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May 5, 2017

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ by Calvin Schwartz

Filed under: November 2009 — Tags: , , , , — earthood @ 9:20 pm

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon  April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ   by Calvin Schwartz  












Thinking back over the past few years, I wonder how many times I’ve invoked references to a brave new world. I do know; I’ve been stingy. There has to be extant reasons and perfect celestial alignments. Several months ago, I was invited to attend IDT Corporation’s First Annual Hackathon by IDT Ventures head, Jacob Jonas. I sensed something special, brave, cutting edge(new) and cerebrally celestial.

So what is a Hackathon?  This was my first impulse to discover.  A hackathon is like a race (marathon) event where software developers, programmers, graphic designers, interface folks, project managers, all work together in an intensive collaboration over a relatively short period of time. The finish line is the creation of practical applications of software with a specific focus, in this case, the best messaging, payments, or communications related mobile app. There are teams put together, each member bringing an expertise to their cubicle of residence, where they spend those intimate hours competing against the other teams in their own field of dreams (cubicles).



IDT Ventures Jacob Jonas hosting Hackathon


with IDT CIO, Golan Ben Oni, two guys with hats.

A brief article departure. Watch how I develop this. For the longest time, I’ve worried about our planetary home (earth) with some indigenous problems like climate change, ocean’s rising and running out of fish, 300 million people in Asia without drinking water; all illustrative of things often running through my mind.  I am unsure if we, the species, can effectively solve these problems and save our aging planet. Then came my six hours in Newark at IDT headquarters, observing the energy and composition of the competing teams. I haven’t felt this earthly emotional in a while.

At IDT, I saw youth and exuberance. Some were in high school and college, representing wonderful diversity in culture, geography and sociology. All the participants were accomplished and focused.  After a few hours, I realized earth does have a better future with the likes of these kids competing here; they were dedicated imaginative thinkers.  What I saw was so uplifting and revolutionary; this is a brave new world of knowledge and youth. I was grateful to IDT for investing in youth, promise, tomorrow and for inviting me.





On the fourth floor, around 5:30 PM on Sunday April 23rd, I met with Jacob Jonas who briefed me on the final stages of the Hackathon which would run to 11 PM. My mission as a journalist was to absorb. I looked over my shoulder; there was a large cubicle which served as home for one of the teams. The conference table was strewn with lap-tops, wires, water bottles, soda cans (some with sugar, some not), coffee cups and a vast array of back-packs. On the floor were several sleeping bags, visually depicting the hard reality of the event; the sleeplessness and urgency of the competitors. This was serious business. Teams stayed overnight working diligently to get to the finish line. I just remembered what Adrienne told Rocky Balboa, “Win Rocky Win.”




Jacob Jonas handing 1st place prize to Shaoliang Zhong with Jonathan Hyman (CTO of Appboy and a judge for Hackathon)


with PeduL execs Chisa Egbelu & Kayla Jackson with downtown Newark in background


The commonality of two people wearing hats in a place where most were hatless brought me to Golan Ben Oni. Of course I was wearing my Rutgers hat. Golan was much more fashionable. If he was here on a Sunday evening, it must be for a reason. We leaned on a desk to chat.

Golan is the CIO of IDT Corporation; that’s chief information officer and he’s been at IDT since 1995 when he arrived and planned on staying only a few weeks. His father was a food scientist for Planter’s and Fleishman’s Yeast.  The family arrived from Israel and soon settled in California where Golan enrolled at University of California at Berkeley when he was sixteen.

He’s been asked to teach at Rutgers Business School and help with the executive program. He is captivating and actually disarming, leaning on a desk and chatting, wearing a hat; his knowledge, brilliance and depth are on a proverbial other planet. His teenage son, busy on a lap-top, did our photo-op. Golan was thrilled to school me on the mechanics of the Hackathon.



IDT Ventures Showcase – PeduL execs presenting


3rd place Man Cave Sharing Mark Annett, Tejas Shah, Mosies Cordero, Samuel Lebreault, Ivan Quan and Patrick Needham holding their Raspberry Pis. Hackathon Judge Zev Green far left.



