The Jersey City Golden Door International Film Festival Returns for a Fifth Year

September 23, 2015 Allison Goldstein


Thursday, September 24 will mark the opening night for the fifth annual Golden Door International Film Festival (GDIFF)—a festival that spotlights Jersey City, raises autism awareness, and brings together great filmmakers for four days of cinematic celebration and great movies. The opening night gala will take place at the beautiful Landmark Loew’s Theatrer (54 Journal Square), tickets cost $55 and include an open bar and horderves. In the words of Bill Sorvino, the organization’s president and the festival’s founder, this fifth year has been pivotal. “We’re now approached by some major filmmakers who want to be involved in the festival,” said Sorvino. “This year, we have major red carpet events every single night. We’ve turned that corner.”

Founded in 2011, the festival was born of Sovino’s love for Jersey City and all things film. While the festival attracts bigger and bigger names every year, the founder emphasized his adherence to the film’s original mission: to shine a light on local film and filmmakers—famous or not. “I make sure everyone involved with the films get a treat,” said Sorvino, who is no stranger to cinema events both large and small. “Everyone’s treated as a big shot.”

Two short films by local filmmakers were chosen to open the festival at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre. The first is I’m So Jersey City, a fun five-minute film directed and produced by local writer Ricardo Kaulessar (who has written for JCI in the past as well.) “I thought they were kind of crazy [putting my film first],” said Kaulessar. “It is a great honor.” He created the film last summer, when “I’m so Jersey City” was trending on the Internet. “There’s a lot of pride,” said Kaulessar, of Jersey City residents. “They have pride living here and intend to continue living here as long as they can afford it.”

The second film short opening the festival is The American Dream: Jersey City, a documentary written, directed and produced by middle school student Joseph Sexton. Sexton is no stranger to Golden Door; his short The Colors of Timothy was shown at the festival in 2014, and this past May he was awarded a GDIFF scholarship for his filmmaking. “I decided to submit again because last year was such a great experience,” he said. “It’s a place to connect and [it] opens up so many opportunities.” Sexton was inspired by Jersey City’s diversity when making his film; he created the documentary in response to the C-SPAN StudentCam film contest prompt to “tell a story that demonstrates how a policy, law, or action by either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has affected you or your community.” He won second prize in the contest.

In addition to supporting local filmmaking, GDIFF adopted another mission in 2014: to raise autism awareness. Now, with Autism Speaks as a major sponsor, Golden Door has received even more submissions related to autism this year than last. In 2014, the festival screened 10 films by people with autism or films about autism; that number has more than doubled this year, with 25 autism films being shown throughout the festival.

"Jack of the Red Hearts" being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

“Jack of the Red Hearts” being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

In fact, the premier film of the festival, Jack of the Red Hearts, was initially entered because its director Janet Grillo has a long-standing partnership with Autism Speaks. The film is about a teenage con artist (AnnaSophia Robb) who tricks a desperate mother (Famke Janssen) into hiring her as a live-in companion for her autistic daughter. “I was looking for ways to share the story with the community,” Grillo explained. Now, the film will be shown to its largest audience yet. “To be [at] the gala, the premier, is such an honor,” she said. “The opportunity to share our story with 3,000 people is profound.”

Following the screening of Jack of the Red Hearts at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre, the after party will take place at the Bistro at Grove Square (116 Newark Avenue), just outside the Grove Street PATH station. (Friday and Saturday nights’ after parties will be held there, too.)

"Leaves of the Tree" being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

“Leaves of the Tree” being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

On Friday, September 25, Reality of the Imaginary, by famed Spanish American filmmaker and writer Artur Balder, will be shown at Panepinto Galleries (371 Warren Street), in Jersey City’s Powerhouse Arts District.

Later that night, Leaves of the Tree will be screened at the Loew’s. In this film, a dying man struggles to discover the secret of a mystical tree’s healing leaves. A number of the film’s major stars—Eric Roberts, Sean Young, Armand Assante, and Federico Castelluccio—will be there to walk the red carpet and mingle at the after party.

On Saturday, September 26, audience members who attend the screening of Oklahoma City: The Boom, the Bust and the Bomb at the NJCU Gothic Lounge (2039 Kennedy Boulevard), could find themselves sitting beside Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. After spending twenty years in television—and four terms as mayor—this is his first full-length movie, which he wrote, produced and directed.

“Oklahoma City’s had this incredible renaissance,” Cornett described. “My reason for doing [the film] was that we raised a generation of people who don’t know what the last generation’s been through.”

"The Bronx Bull" "Leaves of the Tree" being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

“The Bronx Bull” “Leaves of the Tree” being screened at the 2015 Golden Door International Film Festival

Another film chock full of famous faces is The Bronx Bull, which will be shown at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre on Saturday night. The unofficial prequel/sequel to Raging Bull, this red carpet event stars William Forsythe as middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta, along with Natasha Henstridge, Paul Sorvino, and others. 

And while 155 films being screened in nine different locations throughout the city will keep cinema-lovers more than busy enough for the four-day festival, attendees may want to carve out time for a few other key events.

On Friday and Saturday, filmgoers can start their day off with a free “Brunch & Learn” event at the Bistro at Grove Square. Friday’s brunch will feature a talk about casting your film presented by international casting director Donna McKenna. Saturday’s brunch will feature two talks. One on funding your film by John Trigonis, a local filmmaker and Film Campaign Strategist at Indiegogo. The other talk will cover women in filmmaking presented by Janet Grillo, who directed the opening night film Jack of Red Hearts and who also teaches at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Other non-film events happening in concert with GDIFF are aimed at raising autism awareness. On Saturday, following the screening of Autism: the Musical at Art House Productions (136 Magnolia), Jenna Kanell, the director of Bumblebees, and her brother Vance, who stars in the film, will give a presentation on the importance of family involvement with autistic children. A number of events will take place on Sunday, as well, including a presentation by Joanne Lara, creator of Autism Movement Therapy, along with a panel discussion comprised of fathers of autistic children.

The festival concludes with one final non-film event: the Sunday night awards ceremony and open bar reception at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre.

The Golden Door International Film Festival opening night gala will be held at the Landmark Loew’s Theatrer, 54 Journal Square, from 6 – 11:30 pm, tickets cost $55. The film festival will continue Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27 at various times and locations. Many of the individual screenings are listed on the GDIFF calendar and on the GDIFF Facebook page. An “All Access Pass” is available for $155 and gives you access to all the films and festival events throughout the four days. For more information about the festival and to buy tickets, visit

Photos courtesy The Golden Door International Film Festival

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