The fall 2019 edition of New Jersey Film Festival in New Brunswick, which begins this weekend (for complete schedule, visit njfilmfest.com), will include works from China, India, Spain, England and elsewhere. But the opening-weekend schedule will be capped, Sept. 15, by a documentary filmed not far from where it will be shown.
“Two Trentons: An American City Speaks” is an in-depth look at both the problems currently besetting New Jersey’s capital city, and some of the positive things going on there. The “two” refers to the very different flavors the city has in the day and at night.
Producer Joseph Hulihan and director Brad Mays see the city’s arts scene as essential to its revival. “So I’m thinkin’, without the arts community, there kinda isn’t much here,” says Jim Gordon, a retired Trentonian interviewed in the film.
Hulihan and May spend a lot of time exploring the annual 24-hour Art All Night festival, encompassing visual arts, music, film and more. Last year’s festival was the site of a gang-related shooting that resulted in one death and 22 injuries, and they include some footage of the chaos; this year’s festival, they note, took place without incident.
“A shooting isn’t going to stop us,” says documentary photographer Edwin Torres, interviewed in the film. “I just hope it’s eye-opening.”
The film offers a portrait of the city that is rich, but also a bit scattered. It looks at nightclubs, galleries and coffee shops, and various non-profit organizations and activists trying to do good in the city. It provides some historical context, and some academic explanations of the city’s woes by experts in various fields. In a radio interview that is included in the movie, Hulihan explains that he is a neurologist whose path to making this film began when he became aware of how much the problems of crime and mental illness are intertwined.
Hulihan and Mays include footage of Gov. Murphy giving a speech at Art All Night and talking about the city’s “enormous opportunity and upside ahead.” They also let a number of Trenton residents tell their own stories about how they were able to get their lives back on track after incarceration and/or substance abuse.
These stories are compelling in their own right, but don’t really have anything to do with Trenton; they could be the stories of survivors in any gritty urban setting. Still, they do what “Two Trentons: An American City Speaks” does, in a larger sense, focusing on the positive while not ignoring the negative.
“Two Trentons: An American City Speaks” will be shown at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., as part of the New Jersey Film Festival. It will be preceded by two short films, “On Vinyl: Revival and Survival” and “Ex Disposer,” and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with director Brad Mays. Visit njfilmfest.com.
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