My dear friend Maryellen Nugent-Lee is a big fan of independent films and loves attending film festivals. Maryellen put me in touch with Wendy Feinberg, a co‑director of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS). I have been working with filmmakers who are submitting their projects to film festivals, so I am interested how film festivals are conducted.
I sent Wendy a list of questions and I received her response on July 31, 2017.
Alan: Please introduce yourself to our readers. Describe the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.
Wendy: My name is Wendy Feinberg and I am one of three co‑directors of the non‑profit Port Jefferson Documentary Series. Since 2005, under the auspices of Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series has presented many of the most notable and acclaimed documentary films made in the United States and around the world, often fresh from award‑winning appearances at leading film festivals. The volunteer members of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series screen scores of top films every season (Spring and Fall) in order to select just seven or eight that strike them as important, compelling and – to put it simply – worth seeing. At the conclusion of each film, directors, producers or other “in the know” guest speakers lead a Q&A with audience members. Venues include the historic Theatre Three in downtown Port Jefferson Village, and The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.
A: How did you get involved with the organization?
W: My husband and I started attending the PJDS religiously a number of years ago whenever we were able. I would wait for the lineup to come out and put on my calendar. I would also get quite upset if we were going to be out of town and would miss a film. We were extremely impressed with the fact that there was always a very engaging “Q and A” after each film with the director of the film or someone else who was very knowledgeable about the film. One night someone asked if I would like to volunteer. I said “yes” expecting not to hear anything. I received a call the next day to help out with Facebook postings and next screenings as some members of the board were not going to be there. As a result, I ended up eventually being in charge of the Facebook page and creating a Twitter page. I went from being a volunteer to becoming a board member and now I have attained the title of co‑director.
A: Why are documentaries important and deserving of exposure? Do you seek documentaries with certain subject matter, or are all subjects open for consideration?
W: I feel that documentary films are important because they very often address subjects that are “hot” topics and sometimes controversial, as well as situations that are occurring around the world that we may not be aware of. Documentaries often will give us a different perspective or point of view of a topic that may broaden our understanding of the topic or even change our opinions. Although, documentaries are very often about serious subjects, they can also be very entertaining, while also bringing us into the world of someone’s life, an important event or important historical time period. That is why we always seek out films on many different subject matters. We try to find a balance between more serious subjects and lighter, more entertaining subjects. We always hope that our audience will attend most of the films like I did, rather than take a narrow view and only attend films that they feel they are interested in the subject. We love to hear people say “I almost didn’t come because I didn’t think I would like the film, but am glad I did because I absolutely loved it”. A prime example is when we screened the film, MAGNUS, about the world chess champ, Magnus Carlsen. I previewed the film at the Tribeca Film Festival sort of reluctantly, thinking it would probably be boring and was pleasantly surprised that I absolutely loved it. When I shared with my colleagues, who I had to encourage to preview, they were “blown away” and loved it too. Then, our job was to get people beyond the “chess world” to attend. We had to also deal with the fact that it was on a night of one of the presidential debates! We did manage to get a good audience and had a skype Q&A with the director, from Norway. Well, the people who attended, are still talking about it being one of their “all time favorites” almost a year later!
A: What is your criteria for acceptance of a submitted project?
W: As I mentioned before, we try to have a very balanced line‑up each season, which brings me to our selection process. We either attend film festivals or obtain online links to private screeners for our board members to preview. We also find out who may be able to attend and the future distribution of the film. We screen only new, fresh films that are not readily available on TV, Netflix, Amazon, ITunes or other digital media at the time of our screening. In our day and age that is getting harder and harder to do, and sometimes although it may end up being available, we hope that our “big screen” experience and “Q and A” will be a more desirable option for our audience. After previewing dozens of films we meet to choose a variety of films with differing subjects that work within our budget as well as meet our other variables.
A: Please tell us about the members on the board of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.
W: The Port Jefferson Documentary Series Board is made up of 7 very dedicated lovers of documentary films. We are all volunteers who work tirelessly to find the best new documentary films out there to screen each season. Five of us are veterans, who have worked on the series since its inception in 2005 and two, including myself, are more recent additions. It is really a full time job, as we start looking for films for the following season almost as soon as we are beginning a new season. We go to as many film festivals as we can, to not only preview films, but hopefully make contact with the filmmakers about possibly screening their film and attending for the Q&A. As there are so many festivals around the country, we also try to read about docs that are screening at some of the more well-known festivals and we try to reach out to the director, producer or distributor through e‑mail. We are always thrilled when we see a film is being screened by one of our past filmmaker guest speakers and pray that we will love their film so they may attend again.
