ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Newark International Film Festival brings cinema back to birthplace of film

BY Lyndsay Christian, Producer and Correspondent |

Cinephiles and film stars will converge on Newark this weekend for the second annual Newark International Film Festival. A three-day feast of film screenings, master classes, panels and parties. That could pump an infusion of cash into the Brick City. Lyndsay Christian sat down with the festival’s founder Kenneth Gifford.

Christian: Kenneth, congratulations on your second Newark International Film Festival. I know which you founded, which that’s a big deal. You’ve received over 800 film submissions from around the world, which is significant. That speaks to the fact that Newark is not only one of the top 10 cities in the nation for arts and culture, but it’s the birthplace of film. Talk to me more about that.

Gifford: Absolutely. So, we got 826 submissions from 66 countries. And, when it comes to Newark being the birthplace of film, it was invented here in 1889 by Hannibal Goodwin. He was a priest on Broad Street and he wanted to find a way to make his Sunday school lessons a little bit more interesting so he invented celluloid film. A lot of people think it was Eastman Kodak that invented it, but it wasn’t. He actually ended up suing Eastman Kodak and he won. In 1900, he got $5 million towards copyright infringement. Unfortunately, he died on Dec. 31, 1900 so he never got a chance to spend the money. But, it gave validity to the fact that Newark is the birthplace of film. It’s where it all started.

Christian: It’s a great history lesson there. So, let’s talk about the festival. Three-days, jammed packed schedule, what can people expect?

Gifford: It’s going to be absolutely amazing. We have a lot of celebrities, we have classes, Lamman Rucker from “Greenleaf” is teaching an acting class on Friday morning. We have the Tate brothers — Larenz, Larron and Lahmard, doing a Q&A about the new face of independent Hollywood. We have Lance Gross. Eva Marcille is our ambassador. She’ll be here all weekend hanging out in the city and talking to people about her new projects and how to get into the business. So, it’s going to be something absolutely amazing.

Christian: And something for all ages. You also have a youth program, I understand, that will be running in conjunction with the festival?

Gifford: Absolutely. Our youth program starts on Saturday morning and it will go up until 6 o’clock Saturday evening. The interesting thing about the youth project is we have about 30 different youths coming from other countries to the city to be a part of that. But, our youth program is part of our nonprofit foundation where we teach youth in something we call “Script to Screen.” We teach them how to write a project, how to produce it, how to edit it, and then shoot it all the way through and then they get to submit it into the festival.

Christian: I like that. So, it’s an education component. Thousands are expected to attend this festival. I see dollar signs for the city and the state. So, talk to me about the magnitude of an event of this capacity bringing in funds.

Gifford: So, the film industry is a money machine. It’s one of those industries that you definitely want in your city and your state. Hopefully, we will be able to get the tax credits back, but that’s what it’s geared towards. It’s geared towards bringing that industry back to the city. When you’re talking about having 800 some odd submissions coming from other countries, we’re going to screen 123 films which means all of those people are going to bring their families and their friends. They have to eat. They are going to want to shop. Each person who comes here will bring at least three people. When you’re out on a weekend at a festival, you’re spending at least $100 per person per meal. So, you’re talking about each person spending $400 on just the meals and the hotels, the air transportation, cabs, it’s a lot. So, it’s good dollars and the average festival can bring into a city, $500,000 to $1 million in revenue.

Christian: I know the mayor will appreciate that for sure.

Gifford: I hope so.

Christian: So, I know the festival will bring in a lot of profit, but you’re flipping the script and you’re actually offering a not-for-profit component in partnership with the Newark Office of Film and Television. Talk to me more about that.

Gifford: Yes, so throughout the year what we do is we run the program where we’re teaching residents and youth, local residents, how to get into the business. So, we give them a training program which is absolutely free. We do it all year long. We do it through Centers of Hope with the mayor. We do it through the Office of Film and Television in Ironbound Studios where they are allowed to come in, learn behind the scenes, hands-on cameras from Panasonic. We teach them everything from A to Z and give them a chance to get into the business. We had three individuals that came to Ironbound Studios about a year ago. They were all prisoner re-entry. We taught them how to do the business, how to work the cameras, how to be PAs [Production Assistants] and all three of them now are working on different projects in New York City and Newark. So, it’s just something that the city can be proud of, but it builds education, entertainment and employment.

Christian: There are a lot of benefits with the Newark International Film Festival, right? Community-based and giving back, too. Tell us more about how we can find out about the festival and all of the events. I’ve looked at the schedule and it’s pretty heavy.

Gifford: So, it’s definitely jammed packed. You can go to www.newarkiff.com or you can download our official app which is NewarkIFF, all one word, and that would give you all of the information you need to know about the festival, about on-goings and all of the projects and plans that are there. And, again, it’s year-round so it’s going to be up and you can come and join in a festival, join the programs and make it a great thing for the city.

Christian: We’re excited about the film festival.

Gifford: I’m glad.

Christian: Thanks for joining us, Kenneth.

Gifford: Thank you.