A cheerful return to the films in person as the Montclair Film Festival begins

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Crowds gather in the plaza outside the Wellmont Theater after the screening of “The French Dispatch” on Thursday, October 21, the opening night of the Montclair Film Festival. This year marks both the festival’s 10th anniversary and a return to in-person film screenings after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to go virtual in 2020. (NEIL GRABOWSKY / COURTESY MONTCLAIR FILM)

By ERIN ROLL
For the Montclair local

“Good evening and welcome to the movies.”

The announcement, from Montclair Film founder and board chairman Bob Feinberg, was met with enthusiastic applause from the sold-out crowd at the Wellmont Theater on Thursday night, October 21.

It was the opening night of the Montclair Film Festival, marking both its 10th anniversary and the long-awaited return of in-person film screenings.

The festival began with the screening of “The French Dispatch”, the latest film by director Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”).

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“The French Dispatch” is the story of a New York magazine of the same name, published in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé by a team of eccentric American writers and publishers. The stars of the film include Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Lea Séydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray.

The show was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., but the start of the show was delayed due to the massive line of customers waiting to be screened and admitted. Customers were asked to show proof of vaccination along with their tickets and ID before being admitted to the theater.

The long line extended up the ramp to the South Fullerton parking lot and curled up once before spilling out again onto the sidewalk of South Fullerton Avenue.

But the long line allowed many people to greet friends and exchange hugs.

“It feels like a citywide reunion,” resident Alma Schneider said as she stood outside the theater after the show. “And I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.”

Montclair Film Founder and Board Chairman Bob Feinberg, left, and Board Chair Evelyn Colbert address the audience at Wellmont for the screening of “The French Dispatch”. (NEIL GRABOWSKY / COURTESY MONTCLAIR FILM)

Mayor Sean Spiller and Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams were both present at the screening.

“We are delighted because the township has done the right things,” said Spiller, referring to the township’s health and safety requirements during the pandemic. Because of this, he said, life in Montclair might start to return to a new normal. “It’s just an exciting night.”

According to state data, 76% of the total population of Montclair is vaccinated and 90% of people over 18 are vaccinated. Both statistics put Montclair ahead of New Jersey in the overall standings.

Abrams said the festival was a celebration of the community at large and a sign that Montclair was a forerunner for other towns in the region.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced the festival, which usually takes place in the spring, to switch to other formats, such as drive-ins and virtual screenings. It passed in the fall of 2021.

“We are here, we are safe and we are all together,” said Evie Colbert, Chairman of the Board of Montclair Film. The past 10 years had seen a lot of growth for the festival, and she said the next 10 years would be even better. “The future is bright because Montclair Film is bringing films back to Montclair.”

Our Montclair: a new start for Montclair Film

Montclair Film has had to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-19 and a flood that caused heavy damage to its headquarters on Bloomfield Avenue – the second major flood in two years. Colbert said many in the community have already made donations and offers of support.

The festival kicked off in 2012 with a seven-day program of films and conversations. Since that time, Montclair Film has grown into an organization offering year-round programming of screenings, classes, workshops and other activities outside of the festival itself.

In addition to being the opening film of the film festival, “The French Dispatch” will also be the first film screened at the Clairidge Theater on Bloomfield Avenue. when it reopens on November 4, said Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall.

The Clairridge, which will now operate under the auspices of Montclair Film after closing last year as Bow Tie Cinemas, has undergone a major renovation and cleaning. A ribbon cutting for the theater took place on October 20.

Tom Hall, the executive director of Montclair Film, addresses the audience at the Wellmont Theater for the opening night of the group’s annual festival. (NEIL GRABOWSKY / COURTESY MONTCLAIR FILM)

In March 2020, Governor Phil Murphy ordered all cinemas and live entertainment venues closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clairidge management eventually shut down the theater completely, even as state regulations relaxed and other theaters began to return.

This year also marks the opening of a new pedestrian square in front of the Wellmont theater, as part of a $ 135 million arts district construction project. The square, which connects the theater to a new apartment complex and a parking lot, was also the location of a VIP after-party.

“For me, it’s like one of the bragging rights of being in Montclair is having this festival,” said Evan Cutler, who was one of the jurors on the festival’s Emerging Filmmakers competition for middle and high school students.

Asked what he was looking forward to during the festival, Cutler said he was particularly looking forward to the screening of Dionne Warwick’s documentary “Don’t Make Me Over,” scheduled for Saturday, October 23, also at Wellmont.

Gray Russell, the township’s former sustainability manager, said he remembers when the Wellmont was a one-screen cinema. The theater was converted into a performance hall in 2008.

Russell said he was also excited about the reopening of Clairidge and the opening of the new plaza in front of the Wellmont.

” I am delighted. I am delighted that, unlike last year, we are back in the cinema, ”he said.


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