Festival director Diane Raver introduces Laura Dern to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, who received the Impact Award for Promoting Business and Arts Alliance in New Jersey, the awards banquet at Trump Taj Mahal wraps up the Garden State Film Festival Sunday evening.

ATLANTIC CITY — That’s a wrap.

The first Garden State Film Festival to play in Atlantic City ended Sunday night with a dinner that featured dozens of awards — and plenty of positive reviews for the festival’s time on location in town.

Diane Raver, the founder and executive director, said she isn’t just planning a sequel in the city next year. She expects the move to be permanent.

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“We’re here for good. This is our home now,” Raver said. “You can’t shake me away with a stick.”

She said she got great cooperation wherever she and the festival went — which is important in an event that played at four venues around the city, and many screening rooms within those locations.

“I can’t thank the union laborers enough,” she said.

Raver, who moved the film festival to Atlantic City after 11 years in Asbury Park, was a busy woman at the banquet, joining a parade of movie and TV stars on a small, crowded red carpet for an endless string of pictures.

The night’s celebrities included actors Ed Asner — who played Lou Grant on two hit TV series — and Bebe Neuwirth, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, Dern’s mother. Ladd was there to give her daughter the festival’s “Independent Spirit Award.” Neuwirth, the former “Cheers” star, got the “Wave of Excellence” award.

At one point, Raver thought the red-carpet scene was getting a bit too boisterous for the other guests to hear a group of young filmmakers get their honor. So she took over as a director.

“Quiet on the set,” she ordered, at full volume. And the command worked — at least briefly.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian was pulled in for many of the pictures. He said the paparazzi-style moment was new for him.

“A little taste of Hollywood right here in Atlantic City,” Guardian said, “right on the Boardwalk.”

Guardian was happy with how the film festival went — and especially how it fit in on a busy Atlantic City weekend.

He said more than 20,000 people went to the beer festival at the Atlantic City Convention Center and estimated that several thousand more ran on the Boardwalk in the April Fool’s Half Marathon Sunday morning.

“It was an exciting weekend,” said Guardian, who presented an award to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno later.

And as for the film festival itself, “I don’t think they know the final (attendance) numbers, but I think they should be really pleased.”

Franklin Ojeda Smith, a sociology professor for 40 years at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, was obviously pleased by winning a “Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting and Education.” But Smith, of Galloway Township, hasn’t been acting for his whole life. He started around age 55 after a case of cancer and an “epiphany,” he said.

His first role was as an extra, but he since has had numerous speaking parts, including as a deacon on HBO’s locally rooted hit, “Boardwalk Empire.”

“Don’t pinch me,” Smith told a crowd that would give him a standing ovation seconds later. “I don’t want to awake from this dream.”

Scott Neustadter, a Margate native, won the festival’s “Spirit of New Jersey” award. He’s a Hollywood-based screenwriter who wrote the hit “(5000 Days of Summer.”

As he took his award, Neustadter — an Atlantic City High School graduate — made an admission to his hometown.

“I can’t say I always believed in myself,” he said, “but luckily I was always surrounded by people who did” — including two tables full of family members there to see him honored.

“I may live 3,000 miles away now,” Neustadter added, “but this place is home ... and always will be.”

And now the Garden State Film Festival is saying the same thing.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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