‘Watching a film is a communal experience,” says William Lockwood, who has been curating film festivals in Princeton for more than 40 years. “Films were designed to be seen in a theater with other people — seeing a film at home works against the communal experience.”
Those looking for such an experience will find it over the next few weeks with the launching of two annual events: the Second Chance Cinema in Princeton (curated by Lockwood) and the New Jersey Film Festival in New Brunswick.
Both provide great opportunities to see films that have not been released in this area or have had a limited run.
And while the scope of both is vast, each offers a documentary about how people come together on global and neighborhood levels.
One film shows how art can connect an artist with a community a world away, and another shows how perceived rival groups can reach out to one another as neighbors to revitalize a community.
Second Chance Cinema is the Princeton Adult School’s annual winter-spring movie course; it opens its 18th season on Monday, February 4.
Through an on-going collaboration with Princeton University, the festival’s 12 films will be shown Monday nights at the Friend Center Auditorium in the Computer Science Building on the Princeton University campus (corner of William Street and Olden Avenue).
Since it is a Princeton Adult School course, registration for the complete series is available (see below). Depending on final course enrollment, a limited number of single admissions to individual screenings may be available at the door. The emphasis is on “may.”
Up first for Second Chance is “Oslo, August 31st,” set for Monday, February 4. This highly acclaimed film by Joachim Trier is about a day in the life of a 34-year old drug addict who drifts around Oslo, trying to find old friends and places that will anchor him to an allusive sobriety. Lockwood says, “His day grows increasingly difficult as he struggles to overcome the demons and ghosts of his past for a new chance at love and life.”
The above mentioned artist-and-community film is “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which covers three years in the life of the celebrated Chinese artist who has become the Solzhenitsyn of the Twitter and YouTube age.
Filmmaker Alison Klayman aims to show the power of art in the face of tyranny, says Lockwood. “She strikes the right balance between the artist’s public causes and his personal life.”
By the way, though Ai Weiwei is currently restricted from leaving China to see his installation, his imposing zodiac sculptures are on display in Princeton at the “Fountain of Freedom” next to the Woodrow Wilson School.
The film will close the festival on Monday, April 29.
Lockwood, whose day job is special programming director of McCarter Theater, feels that putting the Second Chance Cinema together is a labor of love.
He started presenting films in Princeton at the old Playhouse movie theater on Hulfish Street. Before television, computers, and smart phones, Princeton sustained two local movie theaters (the Playhouse and Garden theaters).
After the Playhouse closed, Lockwood created an art film series at McCarter in the 1970s. In the 1990s, VCR technology did away with bulky film reels and film projectors and made it possible for him to start a summer film series at the Kresge Auditorium on Washington Road.
With almost a thousand films to choose from, Lockwood edits his eclectic selections down to 12 gems, particularly searching for films that are flying under the radar. “I like to mix it up with independent and foreign films,” he says of this year’s selection of works from Russia, Turkey, China, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the U.S.A.
There are no intentional links, but some themes — children, money, and mental illness among them — come together serendipitously.
One film that Lockwood particularly wanted to highlight is “Margin Call.” That 2011 film written and directed by J.C. Chandor languished at the box office, though it dealt with a timely situation: the near collapse of the nation’s financial institutions.
Lockwood hopes that people are now ready for the film which, he says, remains “the best fiction movie to deal with the 2008 financial crisis. The disaster at a major investment bank during one 24-hour period involves its key players and could spell its downfall. The all-star cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Paul Brittany and Zachary Quinto.”
Though it opens on April Fool’s Day, it is no joke that Lockwood is also excited about Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret.”
After Lonergan’s critical success with his debut art house hit “You Can Count on Me,” he partnered with Fox Pictures in the making of “Margaret.” That partnership, however, was highly contentious, and “Margaret” was almost lost in the custody battle.
“It’s been around for years, but it was tied up in all kinds of distribution and legal problems,” Lockwood says. “It’s seven years old, and it was only released for about a week last year, but everybody’s been talking about it. It’s got some great performances, including J. Smith-Cameron, who’s (director Kenneth) Lonergan’s wife (and) Mark Ruffalo — there’s nothing he can’t do in my view, and he’s perfect in this role. And that opening scene is just harrowing.”
