By Chris Rotolo |
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Later this month the annual FilmOneFest will celebrate its 10th anniversary, but the milestone moment is sure to be bittersweet.
In late June it was announced that the festival’s founder and co-director, Robert O’Connor, would be stepping down from his post in order to focus on his own artistic exploits as a multimedia artist and painter, as well a Julliard-educated musician.
“I think, for me, the festival has a structure now. It’s a well-oiled machine and at this point I’m really in a management position that someone else can be trained for,” O’Connor said. “The act of creating the festival was what excited me. I think right now, I’ve taken it as far as I can, and the time has come for another person, or people, to come in and see what they can make of it.”
Fellow co-director Corinna Thuss said she’ll be choking back tears when the festival opens at the borough’s Harbor Park Saturday, July 21, as she and the event crew usher in the end of an era. *UPDATE July 20: Due to impending storms, organizers say FilmOneFest has been relocated indoors to Henry Hudson Regional High School in Highlands.- Editor
“It’ll absolutely be a bittersweet moment for me and everyone who is and has been involved with the festival. I know I’ll be struggling to keep my emotions in check,” said Thuss, who joined the organization in 2010.
Since its inception, the festival’s unique style – a showcase of innovative short films that are less than two minutes in length – has helped create a sterling reputation and a devoted following, one that helped draw more than 2,000 attendees in 2017.
It’s also drawn the eye of such national sponsors as Whole Foods Market, PepsiCo and Wells Fargo, not to mention the Bayshore’s favorite filmmaking son, Kevin Smith.
In May, Smith made an appearance at the borough’s Atlantic Cinemas, where the writer and director of such cult classics as “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy,” “Mallrats,” and “Dogma” spoke to and took questions from a sold-out audience for nearly three hours. It was the second year Smith appeared at the theater in support of FilmOneFest, which received all proceeds from the event.
“Robert created something very special here,” Thuss said. “He built it out of genuine love for the arts and the artists. His vision to make the art form more accessible to filmmakers and viewers was pure, and that’s why people have gravitated toward it. It’s why an iconic filmmaker like Kevin Smith comes back home to support it.”
Coinciding with that growing support has been the mounting yearly submissions, as well as the international flavor of this once localized affair.
According to the organization, FilmOneFest received nearly 300 submissions for its 10th anniversary event, which came from 46 different countries.
“There were some tough times at the beginning and certainly some years I wasn’t sure we’d be back the following summer,” O’Connor said. “I could have never envisioned it as it is today. I’m really proud of this festival and proud of what it does for the local community. Atlantic Highlands has embraced it. And we wouldn’t be where we are right now without that homegrown support.”
When O’Connor entered art school – and went on to earn degrees from The Cooper Union and the Vermont College of Fine Arts – he envisioned himself traveling the world, with openings in Chelsea, London and Berlin. But after settling in Atlantic Highlands, he realized a film festival could have a much larger impact on the arts world.
“This kind of community arts project has brought a lot of meaning to my life, just because I see what it does,” O’Connor said. “We’re sort of on the front lines, bringing art to people who don’t necessarily seek it out, or don’t necessarily believe that they can be artists. It provides a platform and that’s a powerful thing.”
It’s for that reason O’Connor is excited that FilmOneFest won’t end with his departure, as Thuss has plans to continue the development of the event.
“I’m confident that the vision I and Corinna had for this festival will remain at the heart of it and that she’ll be able carry it into the future and that’ll it continue to morph into something very special – something I can’t even imagine at this moment.”
FilmOneFest will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 21 and will include musical performances by Cranston Dean, Inner Gypsy and Elastic Waist Band. The featured screening is scheduled for 9 p.m. Attendees of the free festival are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets and nonperishable food items to donate to the Atlantic Highlands Food Pantry.
This article first appeared in the July 12– 19, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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