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Mar 09, 2022

It’s Showtime! The Garden State Film Festival Returns for 20th Year

By Lori Draz

Twenty years and going strong! The annual Garden State Film Festival (GSFF), New Jersey’s Premier Independent Film Festival, returns for its 20th anniversary this March 23 to 27 for live in-person events and the new virtual showcase from March 28 to April 3. This extraordinary anniversary all started 20 years ago as the dream of founder Diane Raver. 

The GSFF became the first festival on the globe to switch to an all-virtual format during the pandemic and was the first hybrid in-person/virtual festival in 2021. This year, the GSFF has become a 12-day event, offering live premieres, parties and seminars as well as virtual tickets that allow viewers to screen titles anytime within a week. It’s the ultimate hybrid of entertainment! There are close to 200 films that include an incredible variety of feature and short length dramas, thrillers, comedies, documentaries, student films, foreign films, videos and web series, music and more. Live events include seminars, filmmaker interviews, the Friday Night Gala and the finale awards presentation. This year, the GSFF announces the Kevin Smith Home Grown Feature Award named in honor of Jersey’s own Kevin Smith and his determination to make his Hollywood dreams come true. 

The festival gratefully welcomes First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy, wife of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as this year’s honorary chair. 

“Whether you attend in person or screen the films at home, you will be treated to a diverse and carefully chosen selection of films and music videos. The GSFF is a celebration of independent film that you can’t see anywhere else, “said Executive Director Lauren Concar Sheehy.

Some highlights include “The United States of Elie Tahari,” a documentary on international fashion icon Elie Tahari. Tahari will be attending the Saturday, March 26 screening in person.  

The Friday night official opening film is a comedy from the Emerald Isle. “Redemption of a Rogue” follows Jimmy, who carries around a black leather doctor’s bag containing the rope he plans to hang himself with. He returns home on a thundering, rainy day, just in time to witness his father’s last breath. But his father’s will has a condition stating he cannot be buried on a wet day. Stuck in this “Groundhog Day”-like purgatory, days roll into weeks as Jimmy seeks redemption with plenty of laugh-out-loud twists. 

Some important documentaries include “Absolute Power: Nasdaq Exposed,” about the Nasdaq’s vengeful assault on longtime ally and Chinese born consultant Benjamin Wey, following the exchange’s loss of billions of dollars invested in fraudulent Chinese companies. 

“American Rackets” takes an in-depth look into the American Mafia and the lucrative numbers operation run by Rocco “Rocky Nap” Napoli and father James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli, considered the father of racketeering. In 1988, both Napolis and five others were arrested for an alleged plot to murder the notorious John Gotti.

“Chasing Childhood” examines the pressures and depression faced by American children from smothering parents and the importance of an impressive college resumes as well as solutions to develop confident, independent students. 

Wresting fans will love the fascinating “The Claw,” the story of the church-going family man side of James Raschke aka Baron von Raschke, one of the greatest super villains in the history of professional wrestling. Fans of Raschke will be able to meet him at the screening and festival.  

“Hollywood Priest: The Story of Fr. ‘Bud’ Kieser” features appearances by Bob Newhart, Martin Sheen, Ed Begley, Jr. and others. Kieser started off as a minister and ended up a mogul. 

“Monmouth County, 9/11, and Its Aftermath” is the undersold story of how the Seastreak ferried survivors and first responders from Manhattan to New Jersey following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

On the lighter side, there’s the comedy “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” staring Rhea Perlman. It tells the quirky story of a teenage delinquent’s friendship with a surly magician who helps her navigate her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic.

Another comedy is “Our almost Completely True Story.” A tall, aging shiksa icon meets a short Jewish leprechaun in a bird store. What are the chances? This film stars Mariette Hartley, who will be attending the screening and festival; Peter Macnicol; Tess Harper; Morgan Fairchild; Bernie Kopell; John Rubenstein and Mindy Sterling.

Additionally, there are many neighborhood actors, writers, producers and directors represented in this year’s events. Leading the pack is Rumson’s Siobhan Fallon Hogan who won this year’s Screenplay Competition. Rumson’s Abbey Koshak also screens her promo for “Waterspirit,” a local ecological charity. Atlantic Highlands’ Chelsea Slayter presents “After the Egg,” and Shrewsbury’s Daniel Meyers shares his film “Monitor.” Of course, Christopher Corey will be showcasing many of the fantastic student films produced in his Film and TV Production classes at Middletown High School South. 

Live events include the Friday Night Gala Cocktail Party with industry professionals, red carpet photos and the screening of the Opening Night film and ends with the fabulous Awards Ceremony at The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel (Awards Ceremony is a separate ticket).

That’s just some of what you’ll see. You can watch movie after movie, see the virtual reading of the winning screenplay and attend industry-related workshops. You will also hear the festival’s Movie Music Competition’s award-winning musical compositions played before the screenings and on the GSFF website. Add to that specialty events, after parties and lots more surprises. There are a variety of ticket packages for both in-person and virtual events. The GSFF runs March 23 to 27 for live in-person events and/or new this year, choose one, five, 10 or unlimited access virtual tickets will give access to films between March 28 to April 3. The In-Person Multi Pass gives you access to all in-person events (except the awards ceremony) and is just $75. The ALL ACCESS Virtual Pass is only $44.99.

Visit gsff.org for tickets, screening schedules and to learn more.