3 Films Test Your Conscience at 2017 Montclair Film Festival

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By Anna Spiewak, Contributing Entertainment Editor

Evelyn “Evie” Colbert may be married to a famous late-night talk-show host, Stephen Colbert, but she is definitely her own person. The second part of that statement is especially true in Montclair, NJ, where the couple not only resides since 2000, but where Evelyn overseas one of North Jersey’s most esteemed film festivals.

She is President and Vice Chairman of the Montclair Film Festival, currently in its sixth year, which screens some of high caliber films straight out of Tribeca Film Festival for transplanted New Yorkers who don’t feel like crossing the bridge into the city to watch a quality film.

Being the wife of a famous comedian and the mother of three does now stop this busy lady. While Stephen helps out and hosts some of the film premieres and other events at the festival, it is Evie who works on a day-to-day basis with the festival team. She’s the liaison between the 25-member board of trustees and the staff. She’s also the head of the building committee that supervised the festival’s new $3 million new headquarters.

And the proof of her hard work and passion for the festival  is in the pudding.  Every year, around end of April, beginning of May, the festival draws large crowds to the quaint town, which turns into a giant movie theater for indie flicks and foreign films spread out across the downtown area, which screen documentaries and features alike that exercise your brain muscle.

And this year was no different. The community film festival presented three features that left the audience questioning their positions on morality, right and wrong and whether there should be exceptions to the rule.

When a terrible crime is committed, how far would you go to protect your child who’s the culprit? That’s the moral dilemma the main characters are faced with in The Dinner, one of the first films showcased at this year’s Montclair Film Festival.  Directed by Israeli-American Oren Moverman, this film premiered at MFF right after Tribeca Film Festival before it opened to the general audience. The film centers around a lavish course meal at a high-end restaurant with four adults—Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall who ponder  the future of their two sons after they commit a heinous crime.

Gere plays a politician, a Chicago congressman, up for re-election who also, ironically, happens to be the voice of reason in the film and is trying hard to do the right thing despite opposition from the other three. Amidst flashbacks and an eventual revelation that one of the characters suffers from a mental illness, the audience is forced to take sides and decide for themselves what is the right thing to do. The characters’ behavior reveals a lot of modern sentiments in today’s politically clouded climate, white privilege, sticking by your own, racism, right and wrong in face of injustice.  The two-hour film is based on a best-selling novel by Herman Koch and is currently playing in major theaters.

Another film at the festival that exercises your conscience is the The Strange Ones, which intertwines fact and fiction leaving the audience to make sense of what is in fact true. Directed by Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliffe, the film follows two brothers as they make their way across the remote American landscape while mysterious events unfold around every corner.  The film questions the “brothers’” true relationship, what they are running away from and who is telling the truth. Magic Mike’s enigmatic Alex Pettyfer takes time out from Hollywood blockbusters to star in this psychological thriller as the older brother; while Montclair born and bred 15-year-old James Freedom-Jackson plays his younger brother. The film questions your morals on child sexuality and murder, when is it right, if ever?

Lastly, it would not be a true festival of value if a foreign film was not put at the forefront. Directed by Jan Hrebejk, the Czech feature The Teacher, shows a school set in 1983 Communist Czechoslovakia when government ruled the roost, and teachers—extensions of the government—were the bosses. As one educator uses her position to take advantage of children and their parents’ job titles to make her life easier, the question remains, is it ok to help out each other out or do some go overboard to abuse their power in the name of communism? What if it goes too far and someone gets hurt? The film shows that no matter what form of government you are in, communism or capitalism, someone will always find a way to abuse their power and come out an opportunist. Even for someone, as this writer, who grew up in an Eastern European country and experienced the abuse and humiliation at the hands of communist teachers, this film shows a teacher going overboard until something bad happens to one of her students.

Once again the festival did not disappoint. Superb acting, direction and cinematography pull the reader in and don’t let go until credits roll. A big bonus to the festival: you get to ask the director questions during a post-film Q&A. For more information go to montclairfilmfest.org.

 

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