By Jillian Risberg
Embedded in Wayne, New Jersey and armed with a video camera, filmmaker Paul Bastante can capture the authenticity of the heart of Passaic County.
“Towns are what we do best,” Bastante says, of his latest documentary. “Towns are what makes everybody most excited — the politicians, the government, the citizens, the organizations, the press — everybody just goes nuts.”
Bastante says he wanted to do a good job portraying the essence of the town and it’s fiery beginnings with General “Mad Anthony” Wayne.
“We want to produce a film that in the future when people think about Wayne and think about coming here it’s the kind of positive thing we bring out in the community and hopefully raise the town’s profile,” he says.
The filmmaker pinches himself sometimes that he gets to do this everyday.
“You’re right, there aren’t any companies out there doing historical township documentaries and when you think about it that’s important work on a local level to have documentation of your town’s history,” he says.
According to Bastante, who owns Silk City Films, producer of “Hills and Valleys: A Journey through Wayne,” the town profiles all started in 2018 when the mayor of Bloomingdale asked if he would be interested in making a video for their town, then Pequannock’s mayor got wind of it and also wanted one.
“This kept snowballing into Wayne wanting to do something similar,” he says.
Bastante does all his films in sections and then features within the films.
“If I was to tell somebody about something in Wayne that maybe nobody knows about, like the best kept secret — that would be a place called Laurelwood Arboretum, near Pines Lake, a 30-acre nature preserve dedicated to rhododendrons and over 200 native (plant) species dating back to the revolution.”
And its well-known history also comprises when it was a commercial nursery run by Dorothy and John Knippenberg.
“They donated the property to the town for it to become a park but in order to maintain it with all the beautiful plantings that were already there; we formed the Friends of the Laurelwood Arboretum,” says president Alice Moskowitz.
According to Bastante, they’ve documented the Arboretum from the sky using drone technology and recording from the air topography.
“We’re drone mapping the entire township of Wayne so that we can provide a birds-eye view to the public that perhaps they’ve never seen before.”
“So that when people leave our film in November they say, ‘I’ve lived all my life in Wayne; I’ve never heard of Laurelwood Arboretum,” he says. “I find that shocking (because) if you went and saw the place you’d be like, wow, you’d want to know about it.”
Since its inclusion in the film, Moskowitz says they are very pleased that people will get to know about the Arboretum and come see what they’re missing.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful place and we really do a lot of different things for the community, in addition to having these beautiful grounds that are just lovely for jogging, walking, sitting and wonderful views.”
Wayne encompasses 27.54 square miles — and Bastante says they’re covering it all from the Mountain View section.
“Which was back in the day notable for the iron industry (and) the brick industry was there,” the filmmaker says. “Many buildings architecturally in the North Jersey area are built using bricks from that area.”
The YMCA also plays a prominent role in the film.
“The thing about the Y is not so much that it’s a hidden gem,” Bastante says. “It’s more that people have a perception of it that perhaps is not accurate because they think it’s an ethnic or religious thing, where it’s not; anybody can join.”
Silk City Films goes into depth on the Y from 1844 when George Williams came on the scene as a young drapery expert in some of Europe’s precursors to department stores.
“Him and 11 other guys came together to start the Y as a diversion from the streets at the time,” Bastante says. “It’s evolved from that point all the way to America and George Williams in 1894 won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work doing that and it caught on like wildfire.”
Then it comes to Wayne in 1976 when they open that location.
“People will leave our film knowing the back story of YMCA and how it came to be and the important people up to the players of today like Laura Tiedge, the director there now and Rick Gorab, the Metro Oranges leader of the YMCA.”
Tiedge says the Y was thrilled that Bastante acknowledged them as an entity that’s contributed to the township over the last 40 plus years and to it being a great place to live.
“When the Y took over in 2011 we wanted to make it a point that we’d become the community cultural center of Wayne and it’s nice to be recognized that way,” she says.
