FilmOneFest: Back in 60 Seconds

Who’s got Short Shorts? THE INQUISITIVE SNAIL by Canadian claymationer Sara Schmidt is one of the succinct slices of cinema vying for honors at the third annual FilmOneFest event, going on Saturday, July 16 in Atlantic Highlands. 

It’s the cultural high point of the year, there in the bucolic bayfront borough that’s been branded “The Jewel of the Bayshore.” A pleasantly perfect matchup of (outdoor) setting and (way-out) subject matter, unlike anything offered elsewhere around the Upper Wet Side. And, given the amount of hard work that goes into getting it together, it all seems to be over in the blink of an eye.

That’s just the nature of the “Short-Short” film — a format that filmmaking pro and video artist Robert O’Connor characterizes as “the future…they capture the essence of an artist’s vision in just 60 seconds, and allow creative filmmakers to share their talents with simple and inexpensive equipment.”

This Saturday, July 16 and for the third consecutive year, O’Connor and event co-producer Julie Gartenberg are devoting countless hours of their lives to the precious minutes of FilmOneFest, an open-air free festival showcasing the work of a diverse lot of people with cameras and computers —  both seasoned pros and weekend warriors, hailing everywhere from the Bayshore to the Balkans. More than simply an hour of succinct cinema on an inflatable screen, the Fest is the centerpiece to an afternoon and evening that offers up live entertainment, food, vendors and family-friendly activities, amid the gently bobbing boats and singing seagulls of the Atlantic Highlands Municipal Marina on Sandy Hook Bay. Throw in free popcorn and bev, plus a complimentary sunset in there somewheres, and you’ve got yourself a small-town hoedown, with just enough of an edge to keep it within sight of the winking lights of Manhattan.

Richard Morris and the M Shanghai String Band entertain at the 2010 edition of FilmOneFest at Atlantic Highlands. 

Presented by the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council and sponsored by the borough’s Chamber of Commerce, the Fest kicks off with the peculiar afternoon delights of a street fair that runs from 2 to 6pm, and continues with street performers and a set of live blues-infused music by the va-va-voomacious Jo Wymer and her band at 7pm. Throughout the afternoon and early evening, attendees can stroll a smorgasbord that ranges from carnival faves to an all new raw bar, vegan vendors and our favorite Mexican bistro, Chilangos of Highlands.

At 9pm comes the main course in this family-style spread; a program of more than 50 “gone in sixty seconds” live action and animated fillets du film — selected out of a slew of submissions that came in this year from some 15 nations.

“We’ve had a few more professionals submitting films this year than in previous years — I’d say that the filmmaking community is taking this event more seriously,” says O’Connor.

“But one of the things that makes a one-minute film festival different is that it’s about experimental films, and about people who aren’t necessarily filmmakers.”

With that in mind, the festival organizers have reserved an entire Bayshore judging category, reserved for films about the local area (or created by filmmakers with a local connection). Other categories include Student  works, ONE (for “work that addresses larger questions of community, politics and social unity”), and an OPEN niche for animation, experimental work and other efforts not so neatly pigeonholed. Winners have been selected in each category by a panel of judges that includes TV producer  Jon Crowley (Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura and many other doc/reality projects), film critic Joan Ellis of the Two River Times, Hollywood music editor E. Gedney Webb (Chicago, Scream), and local film historian Victor Zak.

DUBSTEP FACE by Christian LaMorte of Atlantic Highlands is among the local and/or global fillets du film finding snug harbor at the borough’s marina, during the third annual FilmOneFest. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the past three years,” explains O’Connor, whose tweaks to the existing format include an intermission-free screening and a re-positioning of the category winners at the finale of the program. “Including how to pull off a popular event on a shoestring budget, without becoming totally reliant on one big corporate sponsor.”

While O’Connor and Gartenberg would certainly welcome those major underwriters to the fold — the better to someday expand the one-day event into “a big weekend, with one minute plays, poetry, video installations” — the event has come to be embraced by the mom ‘n pop business community and the town at large, and an increasing number of volunteers have stepped up to “take on a lot of the nitty gritty stuff, which we really appreciate.”

“A couple of volunteers joined us recently, with the aim of developing an iPad app for the festival; something to put up on the iTunes store, and where the festival selections can be visible throughout the year.”

That said, there’s nothing that can quite match the community vibe of the midsummer-night’s screening, and when all the stars align (the picturesque harborside panorama; the bulkhead walkway and partyboat piers; the north end bay beach and jetty; the nearby skate park, playground and gazebo; the fantastic walk/bike extension of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail), the whole scene’s a thing to be cherished — the Jersey Shore to be sure, but less pressured; and arguably an ideal mindset for a movie night.

Admission to FilmOneFest is free, although premium seating (proceeds from which help offset festival costs) is available for $10 at, or in person on the day of the festival. Donations of nonperishable food items are welcomed and collected on behalf of AACC Food Pantry in Atlantic Highlands. In case of rain or screen-toppling high winds, the event takes it inside to the nearby   Charles Hesse Parish Hall at Saint Agnes Parish (55 South Avenue in AH) — but really, keep rooting and praying for the kind of breeze-kissed lovely weather that’s blessed the Fest since its inception.