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Year Two of CUT International Short Film Festival

Max Yillah, who stars as the lead character, Carter Williams, in Afiriyie’s film, Simmer.
by William Sokolic
Yillah poses for the film’s promotional poster.
Yillah poses for the film’s promotional poster.

As founder of the Off Broad Street Players, Walter Webster has directed many a production at the Levoy Theatre. On September 22, he will be on the other side of the camera, so to speak, when CUT International Short Film Festival opens its second year with Showtime!: The Story of Walter Webster & The Off Broad Street Players, a documentary about Webster by festival director Bill Horin in honor of the 25th anniversary of his troupe. The Players will perform that night.

The remainder of Friday night is devoted to student films—from Lebanon, Spain, the U.S. , France and Canada—including a film by Temple University student Joshua Afiriyie. “Simmer is a 15-minute narrative drama concerning a young, black high school student named Carter Williams,” Horin says. “The film weaves us in and out of a subconscious space where Carter processes suppressed emotions triggered by events and relationships in the real world.”

The idea for Afiriyie’s entry formed years before filming started earlier this year. Influenced by Moonlight, which was required viewing for Temple students, he identified with the lead character.

“I knew exactly the kind of isolation and loneliness the main character experienced and it just got me thinking about my life,” he says. “I grew up in Freehold, a predominantly white area in the suburbs of New Jersey where I endured an unfortunate amount of racially insensitive comments. I learned very quickly what it meant to be a young black man in the late 2010s. Anti-blackness, as I experienced, was not always overt. At times it was insidious. It creeps up on you. It’s a silent pressure that squeezes until there’s nothing left.”

Horin and David Todd McCarty founded CUT last year. David is a consultant this year, leaving operations to Horin. That they made it to year two is a testament to the acumen of both. CUT has carved out a niche as a home for all short films. Horin liked a lot of what he did right last year and changed a lot of what he didn’t. The festival went from a day last year to a day and a half this year, and moved from October to September so as not to conflict with the Philadelphia Film Festival.

“The number of submissions continues to grow—188 from 39 different countries,” Horin says. “This year we are focusing more on drawing an audience. Last [year]we spent considerable energy attracting films. It was much easier getting submissions but much harder making selections. That’s a good thing.”

Simmer makes its premiere at CUT.

CUT Festival Director Bill Horin will run his documentary, Showtime! The Story of Walter Webster & The Off Broad Street Players.
CUT Festival Director Bill Horin will run his documentary, Showtime! The Story of Walter Webster & The Off Broad Street Players.

“The fact that CUT takes place in the same state I grew up in was definitely appealing,” Afiriyie says. “It’s rather ironic that my first premiere will take place somewhere that also deeply affected my development. Despite all that I experienced, New Jersey is special to me. It’s home. I’m glad Simmer has found a place there. Apart from location, I like what CUT stands for. They are clear advocates for storytelling and the power of images. There’s also a clear intention to give short films a platform.”

Like Friday night, Saturday also features films from around the world, narrative and documentary, animation, and music videos. Saturday afternoon, for example, features a pair of movies that touch on water. As described on the CUT website, Just Like Water, from Greece, “delves into the profound themes of time and the cyclical nature of life. Through introspective inquiry, the documentary delves into the enigma of time itself and the intricacies of human perception. It prompts reflection on whether we authentically embrace the moments that compose our daily existence and whether we attribute them the significance they deserve.”

Also on the website, Resurrection from the Ocean from Turkey, “unfolds as a symbolic tale of revival, depicting the remarkable resurgence of a man who finds himself sinking helplessly into the depths of the ocean. As he plummets to the ocean floor, the narrative” shifts into a “metaphorical journey of redemption and transformation.’”

When the films end, the awards for best in categories are handed out and the festival closes on year two.

CUT International Short Film Festival, September 22-23 at Levoy Theatre, 126-130 High St., Millville. $30 for a two-day pass. More information at

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Year 16 for Cinefest

On Saturday, September 23, at The Levoy, CUT will honor Stefanie Ryan of Weist-Baron-Ryan Acting before the awards ceremony, Horin says. Ryan, whose mother Ursula founded the agency, offers free workshops for neurodiverse people (autism etc.) and four of her students appeared in Ezra, a feature-length film which stars Robert De Niro and Whoopie Goldberg, due out in October.

The Ryan family has been a part of Atlantic City Cinefest film festival from the beginning 16 years ago. Stefanie and her son Quinn sit on that festival’s board.

Like CUT, Cinefest has short films, more so than any other format, but feature-length films as well. This year, year 16 of Cinefest unfolds October 13 to 15.

“You’d think it gets easier with time, it doesn’t,” says William Sokolic, chairman of the board of trustees of Cinefest.

“In 2008, the lack of a film festival in the Atlantic City area got me thinking. I created Downbeach Film Festival, and in August, we debuted with Kevin Smith as our honoree. The festival took place in Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City,” Sokolic says.

“For me, one of the driving forces behind the festival was networking with the filmmakers for a possible sale of one of my many scripts. Never happened but the festival took on a life of its own,” he says.

By year two, the festival became Atlantic City Cinefest to reflect that everything was relocated to Atlantic City, from the Friday night after party to the awards presentation at the end. The gaming industry and Stockton University have been an enormous course of assistance to the festival. “We can’t be grateful enough,” Sokolic says. “We received a 501c3 corporate non-profit designation.”

Subsequent honorees and attendees included Chris Mulkey, Robert Downey Sr., Blanche Baker, Bonnie Bedelia, Christopher Mann, Al Sapienza, and many others. For many repeat filmmakers, the Cinefest is a home each October, a second family.

“I’ve learned things on the way,” Sokolic says. “And God knows I made mistakes. But I started with no knowledge on how to run a film festival. If you persevere, you learn. it’s all worth it. As for the screenplays, I keep writing more and hope for the best.”

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