MONTCLAIR, NJ - The 2016 Montclair Film Festival’s (MFF) opening night presented Life Animated at the Wellmont Theater. Life Animated is (the second feature documentary) directed by Roger Ross Williams, and produced by Judie Goldman.

Owen Suskind, the subject of the documentary, has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In his case, he has an ‘affinity’ with Disney movies. The disorder did not manifest until he was about three, at which point he seemed to regress. In his younger years it was as if he was stuck inside the movies, almost unable to make himself understood, but for the use of lines from the movies he watched over and over again.

The movie portrays the journey his family was on, to help Owen be his best and most independent self, but it also delves into the mysteries of Autism, and shines some light on tools being used to help those with the disorder.

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The observations of real-life individuals with autism reveal deficiencies in social interaction, but those deficits paled in comparison to the unrelenting love, support and hope of the family, friends, and teachers surrounding them.

Reminiscent of Dustin Hoffmann on Rain Man back in 1992, Suskind when on stage for the Q&A, came across as having uncommon abilities in memory. He not only rattled off dozens of his friends’ names and their respective interests but also was able to recite several lines of Aladdin.

Gilbert Gottfried, voice actor for lago in that movie, barely could recall any of them, but on stage, Suskind guided him through it and together they produced an impromptu Disney skit that had the audience roaring.

MFF Executive Director, Tom Hall spoke to Tap into Montclair following the post screening Q&A session, expressing how well the evening had gone. He was thankful to the year round staff, and everyone who had been instrumental in bringing together the successful event.

Producer Judie Goldman expressed her thoughts on the evening saying, “It’s wonderful that people saw in the film what we saw in it when we programmed it. It’s hard for people to know what they are what they’re walking into. That’s one of the beauties of the film festival. That feeling of discovery.”

Goldman said one of the challenges was making the movie different than the book. “The other challenge was animation. That was two years.” She laughed. Difficulties to get where they are not withstanding, Goldman was beaming, as were the main characters of the documentary as they mingled with the crowd.  

Evelyn McGee-Colbert, Vice Chairman of the MFF board, announced that there would be a permanent home for MFF programs in the heart of downtown Montclair, thanks to a very generous donation from Investors Bank.

Conversations, podcasts, emerging filmmakers, outdoor movies, and a growing film education program were among the endeavors mentioned, depicting the progression of MFF’s journey over the last five years. MFF’s first year was 7 days and 45 films for about 500 attendees. Fast forward to this evening there were 150 films, 100 filmmakers, 25,000 people having attended the year round events with 1500 in attendance on opening night.

Gratitude was expressed to Investors Bank, Audible, Horizon Foundation for NJ, Hackensack UMC, Kensington Montclair, Chubb, Caldwell Banker and many more.

Aimee, a special education teacher who came in to see the film told Tap Into Montclair, “It was great! I relate so much. I have a student who is non verbal and sometimes I have dreams of him saying his first word.”


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MFF runs until May 8. For tickets to any MFF events/screenings, visit