Festival showing 35 films this weekend

SPARTA. The fourth annual New Jersey Documentary Film Festival is at Sparta Avenue Stage.

Sparta /
| 12 Jul 2024 | 07:28

The fourth annual New Jersey Documentary Film Festival will show more than 35 documentaries from Friday, July 12 through Sunday, July 14.

They were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted by filmmakers from throughout the world.

Sparta residents Joshua and Jessica Nelson started the festival because they love documentaries and New Jersey did not have a documentary film festival, he said.

Joshua, a former professional actor and filmmaker who now runs an acting school in Rockaway, said he never tried to make a documentary.

”To me, they’re much harder to do. When you have a script, you know what you’re doing. You can follow it. You can hire actors and follow that script.

“A documentary - it’s life. You don’t know what you are going to get each day. ... It’s way harder.”

Documentaries may take three to four years to make, and in some cases, the filmmakers have followed their subjects for years. The winner of Best Documentary Award at the New Jersey Documentary Film Festival last year had filmed the child featured from age 5 to age 16, Joshua pointed out.

The Nelsons and others watch documentaries submitted throughout the year and sort them into piles of yes, no and maybe.

After the deadline for submissions passed about six weeks ago, they start putting together the festival schedule and grouping the films into themes.

’Like a buffet’

The aim is to show a mix of films by U.S. and international filmmakers on a wide variety of subjects.

“It’s kind of like a buffet. You want to have a little something to offer for everyone, but you want there to be as much quality as possible,” Joshua said.

The festival includes a group made by New Jersey filmmakers. Several of those are high school students.

The best documentaries are effective, educational and entertaining, Joshua said.

”We hope you leave feeling something and learning something. You watch a movie and sometimes you think, Wow. You watch a documentary and you think, Wow but it’s true.”

Among the ones being shown at the festival that he learned from are “How the Waves were Won,” about a competition among lifeguards at the Jersey Shore, and “The Carnival - 125 Years of the Penn Relays,” about one of the oldest running athletic events in sports history that he had never heard of.

Shorts and features

The short films range from 2 to 35 minutes, and there will be feature-length films of an hour or more. Filmmakers will answer questions from the audience after some screenings.

Joshua said films in the festival were made in the past few years and preference is given to those not available on streaming services.

Among the films to be shown this year:

• “American Pot Story: Oaksterdam,” about how a group at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., made cannabis history. It has won awards at numerous U.S. film festivals.

• “Alien Abduction - A Physical Case,” an award-winning drama about a couple who insisted that they were captured by aliens.

• “Don’t Look Away,” a short film about a person born with a deformity who wants to become an actor. Both the subject of the film and the filmmaker will answer questions after the screening.

• “My First Breath: The Story of Carl Gibson,” about a person who overcomes drug addiction by finding God.

Awards will be presented for Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best International Documentary and the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Award.

Grouped by theme

The festival is at Sparta Avenue Stage, 10 Sparta Ave., an intimate space with about 65 seats, Joshua said.

The documentaries are grouped by themes, such as “Sustainable Futures,” “Echoes of Humanity” and “Bizarre Journeys.”

The section, scheduled at 8 p.m. Friday, is devoted to New Jersey films, including “The Great NJ Debate: Pork Roll vs. Taylor Ham,” which was made by three high school students. Half of the ticket sales from that night will be donated to Benny’s Bodega, a nonprofit organization based in Newton.

Tickets are $12 for each segment and $25 for a VIP Festival Pass that includes admission to all segments.

For information, go online to njdocfest.com

The Nelsons also started the Fourth Wall Film Festival for all types of movies. The first one was held this spring at Sparta Avenue Stage, and the second one is scheduled May 3-4, 2025.

Friday, July 12
• Noon: The theme is “System Makeover.” Films are “Honorable But Broken: EMS in Crisis,” “Truth to Transformation” and “Shame on You!”
• 2:30 p.m.: The theme is “Sustainable Futures.” Films are “The Asbestos City,” “Mevo: From Farm to Feast,” “Save Our Soil” and “Stewards of the Land.”
• 5:30 p.m.: The theme is “Echoes of Humanity.” Films are “Sense of Urgency,” “Homeless Not Helpless” and “Look Up.”
• 8 p.m.: The theme is “NJ Homegrown: Turnpike Tales.” Films are “How the Waves Were Won,” “The Great NJ Debate: Pork Roll vs. Taylor Ham,” “Power of the Printed Shirt,” “The Clock Keeper,” “The Heel” and “The Fall Guy Fight.”
Saturday, July 13
• Noon: The theme is “Grit & Grace.” Films are “Come Home My Child” and “Brave -How the Mountains Saved My Life.”
• 2:30 p.m.: The theme is “Bizarre Journeys.” Films are “Alien Abduction - A Physical Case” and “The Unencumbered Life of a French House Fly.”
• 5:30 p.m.: The theme is “Unbroken Spirits.” Films are “Don’t Look Away,” “My First Breath: The Story of Carl Gibson” and “Upon Return.”
• 8 p.m.: The theme is “Justice in Action.” Film is “American Pot Story: Oaksterdam.”
Sunday, July 14
• 11:30 a.m.: The theme is “Unconventional Artistry.” Films are “Open Streets,” “Resurgence,” “Commuters” and “Tea is So Funny & Tough.”
• 1:30 p.m.: The theme is “Finding Freedom.” Films are “Stuck in Greece: An LGBT Refugee Crisis” and “Aftershock of a Trauma.”
• 4:30 p.m.: The theme is “Road to Gold.” Films are “The Carnival: 125 Years of the Penn Relays” and “12 Parts Per Million.
• 7 p.m.: The theme is “Love, Lox & Laughter.” Films are “Everything’s Kosher,” “Comedy on Rye: Katz’s First Comedy Show” and “Hakan - A Documentary About Chocolate, Creativity and Passion.”