The Governor made a surprise appearance Saturday night at the seventh annual Montclair Film Festival’s closing night festivities and announced that he will re-establish the state’s long defunct film production incentive.
“This is a great state not just to watch films,” Murphy said. “We have got to get back to doing what we used to do really well and make them in New Jersey. We have the artists. And by the way – I’m going to sign a law in the next few weeks that will give the financial incentives back.”
It’s been more than eight years since former Gov. Chris Christie suspended the state’s film tax program.
In 2005 a New Jersey production incentive was created to boost film and TV production throughout the state. The program gave a 20% tax credit, but in 2010 Christie suspended the incentive due to his dislike of the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore.”
While the New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved a $420,000 tax break for filming “Jersey Shore” in the state in 2009 — the series’ inaugural season — Christie reneged on the credit in 2011, arguing that the show about Snooki and the gang tarnished the state’s reputation.
While “Jersey Shore” didn’t necessarily place the state in the best light, Tax Credits Intl.’s Christine Peluso said in 2014 that the series provided an undeniable economic boost: Parking meter fee collection in the show’s Seaside Heights setting jumped from $807,000 in 2007 to $1.3 million in 2010. In addition, Peluso noted the reality show’s crew and fans helped the local economy with the purchase of hotel rooms, car rentals, catering, hardware, dry cleaning, rental fees and permit fees, among other expenses.
In 2016, a bill titled the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act attempted to reauthorize and revise the state’s expired film tax credit programs. The measure, approved by legislators from both parties, proposed an increase of the annual program cap from $10 million to $50 million. Christie vetoed the bill.
“New Jersey is a world-class location to be the backdrop for any filmmaker – from our small towns, to our big cities, rolling hills, and the Jersey Shore – and we’re ready for our close up,” said Murphy.
After his announcement, Murphy introduced Stephen Colbert, who served as a moderator after the closing night film “Believer” screened.
“A few years ago I walked up and put my hand out and introduced myself to Stephen Colbert in the White House,” said Murphy. “We haven’t seen each other since, but needless to say it hasn’t been in the White House.”
Colbert, who moderated a panel with “Believer” cast and crew including director Don Argott said, “It’s so fantastic to have a Governor who stands for the arts in New Jersey. Things like this film festival are good for the arts, good for business and they build community. We need things like this to come together regardless of how we feel about our politics and see things that we love and build things that we love together.”
Prior to the Governor’s remarks, MFF announced the winners of the festival’s 2018 film competitions at its annual awards ceremony. This year’s festival featured four competitive categories: fiction, documentary, future/ now, and New Jersey filmmaking.
Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” which premiered at Venice and played the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, took home MFF’s Fiction Feature prize.
RaMell Ross’ “Hale Country This Morning, The Evening,” which premièred at Sundance, garnered the Bruce Sinofsky award in the festival’s documentary feature competition. Kudo was established in memory of former Montclair resident and documentary filmmaker, Bruce Sinofsky. Sinofsky’s daughter, Claire Sinofsky presented the award.
Kimberly Reed’s docu “Dark Money,” which preemed at Sundance, took home the 4th annual David Carr Award for Truth in Non-Fiction Filmmaking, which honors a filmmaker, selected by the festival, who utilizes journalistic techniques to explore important contemporary subjects and is presented in honor of Carr’s commitment to reporting on the media. Like Sinofsky, Carr was a former Montclair resident. Carr’s daughter, Erin Lee Carr, who is a documentary filmmaker, presented the award.
Fellow Sundance favorites “We The Animals,” directed by Jeremiah Zagar and Stephen Maing’s “Crime and Punishment” were awarded with the Future/Now and the New Jersey Films awards respectively.
“I’m thrilled to have had my film screen at this beautifully programmed festival and humbled to have been singled out among such a strong bunch of films,” said Zagar.
Special Jury Prize winners included Khalik Allah (“Black Mother”) Julianne Nicholson (“Who We Are Now”) Helena Howard (“Madeline’s Madeline”) as well as Aaron and Amanda Kopp (“Liyana”).
The festival also featured a junior jury made up of fifteen area high school students representing twelve area schools. They awarded their top prize to Bart Layton’s “American Animals.”
“This year’s competition program features the work of artists who directly challenge us to deepen our thinking about the world in which we live,” said Montclair Film executive director Tom Hall. “We are honored to share these films with our audiences, and congratulate all of our filmmakers on their outstanding work.”
MFF’s 2018 audience awards will be announced on May 7.
(Pictured: “First Reformed”)