MFF: Behind the Scenes.
The Montclair Film Festival is well under way, and many theater-goers and film buffs have been treated to a multitude of independent films and documentaries. In its fourth year, the community-based film festival is bigger than ever due in large part to the cooperation and coordination of various directors, managers, and volunteers. As a local resident, I was curious as to its inner workings and signed up to be a volunteer.
What is great about the MFF is that all the viewing venues are in Montclair, and anyone is welcome to help out. Once you sign up on the website, you will have access to the schedule for the volunteering positions. They range from handing out flyers and film guides, to working the box office, selling merchandise, collecting ticket stubs, and more. You also get a free t-shirt to wear when working your shift, and opportunities to see films for free.
Prior to the MFF, there are frequent emails with updates about everything that is happening. As the festival gets closer, emails are sent out daily, with film schedules and volunteer shift schedules to sign up for. You can volunteer as often as you like, and the shifts are not too long.
When I did my shift on Tuesday, May , I had signed up that very day, as it was the only time I could fit into my schedule. I did a three-hour shift at the Bellevue Theater, which is right on Bellevue Avenue, off of Valley Road in Upper Montclair. This was the closest venue from my place, so it was more convenient for me to go there. There are also showings at the Clairidge Cinema and Audible Listening Lounge, both located on Bloomfield Avenue. Also, live talks and discussions are held at the Wellmont Theater on Seymour Street.
Two screening rooms were allotted for the festival’s films, which was on the first floor. The other screening rooms in the second floor were for regular showings of current movies. The volunteers were spread throughout the area, with some at the entrance of the theater to keep the lines of people organized, some volunteers at the merchandise table, and others were at the entrance of the screening rooms to collect ticket stubs. The shifts overlapped with each other so that there were always people at hand to work with the crowds of movie-goers.
I signed up to do theater operations and when I got to Bellevue Theater I let the film festival manager there know that I was up to do anything, and got assigned to count how many people came to watch a film. There were five volunteers working theater operations. Everyone was nice and helpful, answering questions and making sure everyone was comfortable. The manager gave me a clicker and I had to click the device for every person that went in to the screening room to watch, whether they bought their ticket from the box office, online, or were members with a pass. I worked in tandem with another volunteer who collected the ticket stubs. We greeted the people and took their stubs before they entered into the screening room. I had to remember people’s faces because some went back outside to use the restroom or to get some snacks and drinks, so I did not have to count them again.
The movies that played during our shift were “Slow West” and “Do I Sound Gay?” There were over a 100 people for “Slow West” and over 50 people for “Do I Sound Gay?” It was busy at the beginning when everyone was filing in. A 15-minute interval between the two movies gave us time to deal with the separate groups of movie watchers. There were even a few people that left the previous movie in the first room to go to the movie in the second room.
After both movies had started, we volunteers had some time to rest and share our experiences with the festival so far. Many volunteers had worked previous shifts and also saw a few movies. The manager talked about how she hung out with Richard Gere at the Wellmont Theater on the second day of the festival. I thought that was exciting, to see big movie actors and celebrities up close and personal. She worked at the Wellmont that night, so she also saw part of Stephen Colbert’s interview of Mr. Gere for his latest movie, “Time Out of Mind.”
We were busy again at the end of the films, when people were leaving. We collected ballots as they left, the ballots being a way for people to rate the film, five being the best rating and one being the worst. As this was the last shift of the night, we tidied up the volunteer room and prepared materials for the next day.
The whole experience was new and exciting for me. At the movies I am usually part of the crowd going to watch the latest film, but this time I was part of the operations. Many people help ensure everything runs smoothly, and without all the volunteers, it would be difficult to have the festival. My first time volunteering for a film festival was enjoyable and I would like to volunteer again in the future.