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Two amazing docs Fencing for the Edge and Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge premiere at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 8!


By Anran Li

originally published: 06/04/2024

Two amazing docs Fencing for the Edge and Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge premiere at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 8!

Fencing for the Edge is an iced soda on a hot summer night. Much as we know sports are revelries of adrenaline, I was taken aback by the resonance I felt from watching this documentary about fencing. This piece, woven with real tears and joy, clenched and scratched my heart as I started fidgeting in my seat, wishing time would pass sooner to know what would come next. Despite Hollywood's successful portrayals of athletic prowess, the glitzy studio shots didn't strike me as much as this team of teenage girls, whose most sincere emotions through struggles and triumphs outshine even the most praised performance.

With her unique perspective as a former professional fencer, Holly Buechel poured her passion into every second of her debut feature-length documentary, Fencing for The Edge. This film takes us on a journey following two former fencers, delving into their inspiring narratives within the context of Bernards High School's fencing team's state final championship with Columbia. We witness the perseverance and heartbreaks of these exceptional young women on their unique battlefield, and engage in the filmmakers’ discourse on promoting girl power.

In only an hour’s time, we can already become fans of these extraordinary girls. The camera always appears precisely where it needs to be, capturing all the crucial moments. We can be in awe at how Jenna pulls a confident leadership role, managing to control her emotions at times when breakdowns are hung on the thinnest threads, and how the girls always prioritize the team, urge themselves to put the best foot forward, and never afraid to step to the very front line. The camera takes in their unhesitant dedication to fencing, unwavering smiles at setbacks, and steadiness in holding their ground as their spirits shine high and bright.

Our hearts brighten up hearing the fencers’ cheerful voiceovers with genuine pride and joy, yet more will be found as we follow along further journeys with these girls. The way this documentary features teenage girls gives it an extra hint of delicacy. Aside from their assured statement of understanding of their roles, we see their hesitation and endeavor against anxiety, attempting to demonstrate their most optimistic perspective in support of others. One cannot imagine the filmmakers’ efforts to take these natural shots while trying not to disturb the athletes’ crucial time. Every once in a while, we would catch a few curious glances at “us” despite their effort to ignore the camera. Yet breaking the fourth wall in this way only adds another layer of color to this story, making it still so exceedingly engaging even ten years later. I applauded the filmmakers’ consideration in interviewing the fencers as they looked back at their younger selves and also allowing us to observe how fencing molded these young women’s personalities as they proceeded with their lives.

The documentary also has another clear mission: to reintroduce a sport that carries a cultural tradition in military combat and holds a special place in New Jersey. It serves as an accessible gateway for any curious and enthusiastic audience, guiding us through the fundamentals and history of fencing. The beauty of this approach is that these informative segments are seamlessly integrated into the film and introduced at the perfect moments. From the smallest detail to the most significant event, nothing feels forced or unnecessary.



 
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Last but certainly not least, Fencing for The Edge supports feminism in an elegant way. It does not deliberately boast “FEMALE athletes” in gilded capital letters but highlights the organic interactions between the fencing teammates, demonstrating how the rough beauty of the reality of girl power and friendship has its own way of inspiring us. As the cinema lights up again, what would you bring home besides awe and admiration? I’m sure you’d have a great answer.

Two amazing docs Fencing for the Edge and Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge premiere at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 8! 

Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge is intriguing, inviting, and idyllic. Truly, we adore witnessing filmmakers explore new possibilities for films, especially as they challenge our perceptions by distorting reality. Indeed, we live in a time in which dazzling LTD lights, giant billboards, and breaking news are all shouting to claim our attention, always attempting to exhilarate us with something tagged with “never before.” It felt like we were in grand buffets where the ultimate goal was to indulge as much as possible until we could barely taste any bit more. Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge, on the other hand, is not a buffet; it is an omakase.