Next, Golan introduced me to Tom Brennan, OWASP( Board of Directors. More brave new world for me. OWASP has 55,000 members in 110 countries and their function is to raise visibility for software security. Who knew this kind of organization exists? Tom was a judge in the first round of Hackathon presentations along with Zev Green, IDT’s Director of Emerging Technologies; Nathaniel Ritholtz, IDT Software Engineer; Jonathan Hyman, CTO of Appboy; Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS; Sharon Ptashek, Senior Manager, Mobile & Emerging Platforms at CBS Interactive. Each team had five minutes to present their projects to the judges followed by five minutes of Q&A.





IDT Ventures Showcase Judges


Hackathon coders at work


First place was awarded to ‘Chill’ which is an app where you and your friends stream videos over your phones while still being able to talk to each other. The first place prize they received was an iPad Mini 2 for each winner.  The winners, Shaoliang Zhong and Xiaohang Su grew up together in China and now attend Stevens and NYU respectively.Second place winners won: Discovery HD+ Drone and third place won 32 GB Rasberry Pi 3.

Winners of the AI competition (team that best incorporated artificial intelligence into their Hackathon project) received an Amazon Echo sponsored by FOWNDERS.  And speaking of FOWNDERS, ( based in my birth city of Newark, they are doing amazing things to “educate, inspire and empower the next generation of leaders” as a social impact accelerator taking on qualified startups who have proven market fit and display modern innovation; more brave new world applications for me to absorb.

One of the other teams, finishing in third place, developed ‘Man Cave Sharing’ which is like Airbnb for Man Caves. With my own proclivity to special sports Sundays, I was fascinated by their entry; more brave new world and personal visual projections of great places to hangout, shoot pool and watch a professional sport final on a giant TV screen far from the maddening sounds of homeward bound interruptions.



But the Hackathon was not the only tech-friendly event that happened this weekend. Before the final Hackathon presentation and the awards ceremony, IDT also hosted a Ventures Showcase event for six local startup companies that have synergies with IDT Corporation’s core businesses: Payments Tech, Messaging Apps, Communications Tech, and Technology that Serves Unbanked and/or Immigrant Communities. The Ventures Showcase companies (including the three teams in the IDT Ventures incubator program: PeduL, UpChannel, and ImaliMobile) all have strong synergies with IDT’s core businesses and/or target markets.



more coders at work


2nd place: Supernova Tasker with Nicholas Feuer, Alben Kalambukadu, and Stanimir Stoychev (All students at SUNY Purchase) holding their Drones. Zev Green, IDT Director of Emerging Technologies and a Hackathon judge ( left).

Last summer, I spent the day at IDT interviewing Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson from PeduL for NJ Discover. PeduL is an online crowdfunding tool that connects students with the resources and support they need to pursue higher education. That article can be seen at:

Each team had ten minutes to present and five minutes for Q & A with the panelist judges consisting of Shmuel Jonas, CEO of IDT; Jacob Jonas, Director of IDT Ventures; Scott Smedresman, Partner at McCarter & English; Aaron Price, Founder and CEO of Propelify.  The other companies presenting were Debitize, Stellar Employ and Modern Lend. Listening to all six ingenious presentations continued my yellow brick road journey to that brave new world. I did manage to remark to one of the team members, in keeping with my article theme, that when I grew up in Newark, my world of knowledge came from seven black and white television stations that went off the air at midnight followed by test patterns (remindful of ‘Poltergeist’) until the next morning. “They’re here.”





The AI Winners Christopher Tan, Timothy Goltser, Zeynep Akpinar, Curtis Mason. All 4 are High School students at Staten Island Tech. They won a side prize for the best use of artificial intelligence in their project. This prize was sponsored by FOWNDERS. Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS and a Hackathon judge, is also in pix (far right).


Before the actual finals began, a splendid buffet of Chinese food and cold beer were presented to the assembled. I indulged, then explored and pinched myself (which I do only in moments of disbelief) that I was witness to this wondrous display of future think, exuberance, youth, imagination and earth hope. And I hope the decision making folks, if liking this article (expression) invite me back next year (2018) for my brave continuing new observations at IDT’s  2nd Annual Hackathon in my birth city, Newark.

