Montclair State Filmmaking Student’s Documentary Winning Multiple Awards

Dennis Connors’ short film about an autistic artist garners film festival awards and audience praise

Photo: Elaine Masket

Filmmaker Dennis Connors (center) and artist Alex Masket during a break at the Berkshire International Film Festival.

After a 30-year career in still photography, Dennis Connors decided to expand into moving pictures, enrolled in Montclair State University’s filmmaking program, and created a short documentary film that is not only being screened at film festivals around the country, but is also winning awards.

Breaking Boundaries: the Art of Alex Masket, Connors’ short documentary film about a 23-year-old artist with severe autism, has won a Director’s Choice Award at the prestigious Black Maria Film and Video Festival, was named “Best Documentary” of the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival, claimed the Jury Award for “Best Short Film” at the Tulsa United Film Festival, and won an Award of Merit at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood. Connors himself has also been honored by being selected as “The Next Great Filmmaker” at the Berkshire International Film Festival.

Produced over an 18-month period, the 18-minute film tells the story of the artist Alex Masket, who creates bold, individualistic works of art despite his disability. Although he is limited to a vocabulary of just 20 or 30 words, Masket is able to express himself through his art, and he does so with exuberance.

“Observing Alex at work is what prompted me to begin capturing him on video,” explains Connors. “Since Alex couldn’t tell me what he was about to do, trying to anticipate where to best place and focus the camera became a visual game of chess. And all the while I’m wondering ‘how is he doing this?’ He’s so engaged in what he’s doing. I wish I could be that free and spontaneous in anything I do.”

Although Connors did most of the work by producing, directing, and editing the film, he is quick to acknowledge the help of others. “Turning the hours of video footage and still photography into an 18-minute story couldn’t have been done without the invaluable help of my teachers and co-conspirators,” he says. “I'm especially grateful for the enormous contribution of Montclair composer and musician Diane Moser, whose jazz musical score keeps it all together. The original music was essential, and I’d have been really stuck without it.”

This being his first documentary and his first go-around with film festivals, Connors is still a bit stunned by his success. “I was amazed when I heard that the 29th Black Maria Film and Video Festival, the first one I entered, accepted me in January,” he recalls. “Eleven acceptances later, including ‘Best Documentary’ and a cash prize, certainly makes the effort seem more worthwhile. It’s added a lot of self confidence in my approach to my next project.”

Read an interview with Dennis Connors in The Montclair Patch.