NJIT - New Jersey Institute of Technology

04/04/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 04/04/2024 09:02

NJIT Team Wins Film Contest Inspired by Kevin Smith Film Universe

A group of film students and faculty from the NJIT-Rutgers Theatre Arts Program have taken creative inspiration from the cinematic universe of N.J.-born filmmaker Kevin Smith, and it's earned them recognition from the iconic writer/director himself.

The NJIT-Rutgers team's short film shot predominantly on NJIT's campus, "Pangloss", recently won the inaugural 37-Hour Film Challenge at Smodcastle Cinemas in Atlantic Highlands - a movie theater co-owned by Smith (known for comedy hits "Clerks", "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" among others).

After beating out a pool of 36 other finalists, from more than 150 film submissions in all, Pangloss is now featured on Smith's YouTube channel and will be given a week-long run at Smodcastle Cinemas.

"The night of the screening was a mix of excitement and nerves … seeing our film on the big screen alongside other remarkable works from finalists was a little surreal," said Iris Ameera Lewis '24, a Theatre Arts and Technology major who co-starred in the film. "At the end, when our win was announced I think we all had a moment of disbelief followed by overwhelming joy. We were thrilled."

Per contest rules, the crew was required to produce a film clocking in at less than four and a half minutes while featuring a prop, a line of dialogue and a character from Smith's View Askewniverse of films - all in under 37 hours.

Adding to the challenge, the crew began shooting their project amidst torrential downpours over the university's spring break. The unpredictable conditions ultimately set the mood for the team's dark comedy, which revolves around two women as they plot revenge against a side character from Smith's 1994 film Clerks, Rick Derris (originally played by Ernie O'Donnell).

Above: Pangloss co-stars Iris Ameera Lewis (top image, left)) with Ximena Sanchez '23.

"As a Kevin Smith fan, it was an exciting but challenging project. We ended up shooting during a flood watch for half of the film but were told the weather actually made the production value of our film stand out visually," said Rodney Reyes, associate director of the NJIT Theatre Arts and Technology Program, who led the group effort behind the camera. "I think the students' acting and filmmaking training also helped the quality of the film, since all of them have worked with each other in our theatre productions.

"The fact that they were all dedicated to the project and were willing to weather it all on campus during their spring break - when they weren't even supposed to be there - made a big difference and it shows through in the film," added Reyes with a smile.

Several cast members from Smith's films, including O'Donnell, were on hand to congratulate the winners after the screening event on Mar. 23.

"A number of the films we competed against had substantial funding and more resources, so it was incredible to be recognized for working with what we had on the fly as we did," said Michael Vincenty '24, a Digital Design and Theatre Arts and Technology double major who portrayed Derris in the film. "Hearing that O'Donnell enjoyed my performance as Rick Derris was also both really funny and rewarding."

"We navigated the elements together, and turned what could have been a hindrance into a great memory," added Lewis. "Moments like that always reinforce my passion for acting and filmmaking … you're bound to be inspired. And to think that we might be the ones to inspire is pretty amazing."

Pangloss's cast and crew include Michael Vincenty (Digital Design and Theatre Arts and Technology double major); Ximena Martinez Sanchez (Biology major, Theatre Arts and Technology minor who graduated Dec. '23); Iris Lewis (Theatre Arts and Technology major); Rutgers-Newark student, Zoe Papianni; and recent Rutgers graduate Jacob Gradaille.