7/17: Who’s Got Short Shorts?

Gabrielle Locre’s animation UN PETIT OISEAU, UN PETIT POISSON is among the international celluloid sliders served up by the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, when the fourth annual edition of FilmOneFest docks at the picturesque marina this Saturday, July 21. 

It’s been said before, but…give them a minute, they’ll give you the world.

Just one night after the band that brought us the 1950s hit “Short Shorts” (Jersey’s own Royal Teens) plays a one-nighter here on the Upper Wet Side, the people who REALLY got the short-shorts return to Atlantic Highlands with the year’s most corny/cool event in the Bayshore burg — FilmOneFest.

Subtitled The Atlantic Highlands One-Minute Film Festival, the fourth annual international smorgasbord of succinct cinema takes over the waterfront walkways of the panoramically picturesque Municipal Harbor this Saturday, July 21. Presented by the nonprofit Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, it’s a program that, despite its being made up of dozens of “gone in sixty seconds” nuggets, lasts for a big chunk of Saturday and a bit of Sunday as well.

A surprisingly eclectic collection of live-action and animated works from all over the world — the majority of them made specifically for this event — FoF combines a sophisticated festival-circuit vibe with a family friendly, small-town, park-gazebo quality that makes it a thing quite unique to Atlantic Highlands (hence the “corny/cool” part).

The event gets underway as early as 10am, with a daylong Craft Fair at Memorial Park and First Avenue — then after a late afternoon/ early evening break, the festival gets going in earnest with a 7pm set of live music by Sibling Rivalry, that brother-sister act from the ninth circle of Howell (distant relatives of Ethel Merman, yet!) who, their name aside, play very nicely together. They’ll be joined by the now-traditional clowns, stilt walkers and other carnival-style diversions (including a surprise happening about which we are sworn to secrecy) in an event for which bring-your-own-lawnchair admission is FREE (although there’s a preferred-seating VIP option available for a 10 dollar donation).

Before moving to our current digs in Asbury Park, we lived for nearly a decade in Atlantic Highlands — an under-appreciated place of spectacular bayside views, wooded trails and truly awesome Victorian homes that remains one of the most inspiring AND challenging walking towns on the local map. Still, the steep terrain has nothing on the uphill battle waged by the all-volunteer AHAC, a skin-of-its-teeth organization that’s worked extraordinarily hard to put this hamlet full of best-kept-secrets on the local cultural radar.

Co-created and curated by video artist/ painter Robert O’Connor and AHAC president Julie Gartenberg, FilmOneFest is dedicated exclusively to works that “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.” More than 50 entries — chosen from hundreds of submissions — compete in several different categories, with the hour-long hour-long screening program climaxing with the award winners. The judging panel of film critics, historians and industry professionals includes returnees like TruTV producer Jon Crowley, online critic Joan Ellis, music editor Gedney Webb and film historian Victor Zak — joined this year by production manager Carol Cuddy (Men in Black 3) and film editor Susan Littenberg (Easy A).

O’Connor and Gartenberg will single out one of the entries for their annual Director’s Choice Award — and all awards will be handed out at an 11am reception on Sunday, July 22, hosted inside the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society’s splendid headquarters at the historic hilltop Strauss Mansion (27 Prospect Circle). UpperWETside asked O’Connor if he “had a minute” to hep us on this year’s Fest.

A couple of lanky guys: Filmmaker Robert O’Connor joins Atlantic Highlands Arts Council prexy Julie Gartenberg as directors of FilmOneFest, while a stilt-walking juggler has become part of the annual experience down at the Bayshore borough’s Municipal Harbor.  (O’Connor photo by Danny Sanchez)

upperWETside: So, we’re back for a fourth year of FilmOneFest! That’s a pretty good degree of staying power for something that’s all over in sixty seconds. I understand that you’ve got some new and exciting things happening on the tech end of things.

ROBERT O’CONNOR: We do have an improved sound set-up this year…last year there were issues with the sound; we had people in the back telling us that they couldn’t hear, and people up front saying it was too loud. But we’ve more speakers, a better distribution of sound this time out.

Another thing we’re excited about is the fact that the Festival now has a new Smartphone app to go with our iPad app; you can get them through iTunes or Google Play and we’re really pleased with the features.

Film festival apps and websites have gotten pretty sophisticated over the past few years…in fact, with some of them you can pretty much sample everything they have to offer in advance. So that kind of begs the question of why attend the festival in person? What makes FilmOneFest a must for being there on the scene?

It’s a whole community experience — one that’s about the community of filmmakers as well as the community of our neighbors. It’s a lot of fun, it’s entirely kid-friendly, and we’ve got the live band and a lot of other things to keep everyone entertained.

What about the films at the heart of the event? What have you been seeing this year versus years past? Is there any common thread or theme that’s emerged from the pack?

I wouldn’t say that there’s one all-encompassing theme going on — there’s a wide range of content and styles. A lot of animation, actually, compared to previous years, which could be due to the fact that the software is much more accessible; it’s cheaper and easier than ever to do a good animation, plus the one-minute format lends itself particularly well to animation.

Where are the films coming from these days?

They’re coming from all over — this year we received our first submission from Pakistan; also our first from Korea. We got one from Japan last year; Canada, and a lot of places in Europe — Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Italy and the UK.

Having done this four times now, are you finding that the festival’s generating its own momentum in attracting filmmakers to it, or do you still work just as hard to get the word out about it?

We’ve made an effort this year to reach out to film schools, artist collectives and professional studios; let them know we’re looking for something a little different.

So are you getting a lot more submissions from professional film and video people? And is the quality of the amateur work a lot more slick, more inspired than it was just a few years ago?

There were some great professional entries, and some amateur work that was professional quality. Technology and software have made it easier than ever to create a good video. It still helps to know lighting, sound and storytelling — but filmmakers learn more quickly when they do a lot of short pieces.

Please tell me we’re done with zombie films. A few years ago every kid with a camera was doing a homemade zombie film.

No, no zombies. We do have one horror film though.

Given the limitations of what you can display outdoors to a general family sort of audience, are there any films that you feel very strongly about, but which don’t make it into the program because of some issues with the content or the language?

We have to flag what we deem inappropriate. There was one film this year that I felt was one of the best, but which the judges decided was a little too strong to show to a family audience. It showed a little girl talking to her mom about her grandmother and her dog dying…at one point the mom tells her that ‘Grandma and your dog will talk in heaven,’ and the last thing you see is the girl lifting up a hammer to kill the dog. There’s a chance we might show it at the awards presentation, indoors on Sunday.

I know you take a well-deserved break right after the festival, but what other things do you have on the agenda for the Arts Council? Any chance we’ll be seeing any more concerts like when you presented Marshall Crenshaw at one of the local churches?

We did do a concert featuring Tom Chapin not too long ago, but unfortunately it was an expensive show to produce and we lost money on it. The Sounds of the Highlands concerts are popular, and we continue to do the Open Mic nights at On The Deck, on the second Tuesday of each month.

We definitely want to keep music in our programming, and we also did a lecture series last year that we were pleased with. One challenge we’ve faced is that we’ve tried to get an Arts Center going here in town and it hasn’t come together for us yet — but Jim Racioppi and his partner over at Paper Moon Puppet Theater have really come through for us. We use their space a lot, as kind of an adopted home.

Admission to FilmOneFest is free, with $10 “premium” seating reservable here and $15 tickets to Sunday’s reception right here. In the event of heavy rain or high winds, the event moves indoors to the nearby Charles Hesse Parish Hall at 55 South Avenue.