Essex County News

Cedar Grove High School Students Excited As Film Festival Approaches

Credits: Joseph Morabito, Jr.
Credits: Joseph Morabito, Jr.
Credits: Joseph Morabito, Jr.

CEDAR GROVE, NJ - The Cedar Grove community is embracing the arts with their very own film festival for the first time.

"The Best of the Fest" will be coming to Cedar Grove High School Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium and will feature seven short films from the archives of the Garden State Film Festival, as well as two short films put together by Cedar Grove High School students. Many Cedar Grove community members helped to put this festival together, including board of education member and associate director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission David Schoner.

"I can't tell you how excited the APT and students of Cedar Grove High School are about the upcoming screening of 'The Best of the Fest' on Friday, May 5," Schoner said. "As you know, we are including two student productions in screening and looking forward to the evening being a yearly event."

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Schoner worked with Diane Raver of the Garden State Film Festival to help put this festival together.

Also involved in the festival are Cedar Grove High School staffers James DeStefano and Joe Morabito, who served as advisors and worked with the high school students to make their films from start to finish.

Before "The Best of the Fest" came to be, students submitted films at two mini lunch festivals in school held by the two teachers. When the festival idea was presented to DeStefano and Morabito, they asked for ideas from students for films to show and ended up choosing Jillian Muszynski and Hunter Romanko -- writers who DeStefano described as "the two most promising from those mini lunch festivals" -- to develop scripts.

The two films that the students came out with are "Rain" and "Break A Leg!" 

"Rain" is a film about a boy named Josh who has been in love with his childhood best friend Ashley for his whole life but never worked up the courage to ask her out. Josh's friend Nate works to push his friend to ask his crush out on a date by the end of the school day.

"It's a little more simple than what I'd normally like, but due to time constraints for filming, it seemed best to do something that could be filmed quickly and easily," Hunter Romanko, a junior at CGHS and writer for the film said. "This was actually an idea I came up with and wrote a script for about a year ago, when the Cedar Grove film scene was just lifting off the ground. I wrote the 'Rain' script and another script which was supposed to be adapted, so this one stayed on the back burner."

The making of the film went smoothly and very professionally, Romanko said, partially thanks to DeStefano and Morabito who have backgrounds in film. As the title of the film suggests, rain was a part of the plot so the cast and crew had to wait for an overcast day to film that part. Other than that, Romanko said the process went as planned.

"The behind the scenes aspects didn't have to do with the filming so much as the acting. I found it funny how actors would get through a long dialogue with no issue but would mess up a single quip quite a bit," Romanko said. "If my memory serves me right, the actual filming aspect went flawlessly. The team we assembled was very enthusiastic to work on the film, and if there were any mistakes they made, they corrected them quickly enough that I hadn't noticed."

For CGHS junior and director of the film Justice Abud, directing was not as easy as she had thought it would be but she enjoyed the new and fun experience, she said.

"The process definitely didn't go exactly as I had planned but nothing ever can go exactly as planned. Directing definitely wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be which came as a huge surprise to me," Abud said. "I actually had a blast making my film. Getting to actually direct and take charge was definitely the most fun for me. In the beginning, casting was a little rough but I feel like it worked out perfectly when we decided on the final cast."

The cast includes John Paul Notte as Josh, Patrick Mullen as Nate, Devon Snider-Smith as Ashley and Shakira Hashemisohi as Laura -- all CGHS students in the theater program. 

Both Romanko and Abud said they are really excited for the Cedar Grove community to see their film and are looking forward to seeing their finished product on the big screen.

"I'm insanely excited for the film festival. Most of the people involved in the film, myself included, have yet to see the finished project, and considering all of the effort and talent that went into all aspects of this film, I have no doubt it is something we can all be very proud of," Romanko said. "It will also be neat to see how our project will stack up to other, more developed programs."

Abud echoed Romanko sentiments, and said she is proud of the work that her and her team did on this film.

"I am actually super excited for all of the cast, crew, and audience to see the finished product and how proud I am of it," Abud said. "It's amazing that all the work that myself and the cast and crew put into it is finally going to pay off through the finished product."

The other student film featured at the festival is "Break A Leg," which was written by Jillian Muszynski and directed by Ava Silverman.

“Break A Leg!” is a murder mystery about a group of teenagers that get locked in their school after rehearsal. One by one, each teenager is picked off by a jealous killer.

The idea is one that Muszynski was excited to write because of her love for the genre.

“I am a big fan of murder mysteries and other scary movies/books, so I wanted to write my own,” Muszynski said. “A plot point I really liked was everyone being eliminated one by one. It added tension between characters and suspense for the audience.”

Although the two freshmen are proud of their work, both Muszynski and Silverman said the filming process was a little rough, as they had to scrap much of their film because of editing issues and film it all again in one day.

“This day was hectic and crazy, but ultimately, it helped us to see how the process would be in the real world,” Silverman said.

Muszynski agreed, saying the filming brought the cast and crew closer together as friends.

“The whole process was enjoyable but stressful! Writing the script was easy, but actually performing it on film in our limited time was harder than we thought,” Muszynski said. “Yet I feel like we all made friends on set and came together to create something great.”

Another part of the process that took some getting used to for the director and writer was learning how to be assertive to their cast and crew. Both students are freshmen at CGHS so telling the upperclassmen what to do was difficult at first, Silverman said.

Still, both girls managed to make friends and come out with a great product thanks to their hard work and a great cast. The cast includes Maya Gelsi from Montclair High School, Brandon Corrado from Passaic County Technical Institute, and Alex Quassis, Nick Splendoria, Danielle DiPietro, and Shakira Hashemisohi from Cedar Grove High School.

As the festival approaches, Silverman said she is excited for the final product and that she has her team to thank for such a great experience.

“I am very excited to see the final product of months of hard work on this project,” Silverman said. “I cannot thank Mr. DeStefano, Mr. Morabito, Jillian Muszynski, Julie Steckel, and the rest of my cast and crew enough for helping me make my vision a reality.”

As for Muszynski, she said being chosen to create this film as a freshman made it even better.

“Being chosen to write a screenplay as a freshman when there are so many other older, probably more experienced kids to choose from was surprising to me,” Muszynski said. “I've tried my best to exceed any expectations placed on me. I hope ‘Break A Leg!’ is as fun to watch as it was to create.”

Through this festival, the CGHS students will get to see their films on the big screen alongside films from the Garden State Film Festival, something that many student filmmakers don't get the chance to do. It will be a valuable experience for the filmmakers who put time and effort into their films, as well as for DeStefano and Morabito who spent so much time helping these filmmakers put together quality films.

"I think the most important reason for this festival is so the students can see what they are capable of and what they can aspire to," DeStefano said. "A lot of kids shoot videos on their phones or for a school project, but to get to see something they created on a big screen on the same night as professional films shows them what they can accomplish.  This screening can show them that the work they do does matter and that there are absolutely no limits to what they can create."

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