NOTE: By order of the State of New Jersey, all bars, nightclubs, theatres and performing arts centers are closed until further notice. Restaurants remain open for take-out and delivery on a limited schedule, while local cinemas and playhouses have cancelled all shows. Contact individual venues for information on regarding prior ticket sales and reschedulings of announced events…and keep the safety of our community in mind!

Published in The Link News (Long Branch, NJ), March 26, 2020

To be clear about it, the various film-actor celebs that we were anticipating seeing — including Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine, or Terminator tandem Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick — will not be making any of those promised personal appearances at area restaurants, theatres or screening spaces.

Instead, these distinguished guests and many more will be coming to your living room, your home office, your kitchen, your bedroom, your bathroom — wherever you choose to take in a movie, TV series or video on your personal screening space these days.

With its 18th annual edition — the third since returning to the Monmouth County milieu of its birth — set to unspool over the course of this weekend, the Garden State Film Festival had mapped out a sprawling slate of screening-event blocks, panels, seminars and ceremonies; a rigorously organized schedule set to commandeer auditoriums, businesses, and municipal meeting places all over Asbury Park and Ocean Grove.

Our unprecedented public health emergency, and its mandated closings of nearly every space in which audiences congregate, had another something to say about those best-laid plans of mice and men. And it appeared as though the GSFF would be just one more small ripple in a wave of postponements and cancellations that included big-time concert events, Broadway shows, major pro and college sports contests, the Cannes Film Festival, and a little thing called the Olympics.

Rather than remaining lost in the tsunami that’s crashed against the economic shore, however, the festival diverted its current to a place Down by the Old Live Stream — with the result that beginning today, March 26, and continuing through this coming Sunday, March 29, the event with the Jersey Tomatoes in its logo soldiers on in “hothouse tomatoes” style; presenting all of its previously announced films as scheduled, and as streaming programs available exclusively to GSFF “attendees.”

Speaking on the eve of the first live-stream happening, festival founder Diane Raver observed that “as recently as ten days ago, we were still a physical event…but when we realized what had to be done, we turned this thing around in record time.”

“That’s all Lauren, God bless her,” said Raver in reference to GSFF exec director Lauren Concar Sheehy, “along with Sage Del Valle, our director of operations and technical wizard…thanks to them, we were able to design a solution, and to build something ourselves.”

As the festival organizers point out, this remains a “ticketed event” for which anyone who purchases an admission at the official website gsff.org is able to access their choice of featured programming blocks from private servers (“not YouTube or Vimeo, and not prone to pirating”). According to a press announcement, previously purchased tickets will be honored for the streamed programming, as well as at the 2021 Garden State Film Festival — and while panels, workshops and other in-person offerings have necessarily been cancelled, the live-stream format has the advantage of allowing film fans to “be in two places at the same time,” with none of the scheduled events subject to turning away attendees from a sold-out screening space.

As Sheehy put it in a statement, the festival “promises to be a celebration of independent film that you can’t see anywhre else, all from the comfort of your home.” Festival chairman Eric Ascalon added that “we intend to ‘virtually’ reach not only our traditional attendees, but also an expanded homebound audience yearning to interface with the arts.”

The 18th annual event kicks off tonight at 7 pm with a special Meet the Filmmaker video that offers previews of featured films — and continues at 8 pm with one of the most anticipated offerings on this year’s schedule, the feature-length documentary QT8: The First Eight. An examination of the career of game-changing director and producer Quentin Tarantino, the project from filmmaker Tara Wood features contributions from such frequent QT collaborators as Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, and is made to order for passionate film buffs in a state of self-”Quarantino.”    

Asbury (by way of Brunswick) icons…and our ‘cross-the-street neighbors… The Bouncing Souls.

Friday, March 27 highlights a “family feature” with an ironic theme: namely, the joys of putting down that screen, getting out of the house, and enjoying all that the outside world has to offer. While Team Marco might be consigned to the realm of sci-fi and fantasy for the time being, Staten Island-based director Julio Vincent Gambuto’s comedy-drama of a 12 year old kid who’s forced to spend time with his live-in grandfather — and who discovers the wonders of bocce in the process — streams at 8:30 pm for Shore-based bocce ball fans and more.

