Stephen, Evelyn Colbert do joint interview for virtual Montclair Film benefit; dates set for next fest

stephen and evelyn colbert Montclair film

Stephen and Evelyn Colbert in “The Future of Montclair Film.”

The Montclair Film Festival would normally be happening around this time of year. It’s not this year, of course, because of the pandemic. But in “The Future of Montclair Film,” a virtual benefit that debuted May 7, and its post-show virtual cocktail party, it was announced that this year’s fest will take place with in-person screenings and other events, Oct. 21-30.

It was also announced that “The Future of Montclair Film” — which will be available online for another week, at montclairfilm.org — has already raised $150,000.

“The Future of Montclair Film” was mainly devoted to an interview with Stephen Colbert and his wife, Evelyn Colbert, conducted at their Montclair home by Montclair Film executive director Tom Hall. Evelyn is the president of Montclair Film’s board of trustees; Stephen is a member of advisory board and has co-starred in annual benefits, over the last decade, in which he has interviewed people like Meryl Streep, Jon Stewart and J.J. Abrams.

The Colberts didn’t actually talk much about the future of Montclair Film, but they shared lots of memories about the past, including those annual benefits, and even played some amusing clips from benefits featuring Stephen Colbert with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and John Oliver. They also talked about Stephen Colbert’s talk show, which Evelyn has become more involved with during the pandemic.

Colbert said he took the “Late Show” job in 2015 partly because he loves performing for a live audience, and with his staff.

“But for the last year and two months now, something like that, no audience, no staff,” he said on “The Future of Montclair Film.” “They’re (staff members are) working, but I don’t spend any time with them. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s like trying like to defuse a bomb with mittens on or something. There’s no sensation at all. There’s some micro-nutrient that you pass with other people, for being physically with them. But it has nothing to do with what you communicate verbally or even visually. There’s something else going on. And that’s entirely missing on the show. It feels to me like I’m shouting my show into an empty Altoid tin, and then throwing it off an overpass onto the Interstate or something like that, going, ‘I hope someone finds that show!’ Because there’s no sense of feedback at all.

“When you do comedy … you know if it works. The audience makes this sound. And you go, ‘Oh, that worked. They made that sound that they make.’ And you know you’ve made this connection, and they’ve become this thing, and you can project that in your mind, and know what’s happening with the audience at home. But now, it’s all theory.

“The metaphor I’ve liked to use this year is, I learned to play this instrument through the last 30 years of my career. And the instrument is, like, the relationship with the audience, the laughter. And now I just go out every night and I just read sheet music. I just go, like, ‘Quarter note, eighth note, quarter note,’ like that … The audience does the singing. You’re like the conductor with the sheet music of the show in front of you. And that sound disappears.

“A year of that was fine. I’m ready for that to be over.”

Among the things Evelyn Colbert talked about during the benefit was her advocacy, over the past year, for New Jersey arts organizations negatively impacted by the pandemic (i.e., nearly all of them), through the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund.

“I think everybody understands the value of the arts,” she said. “I think we see it particularly with the sense of isolation that people have right now: How much we all long to be together. And I think we all long to communicate and feel something together, and so when we talk about the need to keep these arts organizations alive, it’s almost like a mental health appeal, right? There’s a social and emotional learning component to not just arts education, which is incredibly important to getting a lot of these kids in some ways back to normal, but I think we all have incredible loss that we’ve had over the past year, and so I think having a place to go to share a beautiful experience is what we’re craving.

“New Jersey has wonderful art institutions; we have to save them. And it’s been a really, really hard year.”

The Colberts both grew up in South Carolina but have lived in Montclair since 2000.

Montclair Film presents screenings and other events year-round, in addition to the festival. For more information, visit montclairfilm.org.

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