By KAREN RAPOLLA
The Monmouth Film Festival, which was founded by Holmdel resident Nick Marchese, made its debut at the Two River Theater in Red Bank in December.
The festival highlighted screenings of five feature independent films and 36 short films.
The independent films selected were narrative, documentary and student films, short and feature-length, from all over the state, country and across the globe. The festival kicked off with a networking event, hosted an industry panel discussion and concluded with an awards ceremony.
The festival’s mission is to connect independent artists and create an environment for artists to promote themselves and their work. The focus is on education, inspiration and creativity. The festival has received submissions from all over the world by filmmakers of all levels of experience.
The 21-year-old Marchese discovered the magic of films while growing up in Holmdel and enjoyed watching people have a good time.
“I began performing in school plays in middle school — I have alway liked making people laugh and have fun. Eventually, I began writing my own material, then directing and producing.”
He will graduate from Montclair State University in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in filmmaking.
Marchese chose Red Bank, already known as an up-and-coming hotspot for indie films, for the town’s central location and its unique and artistic reputation.
“My vision with this festival is to be a communication umbrella for independent filmmakers. I see it becoming even bigger in the years to come, incorporating education workshops, inviting even more industry people, giving the filmmakers the most exposure possible.”
He has plans to host the second annual Monmouth Film Festival again at Two River Theater in the fall of 2017.
“I will be reviewing the submissions in the spring of 2017, and again these independent films will include documentaries, short and feature-length films, narratives and independent-made flicks,” Marchese said. “I want to get the films in the festival in front of studios and distributors. We are here to inspire filmmakers — that is the heartbeat of my mission. A lot of distributors right now want films for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu.
“I want to be able to put these films in front of distributors from New Jersey and New York City and get them picked up.”
Bryan DeNovellis, a teacher at Holmdel High School and former TV anchorman, is impressed with Marchese.
“I am in awe at what Nick was able to organize with the Monmouth Film Festival. I knew Nick was capable of doing great things. I’ve known him for four years, and he’s always shown a high level of maturity and drive that people his age don’t normally exhibit.”
DeNovellis was amazed by the professionally organized event.
“But I have to admit after being here firsthand on Saturday, I was so impressed with the organization and the precision with which Nick ran the festival. It’s not just some local film festival. This was a first-class event at a first-class facility, the Two River Theater,” DeNovellis said. “There were featured films and short films entered which had won awards at previous film festivals across North America.
“Nick did a tremendous job of assembling a group of top industry professionals from film and television for the panel discussion on Saturday. I was honored that Nick asked me to lead the panel.”
When Marchese first had the idea to start a film festival in New Jersey, he immediately thought Red Bank to be an ideal and convenient location.
“It’s a hip town, convenient from New York City and centrally located, so I just followed my instincts and focused on my goal and dream. There is not a book with instructions you can point to that says, ‘this is how you put together a film festival.’ Maybe I’ll just have to write one someday,” Marchese said.
Marchese established the Monmouth Film Festival as a nonprofit, with all proceeds going back into future festivals.
“We want to champion independent filmmakers, offer more opportunities for them,” he said. “That’s the main focus.”
It is designed to promote and connect filmmakers from all over the state and country. The festival offers a unique and intimate platform where filmmakers of all levels can be seen, heard and interact with moviegoers, promoters and other artists.
“What an amazing first-year event this festival is. Everything was done first class with entertainment in mind. Two River Theater is a wonderful venue to host [an event],” said David Schoner, producer and owner of Great Mustachio Filmworks.
Scoring a double win at the festival, which included best New Jersey film and audience-chosen feature film, was the documentary “Swim Team,” directed by filmmaker Lara Stolman of Short Hills.
Stolman, whose background is in television and film, discovered the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team for teens on the autism spectrum while searching for swimming lessons for her own child. Even though her son did not join the team, Stolman was so moved and inspired by their positive attitude and drive, she knew she wanted to document the team’s journey for her documentary.
The film “Saving Dreams” has been accumulating multiple awards this year and won best trailer at the festival. Isioro Tokunbo Jaboro, director of the film and owner of True-Sail Production & Motion Pictures Inc., based in Toronto, Canada, was thankful.
“[The] ‘Saving Dreams’ movie picked up its 18th award from the 2016 Monmouth Film Festival. Thank you for an amazing experience, and we look forward to submitting to next year’s festival,” Jaboro said.
Marchese said that the selection process had high standards, and over 300 films were submitted and reviewed.
“Even if a film did not take home an award, it was an honor for every film that made the competitive cut to be in the Monmouth Film Festival. We viewed so many films — it was an intense process to make the selections, and we have been privileged to hear praise from so many respected local film critics of the marvelous selections we showcased and how the films were scheduled,” he said.
The Monmouth Film Festival concluded with an awards ceremony for the winning films:
- “Shortwave” for best feature narrative, directed by Ryan Gregory Phillips;
- “Jackson” for best feature documentary, directed by Maisie Crow;
- “Swim Team” for best New Jersey film, directed by Lara Stolman;
- “Apocalypse Rock” for best short narrative, directed by Brian Pennington;
- “Twin Days” for best short documentary, directed by Alex Markman;
- “The Duke: Based on the Memoir ‘I’m The Duke’ by J.P. Duke” for best student film, directed by Max Barbakow;
- “Gorilla” for best foreign short film, directed by Tibo Pinsard;
- “The Rainbow Kid” for best foreign feature film, directed by Kire Paputts;
- “Saving Dreams” for best trailer, directed by Isioro Tokunbo Jaboro;
- “Blue Roses” for best screenplay, written by Michael Smith;
- “Swim Team” for audience choice feature film, directed by Lara Stolman;
- “Injection” for audience choice short film, directed by Michael Urbanski;
- “2 Brothers” for audience choice student film, directed by Shivaan Makker.
“I really believe this is only the beginning for Nick and the Monmouth Film Festival. It’s going to get bigger and better every year,” said DeNovellis.
For more information, visit www.monmouthfilmfestival.org.