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MCVTS film students gather awards and celebrity shoutouts

MCVTS film students gather awards and celebrity shoutouts

 Student filmmakers at East Brunswick Tech have been receiving a lot of recognition – including from movie celebrities.

 Students in the digital film program – part of the School of the Arts of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools – have won honors at six film festivals.

And when the program’s sixth annual Reel Film Festival had to be moved online because of the pandemic, a number of filmdom luminaries sent messages of encouragement, including actor-director Kevin Smith and actor Elijah Wood.

The three-hour Reel Film Festival took place June 5 on YouTube with more than 100 people viewing it live and more than 1,000 watching later. The program began with film students thanking MCVTS staff and administrators and the festival’s sponsors, and then came the messages from celebrities invited by film teacher Louis Libitz.

Smith, whose movies include “Clerks” and “Mallrats” and who created and played the character Silent Bob, started out with some self-deprecating humor.

“I’m also a New Jersey filmmaker,” he said. “I made movies that you probably shouldn’t watch because there’s a lot of curse words.”

Then he congratulated the student filmmakers for being the storytellers that are especially necessary in difficult times.

 “There are two paths in this life – there’s destruction and creation,” he said. “You are the creators. We are the storytellers. It’s noble and wonderful that you are part of that.”

 Wood, known for “The Lord of the Rings” movies, told the students, “This is an amazing opportunity to showcase your work – congratulations.”

 Messages also were received from Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in the animated series and video game; Vincent Curatola, who played Johnny Sack on “The Sopranos,” and Jake Johnson, who was the voice of Spider-Man in “Into the Spider-Verse.”

 The Reel Film Festival is available at It includes 55 short films in the categories of narrative, documentary, experimental and animation. MCVTS digital film alumni announced the award winners.

 A GoFundMe campaign for the festival raised more than $3,000 with $600 to be donated to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

 “I am extremely proud of our students and alumni and what they continue to accomplish, as well as of their passion and dedication to their craft,” Libitz said. “Even with everything going on in the world, our community came together to make this festival a reality, to keep telling their stories.”

 At the Count Basie Center Teen and College Film Festival, two MCVTS students were recognized, and MCVTS received the School Award, which brought a $1,000 cash prize and Sony filmmaking equipment.

With more than 100 entries, prizes went to senior Mason Dugasz of Jamesburg for Best Animation and junior Jennifer Ruiz-Gonzalez of New Brunswick for Best Director and Best Narrative. She also will receive and internship at Sony Pictures Classics in Manhattan.

A film by Isaiah Gomez of Perth Amboy, an MCVTS alumnus and current student at Montclair State University, was an official selection in the college category.

 At the Film Now Festival of the Ambler Theater in Pennsylvania, MCVTS students received a first-place in the experimental category for “Internally Inflamed” by seniors Nidhi Patel of Old Bridge and Maria Martinez of Carteret; a first-place in animation for “Drawings” by senior Jack Tolnes of Monroe; a second-place in experimental for “Four-Dimensional World” by Maria Martinez; a second place in animation for “Humanoid” by Mason Dugasz; and honorable mention in the narrative category for senior Aviel Bolesa of Woodbridge.

 In the Montclair Film Festival’s Emerging Filmmaker Competition, the grand prize in action/adventure went to senior Devyn Arroyo of Perth Amboy for “The Last Slice”; a special jury prize in animation went to Jack Tolnes for “Drawings,” and a special jury prize in experimental went to Nidhi Patel and Maria Martinez for “Internally Inflamed.”

 At the Jersey Shore Film Festival, to be presented virtually later this month, official selections included “The Last Slice” by Devyn Arroyo, “Drawings” by Jack Tolnes, “Humanoid” by Mason Dugasz, “Flora” by Aviel Bolesa and “Banana Man” by juniors Henry Ruiz of New Brunswick and Nick LaMotta of Woodbridge.

 Official selections for the Lighthouse International Film Festival, to be presented later this month online, included “Internally Inflamed” by Nidhi Patel and Maria Martinez,  “Drawings” by Jack Tolnes, “Burn” by sophomores Marlayna O'Brien of Edison and Sammy Horan of Milltown, “Growing Pains”  by Jennifer Ruiz-Gonzalez, and “Banana Man” by Henry Ruiz and Nick LaMotta.

 For the Film Young Fest, coming later this month on Facebook Live, official selections included “Drawings” by Jack Tolnes and “Void” by Nidhi Patel and Maria Martinez.

 In addition to digital film, the MCVTS School of the Arts on the East Brunswick Campus includes career majors in theater, dance, music performance and technology, arts technology, graphic design/commercial art and illustration, and multimedia art and design. More information is available at