WESTFIELD, NJ — The four-day Westfield International Film Festival kicked off Thursday evening at the James Ward Mansion downtown.

Attendees enjoyed cocktails and appetizers provided by Westfield vendors before sitting down to view the first series of short film screenings.

“I think it’s going fantastic,” said Founder and Executive Director Gina Rodriguez. “Everybody is really excited to be here — our filmmakers especially seem to be enjoying themselves.”

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The event, now in it’s sixth year, was formerly known as the Rahway International Film Festival. After a successful event last year in Westfield, organizers decided to officially change the name of the event to the Westfield International Film Festival and said they are happy to be celebrating their first year with their new name that draws attention to the local community.

“For our opening night we are really excited to be at the James Ward Mansion,” said Assistant Festival Director and Board Secretary Stacy Ignacio. “What we really wanted to focus on tonight was being local, being a community event, and so we brought in some local vendors such as Boxwood, Vine Ripe Markets, Casa di Pizza, Ono bowls, Savory Spice Shop — all downtown local Westfield vendors to cater our event."

The festival is dedicated to driving awareness to independent filmmakers and to highlight films that have a message, said Ignacio. The organizers focus on equality and showcasing the work of minorities.

"I love the intimacy with the filmmakers and how it was set up," said Angelo Reyes, one of this year's Rising Star Award winners who is also featuring one of his films at the event. "I feel so humbled that it was screened here. The one-on-ones with the filmmakers and the way that they take their time to showcase the indy filmmakers. Being at the Westfield International Film Festival enables us to show our work without all of the red tape."

The festival will run through Sunday and will feature red carpet events, screenings, seminars, award ceremonies and filmmaker Q&As.

“You get to relax, eat, drink, mingle, watch a movie and talk with the filmmakers and you don’t always have an opportunity to do that,” said Rodriguez.

Tickets are available at the door. For advance tickets, click here.