My Favorite Film Festival
Eleven years ago I had a dream. To start a small film festival in my hometown of Ventnor, New Jersey. Hollywood Director, Kevin Smith, agreed to come and award the first winners. I named the festival The Downbeach Film Festival because for the folks that live in Atlantic City, NJ the term 'downbeach' means south of the city. Now the festival is firmly fixed right in the center of Atlantic City at the beautiful Dante Hall Theater and the Arts Garage.
The 11th Annual Atlantic City Cinefest/Downbeach Film Festival unfolded this past October 12 - 14 and took the Shore by Storm! Sixty-four films were screened in two venues to excited audiences and proud filmmakers.
Special guests of the Festival were Hollywood stars Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard, Parenthood, and Heart Like a Wheel) and Chris Mann (Creed 2, Loving, and The Wire). They were there for screenings on all three days, mixing and mingling with audiences and filmmakers. Chris's new film, What Death Leaves Behind, won Best Feature Film and has just been accepted into the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
The Festival started off in beautiful Dante Hall Theater when new Festival Director, Joelle Sokolic, and Festival Founder, Bill Sokolic, welcomed everyone and set the stage for three days of fun, passionate conversations, and cinematic enlightenment. Then came four hours of exciting and thought-provoking films from a wide range of filmmakers. The house was packed and very responsive. Former Festival winners and local filmmakers like Pat Kaz, Tony Picciotti, and Keith Vaille, had new films that resonated with the audience.
The After Party rocked at Ducktown Tavern.
Screenings began at 11:30 at both Dante Hall and the Noyes Arts Garage. The films ranged from blocks of animations and shorts to full length features and documentaries. All day the audiences enjoyed the full spectrum of styles and stories. At 2:00 there was a Filmmakers Panel that packed the upstairs studio in Dante Hall.
Trustee Ned Eckhardt moderated a celebrity-filled discussion focused on the current state of the film industry and how to get your films distributed. The panel consisted of Christopher Mann, Actor and Producer (Loving, The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets, Creed 2 and many others), Keith Collins, Actor and Producer (The Samaritans, The Evangelist, Sex and the City), Sebastian Foxworhy, Writer, Animator, Director (A Family Blend, The Great American Depression: Aware, Land of the Misfits: The Avenging Angel), Jack Skyyler, Director (Driver, Suicide Party, Death's Door), and Stephanie Ryan (Ryan Casting in Atlantic City).
Saturday evening there was a special screening of the classic thriller, Die Hard. Festival guest and Lifesaver Award winner, Bonnie Bedelia,was there to introduce the film and answer questions. Bonnie played the role of Bruce Willis's wife in Die Hard.
Screenings began, again, at 11:30. As always, a great mix of shorts, features, and documentaries. Sunday afternoon there was a premiere screening of the new, feature film, What Death Leaves Behind, starring Christopher Mann. Chris was a special guest of the festival and a winner of The Lifesaver Award. The screening was in front of a full house. The response was electric. Chris and the What Death Leaves Behind team thanked the audience during an informative Q and A.
The Awards Ceremony kicked off at 8 PM. Dante Hall Theater was filled to overflowing. Bonnie Bedelia and Chriss Mann opened the festivities with retrospectives of their careers and praise for the Festival. Then Festival Founder, Bill Sokolic, gave each one the prestigious Lifesaver Award, which honors their lives and accomplishments and makes them a permanent part of the Atlantic City Cinefest family. At last, it was time for the awards for the filmmakers. As excitement and gratification filled the Theater, another successful Festival came to a rousing and happy end. A pumped up crowd adjourned to the Irish Pub for a well-earned After Party.
Past Festivals Snapshots