“We had a great conversation with Paul; I just love the fact that he’s taken this really positive take on it,” Tiedge says of the film. “The town has so much to offer, such a rich and storied history. He’s a very thorough documentarian, you can feel his passion.”
Other notable people can call themselves Wayne natives, including Cecil B. DeMille, Queen Latifah and Nabisco’s principal food scientist, Sam Porcello, who created the Oreo cookie filling and held five patents related to his work on the Oreo.
“You’ll have to watch the movie to see all the notable people, that’s definitely something we cover in all the films,” Bastante says.
According to the filmmaker, people are ready to come together at a community event to check out the history of their town unfold before their eyes on the giant screen.
“That’s all well and good; we enjoy that,” he says. “But what I enjoy more than anything else is the journey from when we start filming because I actually become like the mayor of that place, no offense to Mayor Vergano.”
Vergano himself says he is thrilled that “Hills & Valleys” is being produced about the great history of their township.
“I have had the opportunity to meet with the producers of this film on many occasions and have seen them filming various events and at many locations throughout the community,” the mayor says.
Bastante echoes that sentiment — saying that’s how they get to know everybody because he remains accessible and transparent about what they are doing and people see him and Silk City Films all over the place.
“And we do previews on a daily basis on our Facebook page promoting the film and Wayne itself,” he says.
“We do so much filming and so many hours and so many interviews, we’ll interview upwards of 75 people for the Wayne film,” he says. “It is all just non-actors, real people. What ends up happening for the politicians and civic leaders is when they appear in this they almost appear for the rest of time for that particular area.”
Not all of the things and not all of the things they say in their interviews actually make it into the movie itself but end up in (those) previews, the filmmaker says, adding that he likes interacting with the public and responding to their questions.
Even longtime Wayne residents may not know about the system of government that the township uses.
“I think that they would be surprised to learn that it’s called the Faulkner Act,” Bastante says. “It only applies to about 10 percent of municipalities in the state of New Jersey, of which there are 551.”
According to the filmmaker, when it comes to Wayne — he says the main theme there is that they sometimes need to stop and smell the roses.
“When I say that people don’t understand the context of it,” Bastante says. “I’m referring to the people here are so busy; it’s a very hustle bustle working class town and they’re so concerned with the activities of day-to-day life that perhaps they don’t see some of the more great things and beautiful things about their place.”
The filmmaker, currently lives in Butler, grew up in Pequannock and went to elementary school in Wayne.
In 2020 he will release four films and those include his first documentary, “Bloomingdale: An American Small Town,” for their 100th anniversary, “Before a Nation: The Story of Pequannock,” which celebrated a March premiere, “Parsippany: All Roads Lead Here” and due out this summer, “Paterson: My City.”
He says not only does Silk City Films do towns, they cover other subjects as well.
“For 2021 we have another documentary in the works called, ‘The German-American Bunds,’” Bastante says. “We’re doing a documentary on that organization which was here in New Jersey and all over the nation in the 30s and into the early 40s before it was raided by the FBI as a German propaganda army group.”
In order for Silk City Films to be able to do a documentary on a town, the filmmaker needs compelling content and more.
“There should be some interesting story there to tell,” Bastante says. “Two – a business community there to support it and help to bring it to the people free of charge and three – the support of the local government, meaning access to their people — the mayor, the governing officials, the departments.”
At the end of the day, the filmmaker says they invested upwards of 1,000 hours into this Wayne film in terms of shooting, editing, writing, researching, discovering and basically doing the business of “Hills and Valleys.”
Ultimately, Bastante says the movie will be released online on YouTube, Vimeo and all their social platforms with the proper hashtags to ensure that when future generations Google Wayne this film will come up as something positive.
“And they’ll get an accurate portrayal of a fantastic town,” the filmmaker says. “It’s a pretty major undertaking and it’s been about nine months in the making so far.”
The mayor says the township’s rich history will be included in the film.
“Along with the many activities and businesses that make Wayne a great place to live, work and raise a family.”