MOVIES THAT MATTER

NJPAC rolls out the red carpet for “Movies That Matter,” a new film series designed to entertain, educate and inspire.

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Before he became President and CEO of NJPAC, John Schreiber worked at Participant Media, a new kind of film and entertainment company with a big vision. There, he collaborated with Jim Berk, Participant’s current CEO, on socially-conscious movies designed to motivate audiences not only to think, but to act.

The former colleagues were reunited in NJPAC’s Chase Room on April 18 at a Premiere Party that was part genial conversation, part press conference. Attended by NJPAC friends and supporters, as well as representatives of the film industry, Newark business community and educational institutions, the event focused on “Movies That Matter,” a new film series for high school students and the public that launches next month. Read here about this unique partnership between NJPAC, particularly its sponsoring Women’s Association, and Participant Media.

Prior to introducing the four films in the series, Berk recounted how Schreiber was convinced to join the fledgling Participant, which in nine and a half years has produced 43 movies, notably “Syriana,” “The Help,” “Lincoln” (also included in “Movies That Matter”), and “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“We had this idea about creating a social action advocacy group,” Berk explained. “I contacted John, who had a successful business, and said, ‘How would you like to come and do something you’ve never done before in your life, which is create something out of nothing that will, in effect, change the lives of millions of people?’ And he said, ‘What resources do I have?’ And I said, ‘None.’ And he said, ‘There
must be a business plan.’ And I said, ‘No, you have to write it.’ He came in and we created an entire side of the company that was based on activating, about getting people during that moment of reflection to actually do something.”

Guests watched trailers from each of the four films. Among them was Steve Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, who plans to see “A Place at the Table,” one of the featured documentaries, with his wife, Joanne, a health coach.

“This is a perfect example of the kind of innovative programming I’m seeing all the time now at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center,” he said. “What better place than to do it in Newark? It’s really becoming the film capital of New Jersey.”

The following are some of Berk’s comments about producing “stories well-told”:

“Lincoln”

Director Steven Spielberg’s 2012 Oscar-winning film about the 16 th President’s strident efforts to abolish slavery. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Berk recalled being on set while Spielberg “conducted” a sweeping scene. Here he describes the action.

“Some films belong on a very large screen and this is a film that that should be seen in that type of venue, especially with a great sound system. … It plays like a grand piece of theater.” (“Lincoln” will be screened in Prudential Hall.)

“A Place at the Table”

A 2012 documentary directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush about the struggle to end hunger in the U.S. With Jeff Bridges.

“What interested us in this film is the fact that this problem of people who are food-insecure or hungry was almost solved, completely eradicated like a disease (during the 1970s).”

“The opportunity was to try to put a human face on hunger … This is an entirely solvable problem. Fifty million people in the United States of America are food-insecure and that number’s been creeping up.”

“The other thing we found out was there are 42,000 food centers, most of them sponsored by churches and religious groups, and they are the entire structure that feeds tens of millions of people. But some of them have no food every day, they run out. Others throw their food out because they have too much. And they’re sometimes a mile apart from each other. It’s just about delivery. … Just by moving that
inventory, you can have millions of more people who are fed every day.”

“Last Call at The Oasis”

A documentary from 2011, featuring activist Erin Brockovich, examining the global water crisis. 

“Over 300 million people are going to be displaced from where they reside right now, in the next 10 or 15 years, just because of changing water patterns. It’s not about whether you believe in global warming or not, this is just a fact. These migrations are going to occur because of the changing patterns.” 

“Trading in water rights is a more aggressive, volatile area now … People are buying these rights up.”

“Chavez”

Currently in production, a biopic about labor organizer Cesar Chavez and his lifework to improve conditions for migrant farm workers. Directed by Diego Luna and starring Michael Peña, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich.

“You are the first people to ever see one frame of this film, ever. … It all starts with the story well-told, (it) reminds us of where people came from, basic human rights and why certain movements are born.”

“We looked at the story of Cesar Chavez and realized it’s not so much about unions … In this particular case, the story (is) about basic human rights and conditions (for migrant workers). … Pulling together a movement with no support during this time was quite a profound thing.”

Several times, Berk emphasized that Participant Media avoids taking a point of view in its films. “We’re not trying to make you think a certain way,” he said. “We just want you to think.”

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