January 13, 2017

A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture by Calvin Schwartz Jan 11th 2017

A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture   by Calvin Schwartz     Jan 11th 2017



Ricardo Fonseca’s ‘Act of Love-Trumpet’


Jose Rodeiro ‘Picnic at Bath Beach’













setting up at Monmouth Museum with curator Monica Camin



announcing exhibit at Monmouth Museum

This article title is aptly constructed. You go through life in Central Jersey and it seems sometimes you’re a million miles away from relevance and meaning. But it’s the same everywhere. Five years ago, when I was just beginning my journalism career, I happened upon Tent City, a plot of forest land in Lakewood, New Jersey where up to 100 people (humans) were living in tents for up to ten years, homeless and without electricity or running water. I least expected homelessness 20 miles from my home in comfortable Monmouth County. Ocean County had no provisions for homeless. Spending time there, I was changed irrevocably; I became aware of the devastating hopelessness of homelessness. Awareness is a gift.

The gifts were many as a journalist these past five years. I also learned about hunger, musicians, autism, bipolar and PTSD. Then suddenly last summer, in August, I received an email from Monmouth Museum, actually while I was reclining on a beach chair at the Dead Sea in 111-degree temperature. I was invited to attend the September opening exhibit of an emerging artist, Dion Hitchings. It was mid-September when I found myself at the museum checking out a fascinating exhibit. The artist used Cheerio and donut boxes instead of canvas. When I finished, museum public relations head, Laura Oncea, asked if I’d like to see a new exhibit that was being set-up in the main hall; Neo-Latino: Critical Mass. The curator, Monica Camin and assistant, Nicole Sardone were busy setting up. I walked in, looked to my left and saw Ricardo Fonseca’s “An Act of Love -Trumpet!” It was captivating and riveting and made me think. I love to think.  My wife and I absorbed the exhibit. I was hooked and engrossed but turned down an invitation to attend the exhibit opening reception on September 16th.



group shot with guests at NJ Discover LIVE TV Show October 2016


TV Show in planning stage with Monica Camin & Dr. Jose Rodeiro


Driving home, perhaps less than a mile from the museum, my friend, epiphany, helped me reverse my decision. I called and accepted the invitation for the reception. Epiphany reminded me that at the reception, there would be a gathering of some of the most prominent Latino artists in the country; some were PhDs and professors; all accomplished and successful. But present, beneath my soft cutaneous surface, were old and new stereotypes, many stuck in the current political climate. I hate stereotypes and falling into traps without being open minded. I’m confronted by my own lack of awareness of Latino (Hispanic) culture and that frustrated that it existed in me. I never want to be on an ignorant bus driving along a Gulf of Mexico highway. I keep seeking understanding, relevance and diversity as I go through the maturation process. In thirty years or so, minorities in America will be a majority. Isn’t it a good time to absorb, appreciate new vistas of culture?  Challenge your own assumptions.




with Mario Tapia, Dr Carlos Hernandez & Monica Camin at Nuyorican Cafe NYC for Poetry Anthology



with Newark’s renowned artist, Hugo X Bastidas, Monica Camin, Dr. Carlos Hernandez and Anthology moderator & poet Alan Britt.

The exhibit at Monmouth Museum,’ Neo Latino: Critical Mass’ was conceived at this pivotal time for the Latino voice, in the midst of an historic election and would stress the Latino cultural and socio-political experience. A collective of diverse artists was created to express a Latino voice in this new century. For me, that time has arrived; long overdue. Artists with roots or ties to Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Portugal and Spain were represented.  Before the reception, I sat in the garden (It was a late summer warm night) with the collective creators and curators, Raul Villareal, Dr. Jose Rodeiros, Monica Camin and Olga Mercedes Bautista. And then my favorite lightbulb went on; their energy lit my fire and I suggested doing an NJ Discover LIVE TV Show to further bring awareness to their work, culture and art. It was agreed and we did the show in October. Here is the link to “Neo Latino Artists Come to NJ Discover Live TV.” Please check it out. You’ll get a chance to see and hear about some of the representative art.  It was a great show.




with Duda Penteado, multimedia artist & anthology creative force


Iconic George Nelson Preston who founded Artists Studio in 1959 reading his poetry

A few weeks later artist (his work combines design, digital manipulation, digital art illustration, photography and sometimes animation and sound) Ricardo Fonseca invited me to attend the ‘We Are You Project’ Poetry Anthology Reading on October 27th at New York’s Nuyorican Café on the lower East Side. Another evening, this time with some of the country’s most prolific, prominent Latino poets. For me, it was a continuance of my recent journey to Latino cultural awareness. A commitment to mind expansiveness and learning. This notion securely etched in the stone of my determination. I let Woodstock in 1969 and Dr. King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech in August, 1963 pass me by. No more moments in life would be unattended. Even though that night produced a cold heavy rain storm, I trained into the city with Monica Camin, curator of the “Neo Latino-Critical Mass” exhibit.

