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PCR #367  (Vol. 8, No. 14) This edition is for the week of April 2--8, 2007.

"Grindhouse"  by Mike Smith
Garden State Film Fest, 2007  by Paul Guzzo
Passing On....Trivial Notes....Dice-K....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 14: Bill Macy  by Mike Smith
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Filmlook by Paul Guzzo

Garden State Film Fest, 2007

The smell of stale beer was beginning to bother me. Luckily, the crowd at this musty Asbury Park, New Jersey ghetto bar was saying their goodbyes, as the bartender impatiently paced back and forth, the expression on his face screaming at us to leave. As the television in the back of the bar snapped to black, my friend Mike sheepishly turned to me and asked, “Dude, can you walk me to my car then I’ll drive you to your car? This area ain’t too safe.”

No, this wasn’t a drunken night on the town in which I revisited old New Jersey haunts for fun. This was the 2007 edition of the Garden State Film Festival, which was held March 23 – 25. The bar was the venue for my brother’s and my newest film, “The Ghosts of Ybor,” and the television was our screen. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Our film showed at a bar on a television. It was Friday at 8 p.m. A primetime slot. Usually, this is an honor for a film to have bestowed upon it. Instead, it was a travesty.

I’ve always been very high on the Garden State Film Fest. Two years ago our short film, “The Dance,” played to close to 300 people and last year our feature film, “99,” won Pick of the Flicks at the fest. It has always been a topnotch fest, one I’ve described as a “mid-major film festival.” But this year, the film festival took a major step back.

A less than perfect film festival was understandable this year, as the fest had some tough issues to deal with. The director of the film festival, a woman I consider to be one of the nicest human beings I have ever met (yes, good people do reside in NJ), has more important matters to tend to than the festival – her husband has been diagnosed with cancer. Also, the festivals normal venue – the Asbury Park Convention Center – was double booked, so the festival only had access to half the building this year, losing a 500-seat venue to a punk rock concert and forcing the film festival to use unconventional venues such as bars and bowling allies.

But, the two main issues plaguing the film festival this year are problems they could have dealt with.

Too many films. The festival continues to grow every year, but not by audience or publicity, only by the number of films they accept. As a filmmaker you’d think I’d love a film festival than continues to accept more and more films every year, as it gives me more of an opportunity to have my film shown. And normally I do. BUT, if the film festival does not have the resources or the audience to give a film its proper respect, they should not continue to accept more films. Honestly, I’d rather have my film turned down than shown on a television to 30 people in a bar. I felt completely disrespected. Film festivals should show films on movie screens, but with so many films accepted to the fest and so many venues, the fest simply ran out of projectors and movie screens. And, in an under-populated beach town like Asbury Park, despite a small arts community, much of the population could care less about a film festival. With so many films showing at once that night, it was impossible to bring a big crowd to any film.

Location … Location … Location. Adding to the end of Reason #1 – Asbury Park is not a proper town for a film festival. For those who have never been to Asbury Park, it is an artistic wonder. Its old carnie-looking buildings casting shadows on the sand of the Jersey Shore are an inspiring landscape to gaze upon. Because of the aesthetic uniqueness of the town, a small arts community has always been present. I respect the goal of the film festival board in hoping the film festival can bring outsiders to Asbury Park to revive interest in the struggling beach town, but the Asbury Park politicians have failed them, as have the residents. The arts community alone is not large enough to support a film festival. And, Asbury Park has not improved since I was a little kid. It continues to be a ghetto beach town known only for the Stone Pony and Bruce Springsteen. It shows no signs of improvement. People no longer want to give Asbury Park a chance. People just want to stay away.

Despite this year’s problems, the festival director is outstanding and they always bring in top films and throw good parties. So I won’t give up on the festival and hope they accept my next film (a documentary on the Ybor City mafia wars –- little self-plug there). I pray they change locations, though. New Jersey is ripe for a film festival to explode. Princeton or New Brunswick are two beautiful cities with major colleges – University of Princeton and University of Rutgers respectively – and thriving arts communities. If the Garden State Film Festival relocated to either city it could grow, not in the number of films they accept, but in the audience size and the quality of venue, which is what really matters.

P.J. Leanard, the writer and producer of The Immaculate Misconception, which won the Audience Choice Award at the Gasparilla Film Festival here in Tampa, drove to Asbury Park to see “Ghosts of Ybor” and catch up with my brother and me. As the bar closed and we made our way to our cars, he summed it up best when he said, “Makes you realize how good you guys have it in Tampa.”

He’s right. We’re lucky because honestly, for all the complaints the press and the public spew about Tampa having too many film festivals, what they sometimes forget to mention is all the film festivals are topnotch in terms of what they offer. They all offer entertaining films showing in awesome venues (can you beat the Cuban Club or Tampa Theatre?!?!) in a great city that, despite what many people who seem to never leave Tampa think, supports independent film better than most cities I have been to.

Do not think otherwise … I have been to film festivals all over the country … Tampa is near the top of the food chain for supporting independent film. Sometimes, we spend too much time complaining about our film community’s faults and not enough time praising what it does right.

"Filmlook" is ©2007 by Paul Guzzo.   All graphics unless otherwise noted are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.