The stars are coming to the Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey, which began on April 29 and runs through May 8. There are dozens of films to see, special events, conversations, parties and panels.
With an event this huge, one can be easily overwhelmed. To help you navigate the rest of the festival, I can recommend six compelling films that raise important social justice and political issues.
First, I should mention BETTING ON ZERO, which was already screened on Monday. This riveting financial docu-thriller and metaphor for corporate criminality and greed follows hedge fund titan and activist, Bill Ackman, who has been on a five-year crusade to bring down the $5 billion-in-revenue nutrition giant Herbalife. Ackman accuses the company of "fraudulently deceiving poor people into investing in a fictitious business opportunity." Herbalife execs defend their product and accuse Ackman of being a market manipulator out to make a financial killing.
CAMERA PERSON is showing Thursday, May 4 at 8:45. Drawing on footage she's shot over the course of 25 years, the award-winning documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson takes you behind the camera, literally, to show you what she does to bring a film to life. Known for her work in many impactful films, (Fahrenheit 9/11, Darfur Now and Citizenfour, among many others), she deals with the thorny questions of permission, power, and the obligations that come with filming the lives of others. She also explores how filmmakers follow a story, what is story, and the importance of framing shots. Her films that reach around the globe are known for discovering the truth.
MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE is showing Friday at 5:45 and Saturday, May 7. Taking its title from Angelou's triumphant poem on liberation, this is the first documentary that chronicles her life. The directors got unfettered access to never-before-seen archival footage, to uncover her unlikely ascent from calypso singer and dancer, to book author, poet, actor, and inspirational civil rights activist.
WEINER is showing Saturday at 2pm. This film follows the disgraced progressive New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign, while exploring the today's political world.
MISS SHARON JONES! is showing Saturday at 7:30. This new documentary feature film on the life and music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings debuted at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple film will close Festival film and award will be announced. It focuses on the soul singer struggle through pancreatic cancer in June 2013, which looked like it would end her career. She overcame it and returned to live touring in November of that year and went on to release her critically acclaimed sixth LP, Give The People What They Want.
MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS, showing Sunday, May 8 at 6:45. When her insurance company refuses to pay for the care her husband needs to survive, Sonia confronts an uncaring bureaucracy takes things in her own hands and fights the system. A MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS is a tense hostage thriller with a nuanced sociopolitical commentary. An expertly executed look at fury in the face of injustice, the film delivers on the tension and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
This Saturday, May 7, Jon Stewart and his wife Tracey Stewart will be attending the festival to introduce the film UNLOCKING THE CAGE. Stephen Colbert and the directors of the film, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, will be joining the Stewarts. Screening at 2:30pm, UNLOCKING THE CAGE follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his efforts to break down the legal distinctions that separate animals from humans.
Based on the reality that cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights, Wise filed unprecedented lawsuits seeking to transform the legal status of chimpanzee from an "animal" with no rights to a "person" with legal protections. Using testimony from medical and scientific experts, interspersed with clips of animal abuses, the directors of UNLOCKING THE CAGE capture the intimate look at a lawsuit that hopes to transform our legal system, and Wise's lifelong quest to protect and humanize animals.
Jon and Tracey Stewart are partnering with Farm Sanctuary, America's leading farm animal protection organization, to open the organization's fourth location at their New Jersey farm. Farm Sanctuary operates three shelters in New York and California that provide lifelong care for nearly 1,000 rescued farm animals, works to change laws to decrease abuse of farm animals, and promotes compassionate vegan living.
In addition, MTV icon and radio host Sway (aka Sway Calloway), will attend this festival on Wednesday, May 4 to accompany his film THE CYCLE as it screens during the NARRATIVE SHORTS PROGRAM. The former rapper and MTV VJ hosts the popular breakfast show 'The Wake Up Club'. His new short film tackles the cycle of police violence against black men.
The Narrative Shorts Program commences at 8:45pm on Wednesday, May 4 and Sway will be present for a Q and A afterwards. The festival ends this Sunday but there are many upcoming events in this year's line-up including screenings of PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW and BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN.
John Atlas is the author of the book SEEDS OF CHANGE.The Story of Acorn, America's Most Controversial Anti-Poverty Community Group. Vanderbilt U.Press 2010. He is working on a new PBS, Sundance and Tribeca Film Festival supported documentary on Acorn.