Just a few short months ago New Jersey lost one of our favorite sons, a man who never forgot his Jersey roots - James Gandolfini. Born in Bergen County in 1961, Jimmy went to Park Ridge High School. I was born the same year as Jimmy and our paths crossed a few times. Jim's wonderful dad worked as the head of building maintenance at Paramus Catholic High School. During my four years at PC all my fellow classmates and myself grew to love Mr. Gandolfini. He was just a sweet and kind man and even after we graduated in 1979 we never forgot Mr. Gandolfini. Years later when we heard the name Gandolfini in terms of a new young stage and screen actor we all were thrilled that Mr. Gandolfini’s son Jimmy made it big.
Jimmy was a graduate of Rutgers University and after graduation the rest as they say is history. He worked hard as an actor and eventually gained fame on the stage and then screen. His real claim to fame came in the guise of one Tony Soprano on the landmark HBO series The Sopranos.
When Jimmy passed away at the young age of 51 we here at the Fort Lee Film Commission thought long and hard on how to honor him in a way he would have approved. Jimmy was much like his father though much larger in height and size. Yet for Jimmy’s large presence he was really a very gentle soul, one who avoided the limelight. Yes, that is quite strange for a person in show business but it was true. I met Jimmy once at a film event in the Governor’s Mansion here in New Jersey. Jimmy had recently lost his dad and I saw him standing alone so I walked up to him and caught his attention. He was gracious as I asked if I could speak with him for a moment. When I mentioned I was a graduate of Paramus Catholic and knew and loved his dad his eyes lit up and he grabbed my hand tight. I conveyed my condolences to him for the loss of his dad and we exchanged a few stories about his father. For that moment Jimmy wasn’t a big TV or film star, he was simply one of the kind of guys I grew up with in Jersey, and Jimmy remained that salt of the earth guy until the day he died. And that’s when we at the Fort Lee Film Commission hit upon a great idea – name the top student filmmaking award in our festival after Jimmy. The Fort Lee Film Commission created the annual Jersey Filmmakers of Tomorrow Bergen County High School Student Film Festival in 2005. This is our ninth year operating this festival, which is open to all high school students who reside in Bergen County. We started this festival as a way to tell the story of New Jersey as the birthplace of the American film industry while at the same time giving a new generation of filmmakers a chance to tell their story. Over the years many of our student filmmakers have gone on to film schools and to work in the film and TV industry. We received over one hundred film submissions this year and our panel of judges narrowed the field down to ten. The top prize is $500 and 72 hours of postproduction time at Sirk Digital Studios in New York City. One of the owners of Sirk, Marc Perez, is a member of the Fort Lee Film Commission.
We reached out to HBO earlier this year and they kindly put us in contact with Jim’s family and friends. They all agreed that this was a great idea and thus this Saturday, November 9th at 3 PM at MediaMix Studio in Allendale (4 Pearl Court) we will hold our 9th annual Jersey Filmmakers of Tomorrow Bergen County High School Student Film Festival. We will screen the top ten films and then the Gandolfini family will present the first annual James Gandolfini Jersey Filmmakers of Tomorrow Best of the Fest Award to our winning filmmaker. The event is open to the public and is free. Visit www.jerseyfilmmakersoftomorrow.org to see the winning films from last year and for more info about the festival.
What better way to honor and keep alive the memory of that gentle giant than a yearly event that allows young filmmakers in New Jersey to tell their story.