After that, the festival goes into full effect, with Saturday and Sunday offering access to daily slates of programmed blocks, full details of which appear at http://www.gsff.org/2020-schedule/ (the info regarding the screening venues is no longer applicable; the event times remain in effect for streaming). Saturday morning and afternoon highlights include Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (block BC14, 11:30 am), an examination of the career of the pioneering NJ-based female filmmaker of the silent era, and a documentary short with deep connection to the Asbury Park music scene. Streaming at 1:45 pm as part of programming block P3, Bouncing Souls: Stoked for the Summer finds the internationally followed punk band (whose world HQ and Little Eden recording studio is on AP’s Fourth Avenue) celebrating their 30th anniversary as they prep for their annual concert event at the Stone Pony SummerStage.

A drama from exec producer Shaquille O’Neal, Foster Boy (block P4, 4:45 pm) stars Matthew Modine as a corporate lawyer who’s awakened to the corruption of a for-profit foster care agency, while Saturday evening’s schedule offers Sopranos veteran and Jersey favorite Vincent Pastore as a mob boss who “thinks the owner of a pizza parlor is his long-lost son” in Casanova & the Don (block JS29, 5:15 pm), as well as the hour-long music doc Punk: The Street Rock Revolution (block TA23, 8:15 pm).

Sunday morning boasts another documentary short of hyper-local interest, as Local Legends of Asbury Park (block P6, 11:45 am) finds photographers and filmmakers William DeVizia and Michael Lucio Sternbach profiling a panorama of personalities that range from Parlor Gallery proprietor/ community art project curator Jenn Hampton, muralist-sculptor Porkchop, artist-DJ-drummer Neil “Foggy Notion” O’Brien, musican-activist-chiropractor Geena Alessio Buono and “renaissance woman” Tina Kerekes, to music scene veteran Lance Larson, Springsteen associate Tinker West, and retired APPD Lt. George Corbin.

Sunday afternoon continues with the documentary profile Stallone: Frank, That Is (block SC43, 12:15 pm), while Matthew Modine returns in support of Uzo Aduba (as an inner-city mother whose desire to give her son a good education launches a widespread movement) for Miss Virginia (block JS28, 2:30 pm) — and festival honoree Linda Hamilton co-stars in Easy Does It (block P7, 2:45 pm), a 70s-style road movie in which “two small-town buddies and their accidental hostage careen across the1970s Southwest on a treasure hunt turned crime spree.”

“If you remember the aftermath of Sandy in 2012, we were the first major event to be up and running again…and we’re determined not to let this emergency stop us in 2020,” said Raver. “We didn’t feel that other streaming options were secure enough, so we built something all our own; something as strong as Fort Knox…and now we’ve got other event organizers coming to us, asking how they can do what we’ve done!”

Visit the Garden State Film Festival’s website at gsff.org to purchase access to the live-stream programming (individual blocks $15; multi-day pass $55) — including a festival-ending virtual awards ceremony that’s set to feature the participation of the celebrity honorees. Follow the GSFF for updates on the already-in-the-works 19th annual edition, as well as for additional information on transferring previously purchased tickets toward admission to the 2021 event.

SCREENS: The SPIRITS are willing, in Asbury Park

Tune in to the Travel Channel this Friday, March 27 at 9 pm EST (or again at 1 am Saturday), as the paranormal-activity investigators of Kindred Spirits invade Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall…for a look behind the curtain of this cathedral of popular amusement, and its link to one of the most tragic maritime disasters of the 20th century, the wreck of the SS Morro Castle.

The Stephen Crane House played a part in the episode entitled “Stage Fright” this past September, when Kathy Kelly, proprietor of Paranormal Books and Curiosities proprietor joined series hosts Amy Bruni and Adam Berry at the historic Fourth Avenue home of the Asbury Park Historical Society. A historian, author, folklorist and community activist with a Masters degree in History, Kelly (at center in photo) was among those interviewed on the mysteries that continue to suround the Morro Castle incident, as well as its lingering legacy on the reportedly haunted corridors and corners of the Convention Hall complex.

Kelly has also been instrumental in establishing the nonprofit project known as Asbury Park Dinner Table, an endeavor which has raised tens of thousands of dollars in a mere handful of days; bringing needed business to the city’s restaurants and eateries, while feeding the community’s food-insecure neighbors. Look them up on your social media platform of choice…and find out how you can be a “kindred spirit” to that great grass-roots initiative!