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.

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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.

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ARCHIVE: Fornatale’s on First

The Atlantic Highlands Arts Council bags legendary DJ Pete Fornatale for a presentation tied in to his book BACK TO THE GARDEN, Sunday at Bellas Bistro. (Photo by Linda Shenkman-Curtis)

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit September 10, 2009)

His is a voice that doesn’t get taught in the School of Broadcasting: mellow and gentle without being druggy; patient and teacherly without being smuggy. The kind of voice that you’d like to have talk you down from that building ledge, or talk you up prior to that big debate-club meet.

A voice that, were it not to have been used for the good of mankind, would almost certainly have sold you the optional undercoating on a Cadillac Cimarron, or the vinyl siding on a retirement haven in Silver Spring, MD. It’s just that good.

The voice of Pete Fornatale is more than soothing lite-jazz empty calories, however. As one of the gang of scholarly on-air personalities from the long (but long-ago) heyday of the old WNEW-FM in New York, Fornatale and his musical “Mixed Bag” were a big part of what became one of the last major-market holdouts against the playlist-consultant zombies of corporate radio. While they weren’t immune from occasional semi-coherent ramblings and Rolling Stone-style cluelessness, the late program director Scott Muni and company —  Alison “The Nightbird” Steele, plus Richard NeerVin ScelsaDennis ElsasCarol Miller, a pre-Sinatra Jonathan Schwartz — started something that, dead as it may be on commercial terrestrial, continues to inspire the occasional briefly burning little wildfire on better hillsides everywhere. It was the kind of place on the dial where a nervous would-be bank robber could call in one day to be placated into surrender with a request for “Box of Rain,” followed the next day by the DJ reading a lengthy original poem about the incident.

Far from spending this new millennium in playlist-slave exile, Pete Fornatale slung his Mixed Bag over his shoulder and returned to his roots — listener-supported WFUV 90.7 FM out of Fordham University —  where he now spins on Saturday afternoons and airs his hourlong interview program Mixed Bag Radio on Sunday mornings. As a recognized authority on the cultural evolutions and revolutions of rock’s first couple of decades, Fornatale has stepped up his work as an author in recent years, with such well-regarded titles as All You Need is Love and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends making great use of the insights accrued over his decades as both fan and facilitator.

Here in the 40th anniversary summer of the Woodstock Festival, Fornatale is back in the racks with Back to the Garden, a volume that balances the collected memories from more than 100 people who attended the generation-defining event, with the author’s own perspective as a professional on the cutting edge of what was a fast-morphing musical landscape. The author comes to the greater Red Bank orbit this Sunday afternoon, for a special Woodstock-themed presentation in an unexpected place: Bellas Seafood Bistro at 71 First Avenue in Atlantic Highlands. It’s the first in a projected series of fundraiser Artists’ Lectures presented by the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, and it’s accompanied by a meet ‘n greet signing event.

While this great and storied interviewer could certainly teach us a thing or two about the art of interviewing, Red Bank oRBit gave it a go nonetheless — Continue Reading for the lengthy but ‘luminating result.

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ARCHIVE: Shanghai’d to Shoregrass Heaven


With ten you get eggroll: Richard Morris (pictured at far right) joins his mates in the M Shanghai String Band for a concert this Saturday in Atlantic Highlands. Check the band’s website to figure out who’s missing from this picture.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 28, 2009)

A few weeks ago here in oRBit, we brought you an interview with the patriarch of the family bluegrass band Cherryholmes, an act that got its start not at some ramshackle country church in the heart of Appalachia, but at a pizza joint in their native East LA.

Today we’re pleased to bring to your attention one of the finest aggregations working the tall cattails of the NY metro region’s burgeoning bluegrass scene — theM Shanghai String Band, a Brooklyn-based combo who, despite the name, play a wondrous brand of music that’s as American as, well, chop suey (look it up).

In this case, it was a popular Chinese lounge and bistro in Williamsburg that served as the launch pad for the MSSB, making the convenient marriage of urban ‘grass band and local ethnic eatery something of a minor trend.

Forming around a monthly basement jam session at the Szechuan bistro, the lineup of just under a dozen players, give or take (depending on babysitter availability) has gone out into the world to great acclaim — not just toward their live shows, but to their three albums (most recent being The Mapmaker’s Daughter, available in advance on iTunes) of original songs by Austin HughesMatthew Schickele and several others.

Check out some of the videos on their website and you’ll see a traditionally rooted yet hypercurrent team of partners, who play this smart, citified cousin to radio-grade country with authority and finesse and mystery and all the things that have gone missing from the sort of Mountaindew-mouthed “hat” acts that show up at Six Flags and the Pee ‘N See every summer.

You’ll also see a perilously crowded stage of musicians who gather “Opry style” around a single microphone, in a way that Guitar Jam Daily described as “like sharks smelling blood in the water.”

As it turns out, this Saturday evening you’ll get a chance to experience M Shanghai live, in a concert at the historic Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands. It’s a presentation of the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, and it represents a rare backyard gig for the band’s mandolin maestro Richard Morris, who as it turns out also makes his home these days in Highlands. Red Bank oRBit spoke to Morris on the eve of the big Bayshore barndance.

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