After living in Princeton for most of his 75 years, Lockwood has a good read of his audience. In fact, it seems to be part training and nature. Lockwood’s father taught at the university and was assistant director of its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His mother was a teacher at Miss Fine’s, now Princeton Day School.
While attending Princeton University, the future film coordinator ushered at McCarter, helped run the Triangle Club, and began his impresario career, presenting Hal Holbrook, flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya, and poet Carl Sandberg to the community. He continues to introduce Princeton audiences to new performing artists as well as neglected film treasures.
In New Brunswick, the New Jersey Film Festival is celebrating its 31st anniversary at Rutgers by premiering independent features and documentaries. The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, started screening its more than 50 scheduled films on January 25 and continues through Saturday, March 2, at Rutgers University, Voorhees Hall No. 105.
New Jersey Film Festival curator Albert Nigrin is also connecting community and filmmaking by including New Jersey artists.
On Friday, February 1, the festival screens “A Jaded Life,” a short film by Clifton filmmaker Alyssa Lomuscio. The 2012 film follows an obsessive-compulsive losing control of his job, relationship, and mind. Lomuscio will be on hand to talk about the film and answer questions.
Bordentown resident Susan Ryan’s film on a Trenton neighborhood, “From the ‘Burg to the Barrio” (recently screened at the Trenton Film Festival) is set for Friday, February 22.
The locally made and focused 45-minute documentary video was produced over a seven-year period by Ryan, along with co-producer Monica Fajardo, sociologist Rachael Adler, and students at the College of New Jersey, where Ryan teaches documentary production and film studies.
While the film focuses on Trenton, Ryan comes from Mills Falls in Massachusetts, where her father ran a family business. She did her undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts and received her master’s and doctorate from New York University.
She worked for more than a decade in film and television production with Academy-Award winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, maker of the celebrated 1991 film “Harlan County USA.” Ryan additionally produced for HBO, PBS, and several independent film companies.
Created on a fraction of a normal Hollywood budget, Ryan’s film chronicles people in the changing Chambersburg section of Trenton, including an older Italian couple who initially sound off about the negative changes brought about by the new groups coming in and then reminisce about the Italian glory days. The couple eventually point out how wonderful the people they have come to know are, letting the film put a positive spin on neighborhoods and attitudes in transition.
Paired with Ryan’s film will be Colonia filmmaker Thomas Francine, who will present his short “The Greater Good: A Hitchhiker’s Perspective” and be on hand to discuss his documentary about a young hitchhiker who has logged 26,000 international and domestic miles without a dangerous situation.
On Saturday, February 23, the festival continues to highlight state films with “The Dead Sleep Well” by Mark Loriot Mazzeo of Sewell, “The Boyz of Summer” by Antonio DiFonzo of Elizabeth, and Highland Park-based Josh Cohen’s “Scavengers.”
A complete listing of all New Jersey Film Festival offerings is available at its website (see below).
With Netflix, countless cable channels, and websites, viewers are now able to see more films and documentaries at home, but the smaller, independent films are often unavailable. When audiences go to these film festivals, its members benefit from the thoughtful choices made by the film lovers who coordinate the festivals. For a few hours, audiences members can drop into a different community and connect with a different world.
And if someone wants a “special feature,” as usually found on a DVD, there’s something very special at the festivals: the opportunity to ask direct questions to the filmmakers such as Ryan.
It also builds a community for film and film lovers. Just ask Lockwood and Nigrin.
Second Chance Cinema, Friend Center Auditorium, Computer Science Building, Princeton University. Opens Monday, February 4. Course registration for the complete series is available from the Princeton Adult School at 609-683-1101. Register at www.princetonadultschool.org or Reginfo.firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Jersey Film Festival, Voorhees Hall #105, Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Through Saturday, March 2. $8 to $10. www.njfilmfest.com or 848-932-8482.