A few months ago, an independent filmmaker residing in Los Angeles, Jonfaber Monsalve, had a conversation that would lead him on a quest to make Union City the go-to scene for filmmakers.
His cousin had just moved his family from New Jersey to North Carolina to find a better school system for his daughter after Gov. Christopher Christie’s cuts in school funding. The conversation led to how education cuts always seem to affect arts and music programs first.
Inspired, Monsalve envisioned a film festival that would mutually help area filmmakers and children’s arts programs.
“There comes a point when you just wait for things to get worse or you stand for yourselves,” he said.
“Monsalve brings a lot of expertise and energy into what he’s doing. It’s only up from there.” – Commissioner Lucio Fernandez
From there, Monsalve plans to play a major contributor to Union City’s arts-centric vision. By coupling film with worthy causes, he envisions the city to become the leader in the state when it comes to the arts.
Taking up residence in UC
Armed with his idea, Monsalve originally conceived on a more centralized venue for his film festival. With several doors shut in his face, he knew he had to look elsewhere. Travelling a bit more north, he received the support of Union City Mayor Brian Stack and the Board of Commissioners, especially Commissioner of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez.
“I was surprised, because a lot of other cities in New Jersey present themselves as being arts-oriented, but I didn’t find that much public support compared to Union City,” he said, listing the different programs the city offers, from art, to film, to music.
“Jonfaber really knows his stuff when it comes to filmmaking. It was a nice match for me, a nice fit,” Fernandez said. “Plus, it was no major cost to the city and also for a good cause. That’s a win-win situation.”
With the help of Fernandez, who “was very helpful in pointing [him] in the right direction,” Monsalve settled upon the new Union City Performing Arts Center for his venue.
Fernandez compared Monsalve’s film festival to the Nohu Short Film Festival held in Union City for the past three years.
“It’s a nice, welcome addition to that festival, but on a much larger scale.” he said. “Jonfaber brings a lot of expertise and energy into what he’s doing. It’s only up from there.”
Shorts with large appeal
Over a period of about two months, Monsalve pulled together a film festival out of his own pocket in which “80 percent of the entries would put this year’s Hollywood offerings to shame,” he said.
He received over 300 entries, ranging from four to 20 minutes, from all over the world, from countries such as Spain, France, Italy, England, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba, which he then narrowed down to about 55 to feature at the festival.
Monsalve himself was born in Colombia, grew up in Queens, lived in Brooklyn for film school, works in Hollywood, but is in the process of moving to this area.
According to Monsalve, over 60 percent of the shorts have “a lot of familiar faces,” such as one featuring David Arquette and another directed and produced by Jessica Biel.
The family-oriented film festival kicked off Friday night with a red carpet event at 7 p.m. and a feature film “X” by Josh Brolin. It continued on Saturday with a 1 p.m. matinee of animation and cartoonery, with subsequent show times at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9 p.m.
At $10 dollars a ticket, he hoped to raise over $20,000, half of which will be donated to children’s arts programs, with the rest going to the participating filmmakers.
“[With the film festival], filmmakers get to expose their work and have a unique chance to give back to the community,” Monsalve said.
The Sundance of UC
After the festival, Monsalve will head back to Los Angeles with his 6-year-old daughter to celebrate the holidays. When he returns, he plans to start working on the Union City International Arts Festival for 2011 through sales and marketing, and also by hiring local staff.
This year’s film festival was funded out of his own pocket with the help of West Print, Inc., a printing company in Union City.
“If we are to be publicized and let the rest of the country see, people might move here,” he said. “[Union City] could be to New Jersey what Williamsburg is to Brooklyn.”
By “promoting great talent and great short films,” he sees the Union City International Film Festival as becoming the Sundance of Union City.
Also when he returns in January, Monsalve plans to fire up the informally tiled “Firemen/Policemen Film Festival” set for March or April, with a percentage of the funds from ticket sales to go to fallen heroes and their families in the area.
He will also look for a space to start offering program for children who are aspiring filmmakers.
With so many plans on the horizon, Monsalve may be just the person Union City needs to go international with its arts presence.
For more information on Monsalve and the UC International Film Festival, go online at www.uciff.com.