Filmmakers and cinema connoisseurs will flock to Asbury Park March 25 to 29 for the Garden State Film Festival, a non-profit chaired by Cherry Hill native and resident Eric Ascalon.
“I have lived in the township all my life: grew up in the Glenview section, and my parents still live there in my childhood home,” Ascalon said during a phone conversation with the Sun last week.
“I attended Russell Knight Elementary, and following that, what was then known as Heritage (now Rosa International) Middle School. I’m a proud graduate of Cherry Hill High School East, class of 1989.”
Ascalon had carved out his own space in the festival for years, before his 2015 appointment to its board of directors.
“I first attended the film festival when it was based out of Atlantic City for about three years,” he noted of the nonprofit, which is celebrating its 18th anniversary. “This is where I met Diane (co-founder and current treasurer Raver), and over time, started to do some volunteer work. After a couple years doing that, I was invited to join the board.”
When the previous festival chairman stepped down after a 10-year stint, there was a leadership vacuum. Some men have greatness thrust upon them, and Ascalon’s elevation to his current post wasn’t totally in his control.
“Sitting at a board meeting, the question was raised who was going to do it, and everybody pretty much looked at me,” Ascalon said with a hearty laugh. “I have an amazing board under me, and Diane is incredibly active.”
Ascalon attended Rutgers during his undergraduate days, then achieved true continental reach over the next couple of years. He landed in Washington, D.C. for law school at American University, where, for two summers in law school and for the year following graduation, he worked with Alaska Legal Services assisting the state’s natives with various issues.
Once back in New Jersey, he worked for former Gov. Jim Florio’s law firm, before and after it was acquired by a larger firm based in Manhattan. But it was a class diversion and experience with the family business — West Berlin-based Ascalon Studios specializes in sculpture and architectural art — that gave him a solid grounding for the GSFF.
“I had taken a couple of film classes at Rutgers with an interest in making documentaries one day, but that never materialized when I was younger,” Ascalon recalled. “With my interest in film, my background in business and legal issues with creative undertaking, I found out that I was good at helping creative types who are not the most business-oriented folks.”
The GSFF is only a slight departure from his day job; Ascalon serves as vice president of development for Pennsylvania-based Catalyst Experiential, a firm that deals with the creation of innovative outdoor advertising.
Ascalon resides with his wife, Tanya, and their three children. Outside the office, he keeps busy with interests as diverse as flying, running marathons and even the infamous 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon.
“How I manage it, is that these mental and physical efforts are what I consider keep me sane and young and energetic,” Ascalon admitted. “When I go for runs or swims or bike rides, I utilize that time and it becomes very meditative, I sort through whatever my issues of the day are.
“Since I work 60 hours a week, my weekends become when I get everything else done, including spending quality time with the wife and kids,” he added. “I thrive on trying to occupy every hour with quality and it can be challenging, but I get bored easily.
“It’s important for me to keep moving physically and mentally.”
Not content to let his children sit still either, Ascalon will count his two youngest as volunteers at this year’s event.
“My 17-year-old son who’s about to graduate from East, and who’s volunteered for the festival before, this is his fifth year,” he said. “Then there’s my youngest daughter, an eighth grader at Beck. She will volunteer this year for the first time.”
According to a release, films at the festival will be screened at venues throughout Asbury Park by an anticipated 27,000 attendees. The festival’s roughly 200 official selections were chosen from a pool of over 1,800 applicants. They include shorts and feature-length films in an array of genres ranging from comedies and dramas to documentaries and animation.
The mission of the Garden State Film Festival is to celebrate New Jersey as the birthplace of film, to promote the art of independent filmmaking on all levels and to help educate and inspire the next generation of film artists.
“At the end of the day, though, it is the creative vision and inspired work of the underlying filmmakers that leads to an event worth attending,” Ascalon concluded. “It is to celebrate the work of these filmmakers that the festival exists.”
For more information on attending The Garden State Film Festival, or to become a volunteer or sponsor, visit www.GSFF.org.