The 2009 Garden State Film Festival

I arrived at the Paramount Theatre Friday night for the first of my two day stint at the Garden State Film Festival. As usual, I was early so I decided to go down to the beach and hang out on the rocks and watch the waves crash into the rock wall. This activity would prove to be the only highlight for me during my two day event at the festival. I hung out on the rocks as long as possible listening to the Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet on my MP3 player. At 6 precisely, I entered the Arcade.

The arcade looked more official than it had before. The ticket office was a tent which was set up in the center of the south entrance doors.  I looked around for familiar faces, Patrick spotted me and he was standing with other volunteers.

15 minutes pass by and we are just standing there, 15 more minutes passed, then 15 more minutes later more volunteers turned up and the people in the tent began talking to us. They gave us volunteers carnations. No one dressed up for their volunteer work. Workers at the festival had black staff shirts stating which company they work for. Us volunteers were scheduled to work as plain clothes guards and anyone trying to get into the arcade without a ticket for the opening night party were expected to see that carnation and know anyone with that on meant business.

After 7, people began showing up for the opening party. I but my best food forward. Soft spoken, I used eye contact to make sure people knew why I was there. The reason this job was such a waste of time was the ticket tent was set up 10 feet behind us “guards”.  It felt more and more like myself and Pat were guarding the restrooms to your right sign which was placed strategically between us.

After an hour of checking tickets and telling people to walk ten paces forward for their ticket, someone actually offered us volunteers a small bottle of vitamin water. Another volunteer came around with small pieces of various cheeses, cheery tomatoes, and pepperoni slices. I arrived to this event with the understanding that their would be food enough to skip dinner and eat it when I was no longer needed  to work. This did not happen and I went home finishing my cold green tea in my car and feeling hungry.

At about a quarter past 8 Pat and I were told to move to one side of the tent and we just had to make sure anyone going past the tent had a ticket. So we stood there. His back was to the tent and my back was to a collection of photographs and drawings.  Patrick had a stunning looking woman, tallish in a gray dress with white diamonds just walk up to him and started talking. I took a brief appraisal of how I looked, army jacket, slumped shoulders, glasses and with a carnation hanging from my silver necklace. Patrick seemed to have done away with his carnation and maybe that was why he got the girl talking to him.

Half past 8 came and someone materialized out of thin air and told us we were done. I took a brief walk to the other end of the now depleted arcade (the movie had started) and even the bartenders were bored.  I took a look at the same food platter as before and it was still filled with cheese, cherry tomatoes, and pepperoni slices, just 180 minutes older.


I arrived in the parking lot next to the Wonder Bar at about 10am. I thought parking would be an issue all day since the film festival would be running for 12 hours straight. Again, I decided to kill the morning on the rocks in front of the convention hall. Again I listened to Beggars Banquet and much of my worries  about almost anything were being washed away with each wave that pounded into the rocks. It was high tide.

I wasn’t needed at the downtown theatre until half past 11. The wind was being evil but I enjoyed trying to walk against the wind and pretend I was putting on a mime show. Alas I ultimately became very bored and this would be the theme for the day.

It wasn’t 11 am yet before I started bugging the people in the tent for my gear (t-shirt, 2 weekend tickets etc).  Some guy, not looking at me stood within the tent and said “Volunteers sign this sheet over here” I signed the sheet, and said the hell with this and decided to take the Trolley “running all day’ to the downtown theatre where I was told I would be working.

The trolley was empty and it rocked in the wind. The driver sat studying the route he would be taking all day and in walked the founder of the film festival. She asked if I was a volunteer and immediately put me to work by having me hang posters in the trolley windows. Diane (Dawn?) guided the driver through the route and I was finally dumped off at the Synaxis restaurant. I was on time, please put that on the record.

I stepped into the restaurant, said I was a volunteer and a tall guy in glasses shaked my hand and said his name was Bill. He thanked me for volunteering. I nodded and said yep. He then told me I would be introducing each movie that came on in the restaurant. I must have looked as though a firecracker just went off next me, that is how I felt. He then said I to hand out 7 slips of papers to everyone in the restaurant. I got to work separating slips of paper then I began handing them out in the cramped (fire hazard) restaurant.  Noon came, Patrick showed up with his orange crew shirt and I was not told to say anything about the movies that they would be showing.  The movies were made by local students probably from several NJ high schools. Unfortunately, the serious films didn’t convey their messages very well but a particular comedy did stand out titled “In The Name of Love.” The story seemed to revolve around two brothers, one with a bitter girlfriend and the other trying to avoid her sister and a subplot involving a supermarket shopping list. The director made great use of flashbacks and it was the last film to be shown before we had to KICK everyone out of the restaurant before the next batch of films were going to be shown and the tall guy with glasses was going to have to charge 10 bucks admission per person.  Pat, me and two middle aged woman all looked at each other then we looked at the crowd of people and the waitress with black underwear serving lunch to several of the viewers of the previous batch of films. God was on the side of us lowly volunteers because most of the people did leave on their own accord.

Among the people heading to the front door of the Synaxis was a woman who said she was the mother of the filmmaker of the first film. She got close to my face, explained how important it was to see her sons film and how lousy she felt because it was her fault the whole family missed the film. Her guilt drove her to ask me if I could rerun the film and to bribe me $100 dollars to do this favor. My hands went up and I said that she had to go speak to Bill “Just look for the tall guy with glasses when he gets back”

Most of the people vanished and Patrick disappeared for his lunch that was set up for the volunteers at the local VFW. Sharon, one of the middle aged volunteers (also in an orange shirt, the bastards) told me I should go get some lunch too.

I walked to the VFW and it was only around the corner but all I could see was bingo. I saw no signs telling me where the food was, no one there to direct me where to go, and not even the slightest scent of food in the air. I decided to settle for a medium black coffee and plain bagal and cream cheese at the Dunkin Donuts across the street.  I planned to eat very slowly and take my time sipping the coffee. This experience was proving to be several levels of hell lower than I expected.

When I returned to the Synaxis, the second batch of movies were already showing and there was standing room only for these films. I already came to the conclusion that everyone seeing these films were the friends and family of the filmmakers and no one else.

Bill ran into a snag. He ran out of the rating slips and being tired of seeing poorly conceived, overly long student films, volunteered to take the trolley back to the Paramount for more slips. I had already tried to find more slips of paper at The Showroom but they were running low themselves.  I stood out in front of the Synaxis waiting for the trolley listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Almaville. A classic album which runs 42 minutes which I didn’t plan to be able to listen to from start to finish while waiting for this damn trolley.

I gave up and went back into the restaurant and Bill drove himself over to the Paramount for the slips. When he returned it was quitting time for all four of us volunteers . I didn’t see who was replacing us and I didn’t care.

I had thought of seeing the Johnny Cash documentary but I had no way of getting in without having to pay the $50 ticket to see the one film I wanted to see in the whole festival. I also had no staff shirt that would have allowed me some shot of getting in to see the film. Depressed, I walked slowly up Cookman back to the Paramount on foot . It was only 3:45. I thought about going to the freak show at the Asbury Lanes which was set to begin at 9 but without the Johnny Cash film around to fill the gaps of time. I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to do. So, I went back to the rocks and listened to The Who’s Quadrophenia from start to finish. The wind was whipping around me and the waves were still pounding the rocks. Trying to enjoy something about the day. It was a quarter past 5 when I got tired of the rocks on the beach, the walking up and down the sidewalk, the lack of crowd and people and just went home.


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