Manalapan filmmaker earns awards at Garden State Film Festival

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“Azaliah & AJ at Special Strides,” a film directed and produced by Manalapan native Jenna A. Bush, won the Home Grown Public Service Announcement award and the Best Documentary Theme from a Home Grown Short in the Movie Music Competition at the recent Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park.

Bush is a 2007 graduate of Manalapan High School and has been making films in New Jersey for nine years through her production company JAB Films. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications, television and film from The College of New Jersey, Ewing.

The film’s original award-winning score, “Azaliah’s Theme,” was composed and performed by David Citron of Matawan. Cinematography for the film was done by Ash Patino of Stanhope.

The six-minute film features Azaliah Farkas, 9, and a horse named AJ. Azaliah has physical and neurological challenges and is deaf. Because she is mostly nonverbal, AJ becomes her voice and narrates their experiences together at Special Strides.

Special Strides is a nonprofit organization in Monroe Township. Along with a certified staff, therapists Laurie Landy and Susie Rehr work to improve the lives of individuals with special needs through therapy with horses in a natural environment, according to a press release.

Bush said the goal of the film was to showcase the organization and to encapsulate the heart and spirit of what the Special Strides staff members do.

“Azaliah has the most incredible spirit. There is something about her that draws you in as soon as you see her. She embodies compassion and light in such a tremendous way, making her the perfect person to represent Special Strides,” Bush said.

“Our relationship with Jenna Bush dates back to six years ago with our first film focused on our mission,” Landy said. “She grasped our essence with a wonderful portrayal. I show the film weekly as an educational tool or during a client’s first visit to the farm.
“Although I have viewed that film several hundred times, I am constantly reminded of Jenna’s talent. Subsequently, we hired her two years later to create a film that depicts the impact of Special Strides for the client and the family. Ultimately the film is about unconditional love and the message runs deep.
” ‘Azaliah & AJ’ was a concept and a raw idea that was percolating in my mind for many years. This amazing tender movie came to fruition at the right time for Special Strides and Jenna. Due to Jenna’s artistic, sensitive soul and the longevity of her relationship through film-making at Special Strides, she was able to produce impact and joy through partnerships of a horse, child, mother, therapists and community,” Landy said.

Bush said her primary focus when making a film for a nonprofit organization “is not just to teach the audience about what the organization does, but to allow them to really feel and experience it on a deeper level. It is all about inspiring a sense of connection. Empathy is powerful.

“Through making these types of films, I hope to raise money for these amazing organizations as well as spark a ripple effect of compassion throughout the community,” she said.

“Azaliah & AJ at Special Strides” screened as part of the Garden State Film Festival on March 24. This was Bush’s fifth film screened and second award received at the Garden State Film Festival. She previously won the Student Home Grown Documentary Short award for her film “Minor Details” which aired on NJTV as part of the “NJ Docs” program.

Previous festival screenings of past films include World Kids International Film Festival, Kidz Filmz Festival (Winner of Best Home Grown College Short), Phenom Film Fest, New Filmmakers New York, Victoria Independent Film Festival and the Manalapan Independent Film Festival.

To view “Azaliah & AJ at Special Strides,” visit www.jabfilms.net