When asked which essential films young people should watch—Casablanca or Citizen Kane—Sara McDermott Jain ’04 responds with an answer typical of an English major with a love of film. “I’d recommend Casablanca for anyone who wants to be a writer (it’s maybe the best script of all time) and Citizen Kane for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker (the shots and techniques are relentlessly innovative).”
Film and writing—her two passions—have kept McDermott Jain very busy. Nearly two years ago, she and her husband moved to Princeton, NJ, before the birth of their son, Nicholas Anshuman. To channel her creative energy, McDermott Jain started the Princeton Film Festival in September 2015 and is already working on this year’s festival, to be held September 29, 30 and October 1, 2016.
Having been on the “other side” of the film festival circuit (submitting three successful short films to national film festivals over the years), McDermott Jain understands and appreciates the hard work that it takes to run a festival. “The best part was having the opportunity to watch all these fantastic movies,” she states. But on the flip side, the hardest part was watching all those movies!
However, she didn’t do it alone. She asked 20 volunteers to help her watch and score the submitted films (each film entry was viewed by at least three people); McDermott Jain watched all 80-plus films. She also secured raffle donations from local businesses and enlisted three celebrity judges to help select the grand prizes: writer/director Linda Palmer Cardone, whose feature film Halloween Party was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Original Song; Patrick DiRenna, actor and president of the Digital Film Academy in New York City; and in-demand cinematographer Pawel Biel. During the festival, her brother and sister helped run the daily operations, taking tickets and handing out programs. Surprised by the high turn-out for a festival in its first year, McDermott Jain feels the festival was a success.
Not only was the festival a success, but it was important for the filmmakers and an eye-opening experience for some members of the community. Paul Sapiano’s Driving While Black won the grand prize in the feature film category. McDermott Jain describes it as a comedy dealing with very serious issues. It was a little controversial, but after the screening, people approached her to say that the film changed their perception and that it was an important film to watch.
Also receiving recognition were Jon Vander Pol’s Exported from Michigan, which won Best Documentary and Ross Morin’s A Wheel out of Kilter, which earned the Indie Spirit Award. Zachary Quinto, of Star Trek fame, took home the prize for Best Actor for his role in the sci-fi short The Future Perfect.
Regarding her time as a student at Immaculata, McDermott Jain recalls how supportive the IU community was of her creative aspirations—so much so that, as a junior, she channeled her entrepreneurial spirit into founding the Immaculata Independent Theater Club. That year, she and her IU friends Dara Smith, Kelly Bolton, and Heather Gwin, staged a play that she wrote called Lovers, Loners and Those Who Live.
Currently she is involved with several writing projects, including working with a Broadway songwriter to draft a script to accompany his music in a project called Flesh and Spirit. She was recently hired by Canadian producer Manny DaSilva to script his new horror franchise, Hidden Evil. McDermott Jain also sold a screenplay entitled Left to the production company Gaddis Visuals; it recently wrapped up filming and is now awaiting release in 2016.
“While she was here, Sara was an active member of Cue and Curtain, and I did have the pleasure of directing her,” states Sister Marcille McEntee, IHM, director of Cue and Curtain and English instructor. “She was an excellent actress and a delight to our group, very much a leader.”