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Festival VIP’s on the red carpet before the opening. DAVID HUBELBANK/MONTClAIR FILM

By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local

Montclair rolled out the red carpet for the opening of the 7th annual Montclair Film Festival last Thursday night, April 26, at the Wellmont Theater.

For Evelyn Colbert, president of the Board of the Montclair Film Festival, opening night never loses its luster. “It’s always exciting,” Colbert said on the red carpet, before “Far from the Tree,” began.

Both Evelyn Colbert and her husband, Stephen Colbert, grew up in Charleston, SC, where the Spoleto arts festival inspired them to participate in the arts.

“Our families were active in the arts, and it’s important to us to keep that tradition alive,” she said. “It’s a real community event and I hope it will inspire others to get involved, too.”

“We just painted our house and Stephen says that we’ve invested so much money in it that we can never move,” Evelyn Colbert laughed. “We’re here to stay.”

Andrew Solomon, author of the best-selling 2012 book “Far from the Tree”, producer/director Rachel Dretzin, and producer Jamila Ephron, all attended the opening.

On the red carpet, Solomon called the opening a thrill. “Montclair is a community of film makers and film lovers. I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” Solomon said.

For Montclair audiences, the opening was also a “sneak preview:” “Far from the Tree” will not have a national release until July.

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“Far from the Tree” opened the 2018 Montclair Film Festival. NEIL GRABOWSKY/MONTCLAIR FILM

The movie follows Solomon’s journey as he comes to terms with his divergence from familial expectations. His parents did not approve of his homosexuality and he tried to change in order to gain their approval. He eventually embraced his identity and his father accepted him. His mother died when he was 27; she did not live long enough to witness his wedding and his embrace of fatherhood.

Solomon’s experience inspired him to examine the many ways that children differ from their parents. Included in the film are an autistic son, a daughter who is a little person, a son with Down syndrome, among others. Their parents and families struggle and do the best they can for their children. And always, despite serious and seemingly insurmountable challenges, they love them.

The audience, many of whom were visibly moved, gave “Far from the Tree” a standing ovation.

Following the film, Rachel Dretzin, producer Jamila Ephron and Solomon a participated in a Q&A with Tom Hall, festival executive director.

The way parents cope with and embrace a child’s departure from expectations shows “the elasticity of love,” Solomon said.“Love can stretch to accommodate a child’s differences.”

He explained why he selected Rachel Dretzin to direct the film version of his book.

“Twenty film makers approached me about my book, but Rachel profoundly understood the stories and had a vision for telling them,” he said. “The film is exhilarating. It reveals truths about humanity and human dignity.”

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Cupcakes and MFF decorated baked goods at the opening night party for the film festival. TONY TURNER/MONTCLAIR FILM

Hall said that “Far from the Tree” was the perfect film to kick off the festival. “Our theme is #keepconnecting,” he said. “‘Far from the Tree’ is thought-provoking and moving. And it’s about connections between families and within communities. That’s a common thread throughout the festival.”

Connecting filmmakers and actors and audience was the theme of the 2018 opening night party held at the Wellmont Theater immediately after the film.

Heather Mirabella, who works the party every year, said,  “It’s a wonderful evening. Between the beautiful displays and the lovely theme of the movie, I think it’s our best party yet.”

For William J. Murray, whose film “Made a Movie, Lived to Tell” is also into the festival, the party is “the icing on the cake.

“It’s a great way to meet the creative team in Montclair, the filmmakers and the community that supports them.”

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