Celebrities, cinema and conversation: experience it all at the Garden State Film Festival

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Atlantic City plays host to the 12th Annual Garden State Film Festival. Mel Evans/AP

Filmmakers and movie fans alike will flock by the thousand to Atlantic City Thursday, April 3 through Sunday, April 6 for the Garden State Film Festival, taking place for the first time in the shore town (formerly held in Asbury Park). Aside from the dozens of films screening this year, the celebration features parties and panels that are open to the public. Here’s a rundown of the festival’s highlights.

The first film of the weekend isn’t from any of the festival’s entrants, but rather a throwback to 1926 with Douglas Fairbanks’ classic The Black Pirate at the Garden State Film Festival’s Benefit Night, supporting The Historic Organ Restoration Committee on Thursday, April 3. Not only will attendees be transported visually to this adventure on the high seas, but viewers will get a sonic treat as the movie’s original score will be performed live. It starts at 7 p.m. at Boardwalk Hall.

The weekend’s official kickoff happens on Friday, April 4 at 7 p.m. for the Gala Cocktail Party & First Screening at Resorts Casino Hotel. Mix and mingle with the minds behind the movies as well as film buffs and celebrities before the screening of the comedy How to Make Movies at Home.

From noon until 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, stop by the free Arts Garage Reception at the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College to enjoy live music and browse local artists’ work.

The ever-changing world of independent filmmaking is addressed in The Future of Indie Film: Post to Distribution discussion at the Trump Taj Mahal, hosted by producer and director Roger Paradiso along with sound engineer and video editor Suz Dyer and actor Josh Green. Get there by 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 5.

Three-time Oscar-nominated actress and director Diane Ladd leads the Women in Hollywood panel at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 5. She’ll recount her experiences as a woman working in the heavily male-dominated film industry at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Multiple sessions on the “bullet time,” or time slice cinematography technique, made popular by the Wachowski Brothers in The Matrix, take place throughout the day on Saturday, April 5. Gain insight on how the iconic bullet-dodging scene was created at 12 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. workshops at The Chelsea Hotel.

Fans of (500) Days of Summer should check out screenwriter Scott Neustadter’s panel Sunday, April 6 at 1 p.m. The Margate, NJ native will talk about making the move from New Jersey to Hollywood, the challenges that come along with adapting a novel for the screen and how to combat writer’s block at From AC to LA, held at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Close out the weekend at the festival’s black tie awards dinner on Sunday, April 6 where New Jersey natives Bebe Neuwirth (actress, Cheers and Fraiser) and Scott Neustadter (screenwriter, (500) Days of Summer) will be honored. The celeb guests don’t stop there: also attending are actors Laura Dern, Ed Asner and Diane Ladd. The optional black tie affair begins at 6 p.m. at the Trump Taj Mahal