually, it became the darling of the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and grew to be a cult classic, launching Smith as a new voice in Generation X moviemaking.
“The movie was made not just because Kevin wrote a good script and not just because Kevin directed it the way he did and not just because he plays Silent Bob,” explains Downie. “Those are elements that contribute to the film and make it what it is. But the film wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the support of his friends.
“Everybody basically took on a crew job in order to do it and really invested in his dream,” he continues. “And I really sort of attached myself to that, because that’s something a lot of my friends have done for me.”
Now, Downie gets to tell that story with “Shooting Clerks,” his first feature film after a series of shorts.
Like “Clerks,” “Shooting Clerks” was filmed in black-and-white. But don’t be fooled – it’s not a documentary and it’s not a mockumentary.
“It’s a fictional representation of actual events,” Downie says.
This actually Downie’s second foray into Smith’s universe. In 2013, he made “The Twelve Steps of Jason Mewes: Get Greedo,” a short about how Smith helped his friend Mewes — the Jay half of Jay & Silent Bob — kick his drug habit by tracking down a rare “Star Wars” figure.
The two actors who played Smith and Mewes in that film — Mark Frost and Chris Bain — reprise their roles in “Shooting Clerks.”
Also in the movie are a number of actors who were in “Clerks” itself, including star Brian O’Halloran.
“We even got the little smoking girl,” Downie says of the “Clerks” character who manages to buy cigarettes from the Quick Stop. “She appears in the movie. Obviously, she’s not a little girl anymore. She’s a woman. So she’s credited as ‘Smoking Woman.’”
And Smith himself makes a cameo as a journalist.
Marchese, the founder of the Monmouth Film Festival, notes that few films represent the spirt of the event and the atmosphere of New Jersey as well as “Shooting Clerks” does. In addition to the screening of that film, there will also be panel discussion featuring Downie; O’Halloran; and Robert Hawk, producer of “Chasing Amy,” another Smith film.
“It is an honor to be screening a film about “Clerks,” which is so important to this area and inspired so many actors and filmmakers to get involved in the industry,” Marchese says. “As a festival with a mission to educate and inspire filmmakers, this screening and what it stands for blends so perfectly with our mission.”
Alexa Werrlein, another young Jersey filmmaker, came up with a unique idea for a film while taking a class at Montclair State. A fellow student explained how he built terrariums, little glass containers with plants or figures, when he was little.
“I thought that was a really interesting thing: a boy and his terrariums,” remembers Werrlein, a 22-year-old Bridgewater resident.
The result was “Tiny Worlds,” a 10-minute movie — screening Sunday at the festival — about an introverted tinkerer named Ian who creates terrariums in his basement.
“He builds these little stick figure guys that kind of double as his friends,” Werrlein explains. “He has trouble fitting in the real world so he builds these worlds for himself.”
But Ian meets a girl and spends more time away from the basement. And as a result, a stick figure named Peter comes to life and begins to get jealous.
Werrlein originally had designs on being an actress when she was younger. She even acted in a couple of low-budget B movies that made their way to Netflix and Blockbuster.
“But as I got older, I would get so nervous to go to an audition, it started to become unenjoyable,” she recalls. “I started to realize I liked being behind the camera more. I’m very into taking things apart and putting them back together. Problem-solving.”
She’s about to direct her fourth film for her senior thesis, and she formed a film production company with her friends. Plus, she and her boyfriend do work as wedding videographers.
But, Werrlein notes, her “No. 1 aspiration isn’t directing.” Instead, she wants to be a director of photography — otherwise known as the cinematographer, the person who helps craft the way scenes are shot and what camera lenses and angles should be used.
Six years ago, tragedy turned into inspiration for Gregory Buracker.
Shortly before the Pennsylvania native went to college, Buracker’s father died. And that caused Buracker to wonder about something.
"I thought: What if there was a place I could watch all the memories of him?” the 23-year-old filmmaker remembers. “I pictured it all on film.”
And that led to “The Archivist,” a short film — screening Saturday at the festival — about a time in the future when memories are persevered on 16mm film reels kept in a library, and a man trying to prevent his from being stolen.
Buracker made mock home movies to include in the film. Only one of the shots is a real home movie — featuring his girlfriend’s grandparents visiting the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
The black-and-white film purposefully has a classic look to it. Those are what the movies Buracker grew up on looked like.
“I call this film my love letter to film,” says Buracker, who recently moved to Middletown and got a job as an assistant editor at Titmouse Animation in New York City. “It shows how nostalgic using film is and the beauty of the art.”
“THE TRAMCAR GIRL”
Lovers have met in all kinds of locations in movies throughout the years. In high school. Aboard the Titanic. Atop the Empire State building.
In “Tramcar Girl” — screening Sunday at the festival — a young woman finds love on the Wildwood boardwalk after finding a man buried up to his neck in Jersey Shore sand.
The film is a 10-minute love story made by three friends who met a few years ago at film school at New York University: Gerard Zara, Alex Tymchak and Daniel Lewinstein. Zara, a New Jersey native who spent his summers growing up in Wildwood, also stars in the movie.
“It does have a really strong New Jersey feel,” explains Lewinstein, a 25-year-old from Boston. “That was something we were really eager to capture.”
The film has a “very classical” feel, as well, Lewinstein says. It was shot using 16mm film.
“It has an old-school approach,” he says of the film, 90 percent of which was shot on location in Wildwood.