Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019
“It’s an honor. An honor!”
The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.
A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.
Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his double Oscar win for Green Book).
But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.
And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.
Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.
Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.
An after-party follows on Wednesday at the nearby Brando’s restaurant on Main Street in Asbury — and following a pair of Thursday happenings at the ever-eclectic Asbury Lanes (a students-only Animation Workshop at 9 am; a Meet the Filmmakers reception from 7 to 9 pm), the GSFF unspools in earnest on March 29, with a 7 pm cocktail party inside the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall,followed at 8:30 by a Paramount Theatre program (introduced by the festival’s exec director Lauren Concar Sheehy) highlighted by a first local look at The Bird Catcher, a Norwegian-made feature that details a Jewish farmgirl’s strategy for survival in the time of Nazi occupation.
Saturday, March 30 finds the GSFF commandeering venues of all shapes and sizes in and around Asbury town — including locales classic (the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, the Paramount), contemporary (House of Independents,The Asbury Hotel), and kind of unusual (City Council chambers on Bangs Avenue; the Senior Center on Springwood Avenue) — for a slate of more than 30 separate screening programs, workshops and panel discussions that kicks off at 9:45 and climaxes with a 10:30 pm after-party at that Circuit-side staple, the Wonder Bar.
Of special interest among Saturday’s screen offerings are Sonic Highways Middletown, a 30 minute documentary examining the township’s contributions to the Shore music scene (JSAC, 10:30 am); the feature length doc Ed Asner: On Stage and Off (Berkeley Hotel, 11:50 am); Other 47%, a series of filmed interviews with participants in a 2018 NJ Clean Communities Council survey (Council chambers, 11:50 am); a short documentary on the renaissance of Farming in the Millstone Valley (Council chambers, 2:20 pm); a portrait of Keyport-based nonprofit Collier House (JSAC, 2:45 pm); Gone for the Weekend, a locally produced comedy (of 40-something boys behaving badly) whose supporting cast features famed Shore photographers Danny Sanchez and Mark Weiss (Paramount, 9 pm), and Down Jersey, a short chiller involving NJ’s most legendary cryptozoological creature (Berkeley, 9 pm).
Among the films spotlighted on Sunday, March 31 are the half-hour carnival-set thriller Tillie (JSAC, 10 am); Right Place, Right Time, Asbury Park filmmaker Susan Pellegrini’s portrait of ABC-TV journalist Jim Hickey (Berkeley, 12 pm); a feature length chiller set on NJ’s infamously haunted Clinton Road (Paramount, 2:30 pm), and Make America Italian Again, a short starring “Jersey’s Bad Boy of Comedy” Mike Marino (Berkeley, 3 pm).
Participating panelists and hosts for those dozens of screening programs represent a cross section of local people — among them Don Stine of The Coaster and the Asbury Park Historical Society, Asbury Park Press executive editor Hollis Towns, Paranormal Books proprietor Kathy Kelly, Monmouth County freeholder Thomas Arnone, AP Chamber of Commerce director Sylvia Sylvia, Monmouth University’s Michael Corsey, Shore-based actors Bob Mira and Charlie Deitz, Asbury Park journalist Maureen Nevin, and numerous other figures from the area’s business, professional, and public service circles.
The 2019 Garden State Film Festival comes to a close on the evening of March 31, with a black-tie-optional Awards Banquet that starts at 6:30 pm inside the Berkeley Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom. Competition winners in various categories will be announced, and the festival will give out special honors to a pair of well known Monmouth County actors. Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award will be acclaimed character player, playwright and Rumson resident Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Forrest Gump, Men In Black, Baby Mama; plus numerous appearances on SNL, Seinfeld and many other TV shows) — while Brian O’Halloran, the one and only Dante Hicks of Kevin Smith’s empire-making Clerks films and animated series, is honored with this year’s Spirit of NJ Award.
While admission to the Awards Banquet ($125) is not included in the festival’s Weekend Pass ticket, there are numerous options ranging from an all-events access ($50) and Saturday/ Sunday passes ($25-$30), to individual screening block tickets ($15 online/ $17 at the door). Get those tix — and find the full rundown of featured films, ancillary events, and in-person guests — at gsff.org.