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Independent film and a talk show icon to be celebrated at the Garden State Film Festival

Independent film and a talk show icon to be celebrated at the Garden State Film Festival

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New Jersey is the birthplace of the American filmmaking industry — or so the Garden State Film Festival claims.

Backing up their statement is the fact that Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratories are located in the aptly named Edison. It was there that he began tinkering with the concept of recording the human voice, later inventing the first film cameras and projectors. Fort Lee also has a place in film history, as it was the location of many early film studios.

The somewhat-unknown ties New Jersey has to the film industry motivated the birth of the Garden State Film Festival in 2002, along with a desire to encourage and promote independent filmmakers. This year, the Festival will run from Friday to Sunday, March 31 to April 2 at Resorts Casino Hotel and Dante Hall, with a schedule packed with film showings, workshops and parties.

The legend

Wedged in among the bevy of events and screenings will be an appearance by one red-glasses-wearing legend. Sally Jessy Raphael, the iconic talk show host known for her show “Sally,” will receive the GSFF’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’m greatly honored,” says Raphael of the recognition. “It’s really wonderful. I’ve not had a lot of kudos come my way in recent years.”

When asked why Raphael responds, “I don’t know. One can go in and out of the spotlight.”

It’s certainly anybody’s guess as to why Raphael has, as she puts it, “gone out of the spotlight.” Still active and vibrant at 82, Raphael is working, doing movies, appearances and radio interviews, all while fly fishing and oil painting in her spare time. Life has certainly not slowed down for Raphael, who became the first female talk show host on television with 1983’s “Sally.”

With decades of experience in the media, Raphael has seen an overhaul in the way journalism is produced and consumed.

“There’s now a need for journalists to be blingy and glitzy. It’s overwhelming,” she laments. “It has to be incendiary, or they think you’re dull, instead of being calm, informative and neutral.”

And though the landscape has changed, Raphael counts her adaptability as one of the greatest achievements of her career.

“Staying alive and in the business is a challenge,” she explains. “I was thinking about a lifetime of achievement in media, and when I did my first radio show I was a quiz kid in 1941 — that gives me 76 years in radio. I don’t think anyone can match that ... There is no trick. It’s just persistence and patience.”

Those 76 years will serve her well on the GSFF’s “Hollywood Then & Now” panel, on which she will serve 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Resorts’ Green Room. She’ll be there, signature red glasses and all — though she won’t be happy to wear them.

“I don’t like them. I only wear them when I’m out doing an appearance,” she says of her iconic glasses. “You don’t want you spend your whole life trying to do good and all you’re known for is your glasses.”

The filmmakers

Though there will be 216 movies shown from over 24 countries, no film seems quite as suited for the Garden State Film Festival as “The Dunning Man,” to be screened 7:15 p.m., April 1, in the Ocean Ballroom at Resorts. The film, helmed by director and screenwriter Michael Clayton and based on the book of short stories of the same name by Kevin Fortuna, who also produced the film, is in many ways “a love story about Atlantic City.”

“I spent my summers in Atlantic City pretty much since I was born. I have a lot of family in the area in Margate and my uncle actually grew up in the inlet where the movie is set,” Fortuna says. “A.C. features prominently almost as a character in the movie.

“I’ve always been fascinated with Atlantic City and the way that it serves as a place for reinvention, as it has reinvented itself again and again … The movie is actually set right behind Revel. I think it is in some ways a magical place. That’s the way the movie and the story it’s based on present the city. For some people, it’s kind of a blank canvas where they kind of figure themselves out, and that’s what the main character does in the movie.”

The film focuses on Connor Ryan, who returns to Atlantic City jobless and broken-hearted, attempting to patch up his life, drawing on the meager income provided by the few apartments he owns. As hinted at by Fortuna, the apartments are shadowed by Atlantic City’s skyscraping failure, Revel.

“People have sounded the death knell in Atlantic City so many times, and it stays alive and keeps finding a way to go on. That’s really what the character’s doing,” says Clayton, who is originally from Georgia but “fell in love” with Atlantic City through the processthe filmmaking.

“When Michael flew to Atlantic City to spent a weekend with me, we went to all my old haunts and spent some time with my uncle,” Fortuna tells. “As part of that journey, we were walking on the boardwalk and I took a picture, and that picture is actually the cover of the book.”

With the film shot largely in A.C. with such a hometown connection, Fortuna and Clayton are thrilled to be part of the Garden State Film Festival.

“I was really hoping we would get in,” Fortuna says. “In a lot of ways it is about Atlantic City, so it’s going to be great to have our East Coast premiere right there on the boardwalk at Resorts.”

Even more than the significance of the setting, the audience of a Jersey-based film festival may resonate more with the story of “The Dunning Man.”

“The film covers everything, from the romanticized version of the city to the real folks living three blocks away from the boardwalk,” Clayton says.

“I think there’s something universal about the story,” Fortuna adds. “But given how much footage we took of the city — most of the exteriors — I think it will resonate in a different and more powerful way with people who are familiar with Atlantic City.”

5 can’t-miss parties and events

  1. Gala Cocktail Party and First Screening: The Festival will kick off 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, with its Gala Cocktail Party and First Screening at Resorts’ Ballroom. The night will include a silent auction boasting prizes like signed memorabilia from the likes of Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe DiMaggio, weekend trips and items from Tiffany’s, Kate Spade and Ferragamo. Attire is anything from business casual to full-fledged fancy. Music by Tony Day featuring Across the Globe Music Group will liven things up. A screening of “Last Man Club” will also take place that night.
  2. Open Talent Casting Call: Head to the Producers Room on the 13th floor of Resorts’ Ocean Tower for an open talent call 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday. Talent manager Renate English will meet every attendee personally. Those planning to go should bring along two headshots and resumes, as well as a one minute monologue and/or 16 bars of a song that can be sung a capella.
  3. Hands-on Stop Motion workshop: Mark Shapiro from LAIKA animation studio will present a hands-on workshop 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Dante Hall, highlighting stop motion animation. Shapiro will go in-depth as to how movies like “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrools” were created.
  4. Hollywood Then & Now: This panel will offer guests the chance to pick the brains of industry professionals, including producer and daughter of actor Paul Henreid of “Casablanca” fame Monika Henreid, executive producer Michael Uslan and TV talk show legend and the winner of the GSFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award Sally Jessy Raphael. The trio will discuss how Hollywood has changed — for better or worse, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, in the Resorts Green Room.
  5. GSFF Awards Dinner: The Awards Dinner will close the festival in grand fashion 6:30 p.m. Sunday. A black tie-optional affair in the Resorts’ Atlantic Ballroom, this is where the winners of the year will be announced and celebrated, with entertainment courtesy of The Film Cans.

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