By Madeline Orton
Boasting its own arts district, and just a short ride from New York City, it’s no wonder why so many arts lovers call Montclair home. For one soon-to-be resident, though, it felt like there was something missing.
“A friend had moved to town. I was giving him a tour of Montclair, showing him the art museum, the art house movie theatre,” explained Bob Feinberg, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Montclair Film Festival and WNET Vice President. “He said to me, ‘So when’s the film festival?’”
Feinberg’s friend and NJTV General Manager, John Servidio, explained the genesis of the event. “From that, Bob Feinberg and I … started there about two and a half years ago, he built it up, and now it’s what you see now — a full film festival.”
“Montclair is a town with such a commitment to the arts and culture,” said Feinberg. “So many people [that] live here work in media, either here or in the city, that we really had the infrastructure.”
Residents, including one very familiar face, demonstrated that commitment to the arts by helping get the project underway.
“When I grew up in South Carolina, there was one called the Spoleto Festival, and as a young kid, I never thought I could get involved in the arts, but then the festival started in my hometown and that’s where I first performed,” shared Montclair resident and TV personality Stephen Colbert.
“Young people can see something in this that they can do in their lives,” said Colbert. “Or if someone’s interested, they could meet the people who could inspire them to do the same kind of work.”
Festival founders hope the event’s reach extends to other attractions in Montclair and bolster tourism in the city.
“We talked a lot about what we wanted to achieve, which was to spur on the arts in our community of Montclair, and to stimulate restaurants and businesses, and really become a place that people know what’s going on in Montclair and how great Montclair is,” explained Evie Colbert, Montclair Film Festival Board Secretary.
The people have spoken. This year, Montclair garnered four JerseyArts.com People’s Choice Awards including Favorite Downtown Arts District and Favorite Film Festival as voted by arts fans across the state.
The support for Montclair continues to grow as the community gained two more fans in the process—Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen and her husband, Artistic Director Thom Powers.
“We came to do the film festival last year… from Manhattan where we were living, and we really fell in love with the town,” Neihausen shared. “The second the film festival ended, we put our Manhattan apartment up on the market and it was sold the same month last May.”
Whether recent transplants or long-time residents, film festival fans are looking forward to hosting the event for years to come.
“It’s wonderful for the town,” said resident John Reichman. “Montclair has always been on the map, but this is just something extra special. So I think that people from all over are coming here, as it should be.”
Feinberg hopes the festival continues to grow and to reach new heights in the future. “We’re hoping that we’re going to create, ultimately, what I would think of as a destination film festival. People will come to Montclair, stay for a couple days … and then think about Montclair in the future when they want to come back for a place to visit.”
The Montclair Film Festival runs through May 5.
Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.