RBIFF bigger, better and won’t be stopping soon

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

RED BANK — Two film festivals and a year-round program of independent films have fulfilled the Red Bank-based Freedom Film Society’s mission of offering local audiences an alternative to commercial cinema and providing a venue for the work of filmmakers working outside the mainstream.

"Part of our mission is to create a forum for independent filmmakers in which they can get exposure," said Michael Lucio Sternbach, a film society founder. "We’re amazed at how many Monmouth County filmmakers are out there. If we can create a network for them, we’ll be happy."

Only in its second year, this summer’s Red Bank International Film Festival (RBIFF) 2002 doubled its budget and tripled the number of films presented during the five days and nights of screenings at the Clearview Cinema on White Street.

"Last year we showed about 20 to 25 films," said Sternbach. "This year we showed more than 75. We had over 40 hours of programming."

A record number of submissions were received, he said.

"Last year we had 120-125 submissions. This year we had over 350 from all over the world," he said, adding the entries were more varied this year.

"We have a range of filmmakers: from those who have no budget whatsoever to production companies that have half-million-dollar budgets," he said. "It’s funny because sometimes the best work is something somebody shot in their back yard, not the one that cost $200,000."

Illustrating Sternbach’s observation is the success of indie filmmaker Dan Blank, whose short film won the festival’s Best Animation award.

A 2001 graduate of the film program at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, Blank invented his own method of creating an animated film using a digital still camera.

"I didn’t have the money to shoot on film and I couldn’t get good enough results playing with a video camera," he explained. "It was the best way to do it. I’ll probably be shooting all my projects that way.

"Festivals attract people interested in this type of film," explained Blank. "They’re people who may know someone to help you make contacts. You need festivals because that’s the way it works.

"I just kept entering festivals for the past couple of months and I finally got into some," said Blank, 23. "People saw the movies and word got around and a couple of studios called me. It all kind of just happens."

Blank’s 15-minute film also won Best Animated Short Film at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June. There, he was competing with entries produced by professional filmmakers.

It took Blank two and a half years to complete the 15-minute Shadowplay. The short is about a young boy searching for his family in Hiroshima after the dropping of the nuclear bomb.

"It was something I read a lot about when I was younger," he explained. "The idea of a shadow stuck out. It’s a dramatic, metaphoric way of expressing my feelings about the whole subject matter, and it hadn’t been done before. I felt I should be the one to do it."

As a result of his festival successes, Blank has acquired a manager, is talking to studios about new projects, is writing several feature scripts, and is talking to distributors about putting Shadowplay online.

RBIFF founders say the festival has come a long way in just a short two years.

"Next year, it will be bigger," predicted Sternbach. "We hope it grows and grows," he said.

An all-volunteer group, Freedom Film Society organizers all hold down full-time jobs.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights this past summer," said Sternbach, who operates his own video production company. "We would go to work without any sleep after watching films all night.

"This has been a labor of love for all of us," Sternbach said. "We hope this will be the premier event for Red Bank."

He went on to say that the organizers hope to put the festival "on the map for the film community, so people will be excited about having a film premiere at the Red Bank Film Festival."

Another goal is to help bridge cultural differences. This year’s festival included a retrospective on contemporary Mexican cinema.

"We exposed not only American audiences to the ground-breaking work coming out of there, but we tried to bring out the local Mexican community to see it, and they turned out," Sternbach said.

"We are going to try to have more events that will bring the communities together."

Submissions are already rolling in and the film society is at work programming monthly screenings. A schedule is available on its Web site, www.rbiff.org.