The last weekend of September and the beginning of the autumn season will see two film festivals playing here on Delmarva at the same time, the Newark Film Festival, which starts Thursday, Sept. 23, and the Chesapeake Film Festival, which starts Friday, Sept. 24. Both festivals will bring about two dozen films each. The Chesapeake Film Festival runs for three days until Sunday and the Newark Festival will run for over one-week until Oct. 3.
Thursday's opening night film in Newark is Grease: Sing-A-Long, which a recent Twitter comment described as "The Original High School Musical - now interactive!" The hit 1978 film starring John Travolta is subtitled with the lyrics to all the songs, encouraging fans in the theater's audience to join in.
Friday's opening night film in Easton for the Chesapeake Film Festival is Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, the documentary that shines a light on a rare interview with the young black artist from Brooklyn. The woman who conducted that rare interview 20 years ago, director Tamra Davis, will be in attendance to talk about her film and her friend.
Both festivals will showcase this year's Oscar-nominated, animated film The Secret of Kells as well as this year's Sundance Festival hit Winter's Bone. Look to The M Report for reviews of each of these movies.
For the Newark Film Festival, former head hunter and event organizer Barry Schlecker is taking over the Newark Cinema Center 3 for the sixth time as well as the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. Artistic director Doug Sadler announced in August that the Chesapeake Film Festival will have six venues in Talbot county and was adding one more, new this year, Cambridge's Gallery 447.
And not just Gallery 447, the entire city is welcoming the Chesapeake Film Festival. Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley said, "Having the festival in Cambridge enriches the culture of our community."
Coming on board as lead sponsor is the Hyatt Regency. Braedan Quigley, the Hyatt Director of Sales and Marketing, noted the hotel was proud to be involved and looked "forward to the added entertainment and cultural opportunity it will bring to our resort guests and neighbors."
Cambridge is of course the main city in Dorchester county. Amanda Fenstermaker, Director of the Dorchester Tourism office, included, "We are delighted. Participants... can also enjoy downtown boutique shopping, gallery browsing, and delicious dining."
Sadler said the point of the Chesapeake Festival is "to bring the best in film from around the world to the Eastern Shore." 70-year-old Schlecker had a similar purpose for his Newark Festival. Residents of Delaware, especially those of Kent and Sussex counties don't have independent, foreign or documentary films as options in theaters. Schlecker said he decided to do something to provide film enthusiasts in the First State the movies they weren't getting on the big screen normally.
New this year at the Newark Fest are the lower ticket prices. The economy has not been the best for people this past year, so Schlecker reduced the cost for adults to $7 down from $9. Reduced prices for students and groups are also available.
To help cover costs and spread the word, the Newark Film Festival has local sponsors like El Tiempo and the News Journal. In fact, the University of Delaware is also sponsoring. The school will publish a copy of the festival's schedule, over 50,000 to be placed inside the News Journal newspaper prior to the festival's opening.
Schlecker says he is getting support from the city of Newark just as Cambridge. Local restaurants like the Saigon Vietnamese restaurant as well as the Mayor of Newark, the Honorable Vance A. Funk, III, have pitched their support. Support also came from the Delaware Independent Filmmakers group (DIF). DIF produced ads, which will run during the festival and for the sponsors' personal use.
Starting Thursday afternoon and running till Saturday, the Newark Festival has a special double-screening of the popular Swedish, crime-thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire. Both revolve around a computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander and her involvement with an ex-journalist that exposes her abusive past.
Other notable foreign films playing at the Newark Fest are The Secret in their Eyes, the Oscar-winning Argentinian movie about an ex-judge writing about an unsolved murder case, as well as I Am Love, about a Russian immigrant who marries into a wealthy Italian family and starts to have an affair with a younger man.
Starting Saturday morning, the Chesapeake Festival will also provide a wealth of foreign features. The controversial, black comedy and Cannes winner from Greece Dogtooth centers on three teenagers confined to their parents' country estate. Terribly Happy was the official submission to the Academy Awards from Denmark. Two in the Wave is about Frances Truffant and Jean-Luc Godard. Both are documentaries.
The Newark Festival is offering some very compelling documentaries as well. Enemies of the People is about journalist Thet Sambath's interviews of the perpetrators of Cambodia's Killing Fields. Waking Sleeping Beauty revisits the Walt Disney Company and the animators who revitalized it back in the late 80s and 90s. My choice for the best documentary and indeed the best film at the Newark Festival is Exit Through the Gift Shop.
For a full review of Exit Through the Gift Shop, check out the festival review section of The M Report.
The majority of films playing at the Chesapeake Festival are documentaries. Two of the most outstanding ones are the Oscar-winner Music By Prudence, the story of a disabled girl in Zimbabwe who is discovered to have the gift of music, as well as Sebastian Junger's study of a dangerous, Afghanistan outpost called Restrepo.
One doc spotlighted at the Chesapeake Fest is Freedom Riders, which is being presented in partnership with the Frederick Douglas Honor Society. Director Stanley Nelson is expected to attend and discuss. Harriette Lowery of FDHS says, "This event can be very positive for our community. The film makes a very powerful statement on the conditions of our country during the 60's and we are pleased to be a part of this event."
Local filmmakers or filmmakers from nearby regions have submitted their films. Steve Gonzer is premiering No Denying: Righteous Gentiles, the fourth in his series about Delawareans who bore witness to the Holocaust. Gonzer has premiered each of his previous works at the Newark festival. Another filmmaker who is no stranger to the Newark Festival is Anthony Spadaccini who will be bringing Post-Mortem, which is the third film in his serial killer series. Student journalists at the University of Delaware are also showcasing their film Left Behind, an investigation into their school's acquiring of the adjacent DaimlerChrysler assembly plant.
At the Chesapeake Film Festival, students of American University are showcasing their film Life on the Chesapeake, which follows watermen in the midst of the area's changing economy. Jennifer Shea in conjunction with the Tilghman Island Museum has produced Growing Up on Tilghman, about 11 residents of the beautiful Tilghman Island, and Matt Porterfield will screen his naturalistic elegy Putty Hill, set in Baltimore.