“This,” said New York Times media writer David Carr, interviewing actor Oliver Platt, “is like a little baby bird of a film festival.”
The metaphor was apt. Opening on the very day the well-known 11th Tribeca Film Festival wrapped, the fledgling Montclair Film Festival, which has been discussed and organized and dreamed about for two years, finally cracked open its shell. The opening night crowd of 500 seemed almost like parents at a piano recital — anxious to laugh at every joke and applaud every speaker and let all the organizers know that yes, they had done a very good job.
“The Oranges,” directed by Julian Farino, and boasting an ensemble cast that included Hugh Laurie and Allison Janney in addition to Oliver Platt, is a comedy set in West Orange, N.J. about two close families that implode over an extramarital affair. Janney is especially hilarious as a controlling middle-aged mom. If the audience was disappointed that, aside from an opening shot of a West Orange sign, the other locations seemed off (the Essex Fells Motel? Puh-leeze!), they mostly kept their disappointment in check. Although the film turned out to have been shot in New Rochelle, Carr did his best in the Q&A afterwards to keep it local by asking Platt which tunnel he’d taken to get from Manhattan to Montclair (Lincoln), and festival programmer Thom Powers — before dismissing the audience to the reception — reminded filmgoers their parking tickets would be validated, “something we love in New Jersey.”
Celebrities included rocker Dave Matthews, whose film company ATO Pictures distributed “The Oranges,” Stephen Colbert, who got off from work too late to make the film but managed to get there in time for the party, and of course Platt. Evelyn Colbert was a driving force behind the festival.
When fellow baristas Georgette Gilmore, Kristen Kemp and I cornered Colbert, he made gracious small talk, told us he was a reader (!) and mentioned how important it was to grow up in a town with an arts festival. Then he quipped, ”You’ll know it’s a real film festival when the filmmakers start having affairs with each other.”
Late in the reception, Bob Feinberg, the festival’s founder, told me the opening night was almost exactly as he’d pictured it.
“I thought about a banner across Bloomfield Avenue and I thought about all the signs and about doing an opening night in this theater,” Feinberg said. “I didn’t think about Dave Matthews, but that’s a nice plus.”
The six-day festival will run 49 events altogether and utilize the services of 263 volunteers. Eighteen events are already sold out. Tickets are still available for Wednesday night’s tribute to film star Kathleen Turner.
Here’s the Montclair Film Festival’s take on the evening: