Upcoming film festival at ArtYard in Frenchtown is a cinematic ode to joy

by JAY LUSTIG
joy film fest artyard

The Barrett Sisters co-star in the gospel music documentary, “Say Amen, Somebody,” which will be shown at the Film Festival of Joy.

Think of it as the Joy of Flicks.

Also of song, spirit, community, comedy and love.

The ArtYard cultural center in Frenchtown is hosting a Film Festival of Joy, July 13-17, featuring a diverse selection of shorts, features, silent films, cartoons and documentaries. Filmmakers will be there to answer audience questions, and the fest wraps up with a gospel performance by the Paterson-based group Anointed Friends.

It all has been organized by guest curators Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, co-founders of Harrington Park’s boutique film distributor Milestone Films. And, Doros says, it couldn’t come at a better time.

“We’ve had two years of not being together, not being able to share things together, and I think we’ve all missed that,” he said. “So when the museum asked if we’d be interested in programming a film festival, and we started thinking about a theme, we thought, ‘Why not joy?’ The joy of being together, the joy of cinema, the joy of films in love with cinema.”

The eclectic selections of films complement each other, while offering plenty of surprises.

Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac co-star in “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”

Romantic love is on display, in Michael Powell’s transporting “I Know Where I’m Going,” with Wendy Hiller starring as a headstrong bride-to-be who finds that life, and rural Scotland, may have other plans for her. Amour is also centerstage in Jacques Demy’s lovely, candy-colored French musical “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (see trailer below), a tribute to classic Hollywood style starring iconic beauties Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac and set to a gorgeous Michel Legrand score.

Comedy is featured, too, with programs spotlighting silent clowns like Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, with live piano accompaniment from Ben Model. There are also classic animated shorts from Chuck Jones and the stop-motion geniuses at Aardman, assorted tongue-in-cheek, no-budget Hollywood remakes from “The Sweded Film Festival,” and trippy graphics from the pioneering Norman MacLaren, with his drawn-on-film images set to a jazzy Oscar Petersen score.

There’s real-life joy on screen, too, in three documentaries. The classic “Say Amen, Somebody” (see trailer below) explores the soul-stirring transcendence of gospel music, and the screening will boast the bonus of a live performance by Anointed Friends. Ned Sublette’s new “Tierra Sagrada,” premiering here, delves into the music and dance of Afro-Cuban culture and religion. And another new film, Marissa Holmes’ “All Day All Week: An Occupy Wall Street Story,” takes audiences inside the movement, and its dedication to nonviolent change.

But how does a political film fit the fest’s theme? “If you don’t think there’s joy in protest,” Doros says, “you’ve never been to a protest.”

The fest also includes an opening reception, talkbacks with visiting filmmakers, and a “come-as-your-favorite-Hollywood-character” costume competition. Tickets to individual events are $15, and all-day and all-fest passes are available as well.

The mini movie celebration is the second hosted by the non-profit ArtYard, which describes itself as an “interdisciplinary alternative arts center” and “an incubator for creative expression and a catalyst for collaborations that reveal the transformational power of art.” Located along the Delaware River, its campus includes a theater, artists’ residencies and changing exhibitions and live performances. (The Bread and Puppet Theater will be there July 23-24.)

“When we first saw ArtYard, we just fell in love with the culture, the people,” says Doros. “It’s a beautiful site, with a state-of-the-art theater, a gallery, a café — it’s really pretty revolutionary for New Jersey, all done truly first-class. And their commitment to diversity, and inclusion, and new audiences … that’s something we try to do ourselves, in our work. We wrote them a fan letter, and they wrote us back, asking us if we’d be interested in programming a film festival.”

A festival that hopes to bring people together again — in the theater, in the dark — to experience joy.

“Every group has its own ways of being together, and sharing the things that hold them together,” says Heller. “We’ve been apart from each other, physically, for so long — I think being in a theater, laughing together, is something we’ve all missed. And that’s something this festival is celebrating.”

For more on the festival, and other ArtYard offerings, visit artyard.org.

For more about Milestone Films, visit milestonefilms.com.

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