The red carpet was out, bands played, and cameras flashed as filmmakers and stars ascended the steps to the awards ceremony last week. No, it wasn’t Hollywood, it was Union City and the occasion was the sixth annual NoHu (North Hudson) Short Film Festival.
This year 22 selections were chosen from over 250 entries submitted from across the globe, including Italy, France, and Mexico. All the entries were enthusiastically received by a standing room-only audience at Union City’s William V. Musto Cultural Center, with a panel of four judges selecting the winners.
Following four nights of screenings, the top films were announced, with prizes going to the filmmakers: First place, “The Poker Lesson,” directed by Louis Pappas; second place, “Lion,” directed by Dean Luis Chuqui, and third place, “Southern Hospitality,” directed by Dennis Melton Hodges.
In addition, “Our Mechanical Future,” written, animated, and directed by Jenina Podulka, received an honorable mention. All official entries received a certificate, with the winners taking home a selection of gifts donated by local businesses.
The first night kicked off with the full-length feature Lysistrata, directed by James Thomas, followed on the second night by the documentary, War Against the Weak, directed by Justin Strawhand. Then the competition began.
Spread over two nights, the short films ran the gamut from quick snippets to longer narratives, from self-conscious mugging to highly professional shoots with skilled actors, from literal home movies to expressive, nuanced storytelling. The intent, according to festival organizer Commissioner Lucio Fernandez, was to show films that were “varied in genres, styles, ability. Always with the idea that the attempt at being creative, that was the main focus. That’s what we’re going for, we’re going for variety.”
Onward and upward
The NoHu Short Film Festival was launched six years ago by James and Toni Fakuda from Weehawken, with assistance from Commissioner Fernandez. The first few years it floated from location to location, moving from St. John’s Episcopal Church to the Park Avenue Bar and Grill to the Jose Marti Freshman Academy and elsewhere before settling two years ago at the William Musto Center at 420 15th Street. When the Fakudas dropped out for personal reasons, Fernandez took the reins and continued to expand the event.
“It’s growing. It’s growing in popularity. We got films from everywhere,” said Fernandez. “And we hope to make it bigger and bigger every year. Next year we want to expand it to two or three other locales so we have a week-long festival, but in places that are not owned by the city, so we can show films that are more artsy in terms of content.” Meaning including more challenging fare that may not be suitable for all audiences.
Special guests this year included Miss Ukraine Tanya Rodina from the film Lysistrata and actor Renoly Santiago (Con Air, Hackers, Law and Order: Criminal Intent), who gave a short speech to open the festivities. All screenings were free to the public, with wine and cheese served each night and gala receptions at the opening and closing.
“It’s bringing the art of filmmaking to Union City,” said Fernandez, an avowed movie fan. “I love that.“