Diane Raver’s bullishness about Atlantic City might make her a prime mayoral candidate, were she not already spending her time heading the Garden State Film Festival.
After 11 years in and around Asbury Park, Raver hopes the festival — which she said brought thousands of people to the Monmouth County town and, according to the city, generated more than $800,000 annually — can produce even better results in a place that has a history of holding major events.
So far, Raver said, she has run into no red tape or hassles from Atlantic City officials in relocating the film festival.
“I’ve never been so thrilled to work with such professional people,” she said.
Starting today and continuing through Sunday, 184 films from 16 countries will be screened, mostly at Resorts Casino Hotel and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. Festival events also are scheduled for Boardwalk Hall, the Chelsea Hotel and Dante Hall.
“This is a true indie film festival,” Raver said. “These movies are made from someone’s heart and body. It is freedom of expression in its purest form.”
When Raver comes to town, she will bring plenty of celebrity friends with her.
Among the people who will be in Atlantic City are Laura Dern of the movies “Jurassic Park” and “Blue Velvet;” Bebe Neuwirth, of the TV series “Cheers;” Oscar-nominated actress and director Diane Ladd; and Ed Asner of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant” TV series.
“They (celebrities) will come to Atlantic City much more willingly than they would go to Asbury Park,” said Raver, who lives in Sea Girt, Monmouth County.
The Garden State Film Festival was being held in Asbury Park when the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority inquired about relocating it to Atlantic City. One of the festival’s board members introduced Raver to Kim Butler, the CRDA’s director of communications, in the fall of 2012.
A lingering dispute between the city of Asbury Park and developer Madison Marquette raised questions about the future use of the Paramount Theatre and the Convention Hall Atrium, the festival’s two main venues, according to Raver. The festival could not be held in Asbury Park without the availability of those two facilities, she said.
Over the years, other municipalities expressed interest in hosting the festival, but Raver resisted moving it. Atlantic City is the perfect place for the festival because of the availability of hotel rooms, restaurants and parking, Raver said. The proximity of Atlantic City International Airport also makes it easier to accommodate people from out of the area.
The CRDA agreed to pay $100,000 annually for three years to have the festival in Atlantic City.
Relocating the festival to Atlantic City benefits, among others, Sterling Brown and his wife, Dawn, of Egg Harbor Township, and Bill Horin of Linwood, the founder of ArtC, an organization dedicated to promoting the arts in southern New Jersey. They collaborated on the one-person docudrama “Lady of the Air,” which debuts at the festival.
The short film focuses on Harriet Quimby, the first woman to earn a pilot’s certificate in the United States and the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
“I picked this (film festival) obviously because it’s nearby, and it’s my first one, my first time. It just fit in because we were just ending the editing process for ‘Lady of the Air,’ so the timing was right,” said Dawn Brown, who added she was thrilled when she learned her film would be included in the festival. “Of course, that was extremely exciting.”
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian was named the festival’s honorary chairman this year. Guardian will cut the ribbon to kick off the opening night gala party Friday and will serve as emcee of the festival’s awards dinner Sunday. An open talent casting call takes place Saturday at Dante Hall Theater of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; Stockton’s Carnegie Center and Dante Hall are festival sponsors. The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College hosts a reception for filmmakers and movie fans Saturday.
In addition to movie screenings, Resorts is hosting an opening night cocktail party, and Taj will host the awards dinner.
Mark Giannantonio, Resorts’ president and CEO, said the Resorts team thought it was a good idea to participate in the film festival. The casino executive views the festival as a positive development for the city in that it was very successful in Asbury Park. The festival is also a good fit for the casino, he said.
“We have a property that can show films (in the screening room). We are always looking to bring in a unique client who may not be coming to Atlantic City to begin with, and that gives our property some additional exposure,” Giannantonio said.
The Chelsea Hotel on Saturday hosts both a live stage reading by Asner and Ladd of this year’s winning screenplay and a bullet-time cinematography workshop and professional panel discussion.
“I think it’s a very positive step in the right direction. I think that through the CRDA and the Atlantic City Alliance, we are moving in the direction to have ourselves recognized as more than just a gaming town,” said Francesca Santoro, the Chelsea’s general manager.
The festival’s purpose is to shine the spotlight on the very best independent films, Raver said. The festival also serves as the launching pad for the next generation of filmmakers, she said.
Magic can happen and connections can be made by having people from the independent film community in one place at one time, Raver said.
People with disabilities who would like to attend the festival should not feel left out because they have been taken into consideration, Raver said. Wheelchair-bound attendees and their helpers will be admitted to screenings for free, Raver said. Outreach also will be made to those in the military. Some films from this year’s festival will be sent to military installations around the world. This practice started in the second year of the festival, according to Raver.
“We’ve got a lot of plans,” Raver said.
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