FILMS FROM NEAR AND FAR: “Seven Square Miles,” a documentary on the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy, is part of the eclectic lineup of films at Mill Hill Playhouse June 9-11.
By Anne Levin
Following a few stops and starts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trenton Film Festival is back to full strength at Mill Hill Playhouse next weekend. With 51 features — documentaries, experimental films, live action, and animated shorts — in 11 separate programs, the June 9-11 event touches on an impressive range of subjects and styles.
“I’m very excited about this year. The theme is almost like, ‘We’re back, baby,’” said Ned Kolpan, a member of the festival’s board of trustees. “We missed 2020, finally had it in August 2021, and then had it last year, but we only got about 80 submissions. I was worried. But this year, we had over 150 submissions, from local filmmakers and from filmmakers all over the world.”
The festival has gone through several permutations, with its modern iteration dating from about 2003. From the beginning, there has been a focus on local talent as well as films from around the world. “That’s what makes us unique,” Kolpan said. “We want to showcase what is going on locally, but also internationally.”
The gathering begins Friday, June 9 with two feature-length love stories paired with complementary shorts. Everybody Wants to Be Loved is from Germany, and Nargesi is from Iran. Saturday’s program starts at 11 a.m. with a group of documentaries including Bay St. Healer about Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Gordon Warme. “With unconventional insights, Dr. Warme resists the temptation to simplify human experience in pursuit of ‘healing,’ revealing himself as a doctor who, instead of theorizing about patients, is a participant in one of countless rituals that give relief to humans,” reads a description of the film.
Four more programs follow throughout the day, mixing live-action, animated, and experimental shorts from the U.S. and Brazil, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, and Ukraine. The Ukrainian short is a film diary from an 11-year-old girl. The Indian short profiles a young woman trying to keep her lesbian relationship from her traditional mother.
Films from the U.S. and the local region are the focus of four programs on Sunday. The day begins at 11 a.m. with 10 live action and animated shorts, including Frederick’s Unforgiving Flatulence and the science fiction film The Split. At 1 p.m., experimental films and narrative shorts will be screened, including a project from Rider University, Strands of Light, based on stories by Jorge Luis Borges.
Documentaries take over at 3:15 p.m., with two shorts and a feature, The Sun Rises in the East, about a Pan African cultural organization founded in 1969 that encompassed schools, food co-ops, and political action.
Seven Square Miles, about the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy, closes the festival. Directed by Lorna Johnson-Frizell, the film highlights a collective effort aimed at ending violence and crime in the city. With the help of a formerly incarcerated activist and a team of city residents, a young woman police detective creates a program whose goal is to support and mentor rather than punish those who are at risk for recidivism. Over the course of a year, the film follows the struggle to keep this small program alive.
Filmmakers are invited to attend and conduct Q&A sessions after the showings. Following the final screening on Sunday, an awards ceremony honoring films in various categories, plus an award for audience favorite, will follow a vote.
“We want to include our audiences in the process,” said Kolpan. “We want to be transparent.”
Tickets, ranging from $5-$25 depending on how many programs are attended, are available at trentonfilmsociety.org.