CAPE MAY - When it comes to serving as a location for movies and TV productions, Atlantic City overshadows Cape May, but emerging filmmakers view the Victorian city as a welcoming place for their labors of love.
Dennis Zaitsev, who lives in Lower Township, premiered his short film, "Someplace Warm," on Sunday.
"It was a locally shot film. ... We had a full house. The screening was done in one of the rooms that probably had 50 seats," said Zaitsev, whose short movie showed the city during the wintertime with snow on the streets and no one around. "Folks were laughing throughout the scenes as soon as they saw the town itself. Pretty much, a lot of people were familiar with the area, so it was a very good response."
"Someplace Warm" was Zaitsev's first directorial effort to be shown at the festival, but he has attended the Cape May NJ State Film Festival three times previously.
"I have met more people who were starting making movies rather than people who have already been involved in movies for a long time," said Zaitsev, 30, about who he meets at the festivals. "Filmmaking becomes more and more affordable every day. Young people are getting involved earlier and earlier. You can pretty much make a film using your cell phone today, and that's what many people do."
The Chalfonte Hotel on Howard Street is closed for the season, but it reopened for the film festival Friday through Sunday. Most of the Chalfonte's rooms this past weekend were booked to people attending the festival.
About 300 people attended this year, said Tom Sims, the film festival's executive director.
This year's festival featured seven world premieres and 16 state premieres. It drew about 50 filmmakers. Eighty percent to 85 percent of them came from outside Atlantic and Cape May counties, Sims said. Of the 250 movie lovers, about one-third of them traveled from outside Atlantic and Cape May counties, Sims said. In its 10th year, the Cape May Film Festival is the longest-running film festival currently in existence in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
Tourism has increased to the city, and the film festival has been part of the story, Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr. said.
"The film festival is now what we would call a staple in our year-around offerings and augments the vast array of cultural, arts and history-type events that are promoted by both the city and more prominently by nonprofit groups in the city," Mahaney said. "It is this partnership between the city of Cape May and its various nonprofits that allows this town to have a 10½-month economy."
Over the years, the festival has absolutely had a positive effect on the city, said John Cooke, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May.
"It helps boost our shoulder season. This would traditionally be one of the first slow weekends in the fall, but this type of event helps to prolong the edge of the season," Cooke said. "Some of these films you can't see anywhere else, except for this type of festival. Some of them are premieres in the state of New Jersey. It has a ripple effect throughout the town. ... All of the restaurants in town will have some bump in their business because of the festival."
Jonathan Zelenak, of New York, did not just premiere his full-length feature, "Sneakers & Soul," at the Cape May festival. He also spent from mid-July to mid-August 2008 filming in the area. His mother and father, who live in Cape May, housed about 20 people during the shoot, but he also remembers heading over to the C-View Inn restaurant on Washington Street for wings and beer on days off from filming.
The premiere of "Sneakers & Soul" drew a packed house, Zelenak said.
"It seemed like audiences really responded well to the movie. There was a lot of applause afterwards. A lot of people stayed for the Q-and-A afterwards, which is always a good sign of success that people enjoyed the film," said Zelenak, 26, who grew up in Toms River, Ocean County. "People came out who were extras and that supported us during the process of making it, so they finally got to see what all the hard work was all about. ... A couple of people that were extras in one of the scenes got to see themselves on the big screen, so they got a kick out of that."
Dan Masucci, of Scotia, N.Y., screened a short film, "Letting Go," at the Cape May Film Festival for the first time in 2007.
Masucci, who is originally from Newark, did not make it down for that screening but was in attendance during the festival's winter series in February 2008 for a second showing of "Letting Go" and the screening of another of his short films, "Against The Wind."
"It was actually one of the best screenings that I've had. The audience was packed.The Q-and-A was fantastic, and both those films have had collectively over 100 festival screenings and over 20 awards between them," said Masucci, who could not make it down this weekend even though he had two short films make their North American premiere at the festival.
"As a filmmaker, you want to get your films seen and the widest possible audience. ... I know there are several of them (film festivals in this state), but getting into the New Jersey State Film Festival would just be a real boon, and I was very grateful and delighted when they accepted my film," said Masucci, 39.
Contact Vincent Jackson: