It’s 150 films, in 10 days, in six venues. In other words, it’s a lot.
The Montclair Film Festival is edgy, exciting, overwhelming — especially overwhelming. How to navigate a festival that hop-scotches all over the town, and takes in not only films but parties, panels, contests, special star appearances?
Here’s some help from festival executive director Tom Hall. Hacking a path through the thicket of great offerings, he provides his own curated list.
Here are some films he likes — just because.
“Band Aid,” directed by Zoe Lister-Jones. Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”) heads the cast in this comedy about bickering marrieds who form a band. “It’s a terrific relationship comedy, that incorporates really great original music and has a real pop sensibility that we thought was perfect for our audience,” Hall says. 7:30 p.m. May 6, Wellmont Theater.
“Brave New Jersey,” directed by Jody Lambert. A period comedy about panicked New Jerseyans fleeing a nonexistent Martian invasion during the 1938 Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. “It’s a throwback to a very fun kind of comedy you don’t really see any more in independent film,” Hall says. “It’s a period piece that’s done very well, very light, but very sweet, with a big heart.” 7:15 p.m. April 29, Clairidge 1; 2:30 p.m. April 30, Clairidge 1; 11:30 a.m. May 2, Bellevue 1.
“Lady Macbeth,” directed by William Oldroyd, about a 19th century English woman sold into a loveless marriage, based on Nikolai Leskov’s novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.” “It’s a masterpiece, probably the strongest drama in the festival, and a film that has an incredible pedigree,” Hall says. “It’s played Toronto and Sundance before our festival, and it’s a classic art film that people will remember at the end of the year. 7:15 p.m. May 5, Bellevue 2.
“Avenues,” directed by Michael Angarano. A New Yorker gives his best friend a tour of the town, as they hash out their relationship. “It hearkens back to the talky New York City comedies of the 1970s — like (John) Cassavetes and Woody Allen, in that sort of chatty, sophisticated way,” Hall says. 6:45 p.m. May 6, Bellevue 2.
“Strong Island,” by Yance Ford. A searing documentary about a murder (the director’s brother, as a matter of fact), and the broken judicial system that allowed his killer to escape. “It’s an incredibly powerful first-person documentary that is a call for justice and healing for a family,” Hall says. “The first-time filmmaker has done an amazing job.” 4 p.m. May 6, Clairidge 1; 1:45 p.m. May 7, Clairidge 1.
Here are five festival offerings that, Hall believes, are likely to go on to bigger and better things. Next year, at Oscar time, you can say you saw them when.
“Step,” by Amanda Lipitz. A step-dancing team in inner-city Baltimore, and the festival’s opening night film. “It ticks all the award boxes,” Hall says. “The story is incredible, the filmmaking is incredible, it’s a feel-good movie that is empowering to it’s subjects. It’s one of the best documentaries we’ve seen this year.” 7:30 p.m. April 28, Wellmont Theater.
“Casting JonBenet,” by Kitty Green. A look back at the infamous child-murder case that also looks at the way we look at it. It’s been acquired by Netflix, so expect to see more of it. “It explores both the mythology of filmmaking and acting, and this sort of true-crime story at the same time, on multiple levels,” Hall says. 7 p.m., April 29, Bellevue 2.
“Patti Cake$,” directed by Geremy Jasper. An unlikely rapper, played by Danielle Macdonald, copes with the reality of life in central Jersey (the film was shot in the Linden area), while dreaming of fame as a hiphop artist. You’ll be hearing more about Macdonald, who is creating quite a splash, Hall says. “It’s a breakout performance,” Hall says. “The New York Times said it was the best debut performance since Jennifer Lawrence.” 1 p.m. May 6, Wellmont Theater.
“The Reagan Show,” directed by Pacho Velez, Sierra Pettengill. Documentary assembled from archival clips of the off-script Ronald Reagan, who is apparently a lot less polished than his media handlers made him look. “It’s about how the media collaborated with the administration to portray him as a strong, competent leader, when that may not have been so much the case,” Hall says. “It has a lot of parallels to our time, and I think it’s going to attract a lot of attention because of that.” 2 p.m. May 6, Bellevue 2; 5 p.m. May 7, Bellevue 1.
“The Hero,” directed by Brett Haley. An aging film star, played by Hollywood veteran Sam Elliot, is adrift in contemporary L.A. “It’s a career-defining lead performance by him, and it’s going to attract a lot of attention at award season,” Hall says. “It’s a movie about the end of an acting career. It’s about Hollywood. It’s about all the stuff that the awards season is looking for.” 6 p.m. April 29, Wellmont Theater.
More Montclair Film Festival coverage:
Montclair Film Festival, April 28 to May 7
- Cinema505/Box Office, Investors Bank Film & Media Center, 505 Bloomfield Avenue
- Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University, 1 Normal Avenue
- Bow Tie Bellevue Cinemas, 260 Bellevue Avenue (Upper Montclair)
- Bow Tie Clairidge Theater, 486 Bloomfield Avenue
- Montclair Kimberley Academy, Upper School Campus, 6 Lloyd Road
- The Wellmont Theater, 5 Seymour Street
- Regular screenings: $14 general, $12 member
- Special screenings: $20 to $25 general; $18 to $22 member
- Matinees: $10 general, $8 member
- Opening night: $25 general, $22 member
- Combo tickets and ticket packs also available
- For complete schedule and additional information, visit MontclairFilmFest.org or phone 973 783-6435
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