Instead of leaving us gulping chunks of information and waiting to be praised, The King of Matsutake Ridge invites us to seats next to the chef, where we can witness the culinary art unfold, listen to those treasure-hunting stories, and eagerly anticipate what comes next.

This short piece is more than a documentary; it's a journal, a personal invitation from the filmmakers Steve and Anastasia Forde and Chef Phil Manganaro. They beckon us to join them for a deep conversation, sharing the chef’s quest in his enigmatic “wild garden” for seasonal cooking ingredients. The cooking process, which is no less than a lab experiment, the hunt for ingredients, and, of course, the completed cuisines are intricately woven together while we travel between the kitchen and Chef Manganaro’s mysterious farm. We are more than spectators, but participants in this exploration, questioning ourselves as we follow his footsteps: Is Chef Manganaro the alchemist who transforms the essence of nature to tables, or does nature choose to reveal its hidden perspective through a human’s hands?

I admire the filmmakers’ patience. In the mere thirty-four minutes of the film, they leave enough time and space for what might seem extraneous: perhaps a smile or shots of Phil climbing, trekking, or digging, without any voiceover. Yet it is precisely through these seemingly unnecessary moments that their sincerity resonates with us. Viewers are no longer treated as audiences who need to be entertained or educated but as friends to whom one would show their secret diaries, and this sense of respect can be directly received by heart and melt into a feeling of serenity as we continue watching. It is not surprising that Steve and Anastasia can work so well with Phil, whose shy and proud smiles in front of the camera seem so endearing that all the images of his food are vested with warmth. He demonstrates as much moderation as the passionate filmmakers to his job and nature, allowing each ingredient time to ripen and thrive.

Amid modern movement and chaos, the filmmakers offer a sanctuary of calm. They remind us that in this bustling State on the East Coast, where the loud lights from cities can easily disrupt our thoughts, mountains are still quietly sleeping, bearing hidden gems such as matsutake mushrooms as rewards for those with determined minds. Fortunately, films are honest art that would truthfully reflect the artists’ most genuine feelings, displaying everything artificial and authentic for viewers’ inspection – this is where The King of Matsutake Ridge stands out. Like our tastebuds too numbed by artificial flavors, the natural touch of freshness treated by delicate fingers brings us back to the rough beauty that has long rested in our blood and bones.

What is the best survival tip at a moment when so many things are about opportunity, efficiency, skills, and being absolutely FAST? The Fordes and Chef Manganaro gave us a great answer: Befriend time. The fresh fragrance of the soil and pine trees lingering throughout this thirty-five-minute film demonstrates a harmonious mix of rough beauty and delicate craftsmanship, which cannot be achieved without distilling all the redundant embellishments. No kitsch, no boasting, no ambitions aiming to be creative. Just us, nature, and time.



 
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Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge and Fencing for the Edge premiere at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June  8. These films will be available for screening online for 24 hours on this day and will also be shown in-person at 7:00 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Fencing for the Edge Director Holly Buechel, Found: The King of Matsutake Ridge Director Anastasia Forde and Philip Manganaro will be on hand to do a Q+A after the In-Person screening!

The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, presents the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival which marks its 29th Anniversary. The NJIFF competition will be taking place on the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between May 31 - June 9, 2024 and will be a hybrid one with online as well as in-person screenings at Rutgers University. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. VOD start times are at 12 Midnight Eastern USA. Each General Admission Ticket or Festival Pass purchased is good for both the virtual and the in-person screenings. The in-person screenings will be held in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ beginning at 5PM or 7PM on their show date.  Plus, The NJIFF is very proud to announce that acclaimed singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler will be in concert on Saturday, June 15 in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ at 7PM.  General Admission Ticket=$15 Per Program; Festival All Access Pass=$120; In-Person Only Student Ticket=$10 Per Program.; General Admission Marissa Nadler Concert Ticket=$25. For more info go here: https://2024newjerseyinternationalfilmfestival.eventive.org/welcome


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