Barbara Sverd, co-director
Wendy Feinberg, co-director
Honey Katz, Film Board
Phyllis Ross, Film Board
Lorie Rothstein, Film Board
Lynn Rein, Film Board
A: Tell us about the upcoming Fall Series.
W: Although we usually screen 7 films a season, we had such a hard time narrowing it down to 7 for the fall, that we added an 8th slot. It is interesting that 6 out of the 8 films are very personal stories. AMERICAN VETERAN (9/11) is about a disabled veteran, Nick Mendez, who was severely injured in Afghanistan, HOUSE OF Z (9/18) is about fashion designer, Zac Posen and BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (9/25) is of course about the famous actress who had a part of her life that was unknown to most until now. We were thrilled to be able to get the film FRANK SERPICO (10/9) and extremely fortunate to be able to get RESTLESS CREATURE: WENDY WHELAN (10/16), about the former prima ballerina at the New York City Ballet. We are also very happy that Ms. Whelan is actually attending as our guest speaker for the Q&A! Our final personal story is about three musicians who were “sidemen” for Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. The film, SIDEMEN: LONG ROAD TO GLORY (10/30), will be accompanied by a pre‑screening acoustic concert with the musical director and lead guitarist in the Gregg Allman Band, who also appears in the film, Scott Sharrard. He will also be available, along with the director, Scott Rosenbaum, for a Q&A following the screening. The two remaining films are both award‑winning films. A SUITABLE GIRL (10/2), about arranged marriage, won the Best New Director Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and CITY OF GHOSTS (10/23) about a group of Syrian activist journalists who are risking their lives to get the word out about the situation in Syria, has won numerous awards around the country.
A: How do you promote the Port Jefferson Documentary Series and solicit submissions?
W: We get the word out about the films by various means. We send out and distribute a “Red Card” which lists all the films, speakers, venues, times and includes a small synopsis of each film. We also send/distribute/post flyers and put up posters at the venue we are screening at. We send out press releases to the papers on Long Island and the local Long Island “Times Beacon Record” writes up a very comprehensive article about our series each season. We also advertise on our Facebook and Twitter page and the local university radio station, WUSB, help to spread the word on the radio.
A: In your experience over the years, are there any films that stand out?
W: It would be hard to choose a film or films that stand out, as I am so personally involved with each of the films. So, I will mention a few films that stand out as a result of special circumstances around the films. One that comes to mind is when we screened the film DEEP WEB which was directed by Alex Winter, who played Bill in BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. We were quite happy when Alex agreed to fly from CA to attend our screening. He flew in the day of the screening and flew back to CA the next day. Another one that comes to mind is when we screened SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT and producer Pras Michel of the The Fugees hip hop group flew in for CA for our screening. He actually flew in and flew back home on the same day and did not take a penny for a speaker fee or travel! The final film that comes to mind is KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON about blind jazz pianist Justin Kauflin’s relationship with jazz trumpet player Clark Terry. He flew home from his tour in Europe to attend. On the day of the screening my colleague and I went to the local airport to pick him and his guide dog, Candy, up to find out that the plane made it to Long Island, but never landed because it was sent back to Philly because of wind – at the end of April! He ended going back to his home in Virginia and skyping with us. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to play a few tunes on the piano we had tuned for him to play at the theatre. But it was a wonderful Q&A and everyone loved the film!
A: How can filmmakers get in touch with you and the Port Jefferson Documentary Series?
W: If documentary filmmakers would like to contact us, they can do so from our webpage at portjeffdocumentaryseries.com. There is a “Contact” section where they can send us a form. We can also be contacted through the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council (GPJAC), our parent organization. [Author’s note: AKA The Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council]
The address and phone number are:
101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson, NY 11777
send an e‑mail through their webpage at:
They may also contact us through Facebook and Twitter.
We see the passion of Wendy Feinberg and the others associated with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series. They all realize the importance of exposing the public to new topics, controversy, and different perspectives.
The 2017 Fall Series of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series runs from Sept. 11 – Oct. 30 (consecutive Mondays).
Do you have any questions for Wendy? Have you produced a documentary and looking for a film festival in which to show it? Please provide your thoughts and questions in the comments. I would really enjoy hearing from you. If you have a topic in mind you would like me to cover, please let me know.
Originally published August 11, 2017. Updated August 15, 2017 to add text about the Bethpage Best of Long Island contest. Updated August 19, 2020 to adjust category assignments.