Indeed, so well worth the drenching trip. The café was alive with Latino artists and poets, dramatically reading some of their works. I had a chance to meet and chat with Dr. Carlos Hernandez, former President of New Jersey City University, Mario Tapia, President of the Latino Center on Aging and Duda Penteado, artist, poet and Brazilian-American. All three, so instrumental in putting this night together and more importantly, developing new, transcultural tools to help the emerging modern Hispanic population. Represented this night was work from the Beat Generation with George Nelson Preston. I was a happy guy. It brought me home to where/when I came from. There was so much more words/works that harvested emotion, diversity, passion, freedom and justice. I could write pages now about what I absorbed. I felt so elevated being there. I was alive again. I love the feeling of input and knowledge and involvement. Best if you all catch a flavor of the individual works that night, Go to:

and visually journey into the culture. Their culture is part of our American culture. It’s who we are; a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of diversity and creativity. I marvel at the universe for lighting my fire and bringing me here to awareness. There is a purpose to things; an order in the universe. Earlier this summer, I had a chance to interview Laurie Hernandez, a 16-year-old American- Latino gymnast just before she left for the Olympics where she won a Gold and Silver Medal. A few months ago, she dazzled America winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Then in November, I went to an evening of Comedy at the Headliner in Neptune Township featuring Peaches Rodriguez, a well-known Latino comedian.




early in summer with Laurie Hernandez, Gold Medal Olympian Gymnast & winner of ‘Dancing with the Stars’


My journey these past few months has been very special absorbing Latino culture as part of the promise of America. I’ve also done serious work with education and the promise it affords our future. I feel like I’m on that mountain top, looking down, beyond my long white beard which touches my knees. I understand things better now. I know education is what can help so many problems of the world. It’s a gift we need to share. I’m on a wonderful path. I love awareness and Latino culture. For me, it’s all a wondrous beginning; a new world; and an expected lot of miles yet to travel. And so it goes.

December 13, 2016

A SPECIAL PREVIEW: The STRAND Theater 94th Gala December 14th AND My Day at The STRAND by Calvin Schwartz December 2016

Filed under: November 2009 — Tags: , — earthood @ 8:34 am

A SPECIAL PREVIEW:  The STRAND Theater 94th Gala December 14th AND My Day at The STRAND  by Calvin Schwartz   December 2016













with Jesse Warren & Chris Everett in a regal empty art deco theater


This article becomes one of those combination platter journalistic efforts, previewing the upcoming 94th  Gala and delving into the inner workings and people behind the scenes at The Strand as well as reporting on my day exploring the sacred depths and heights of the theater, built in 1922.  I’ve said often, over the past five years, how much I love this theater, replete with that unique, rare, precious art deco ambiance. It was designed to be a Broadway theater because Lakewood back in the 1920’s and 30’s was a vacation destination and the thinking was to bring Broadway shows here, akin to previewing them. I’ve been to many shows and events at The Strand. The acoustics are magical; you can sit anywhere and it’s as if you’re sitting right up front.

Although I’ve been at The Strand often, as a reporter, I’ve never really sat down with the people that bring it to life nor have I gone to those depths in the pit below the orchestra where the music emanates from nor have I attempted to climb the multi-story ladder backstage to change ceiling light bulbs seemingly close to the clouds. Somebody in real life has to do it. I arrived at high noon on Tuesday November 22nd



the lighting where someone descends into from the ceiling



It was an old fashioned entry. I rang the street bell and was ushered in by Lori Davis, part of the team of programming energy, creativity and daily mechanics which brings life to the theater. Moments later, I was greeted by Fran Whitney, who’s also on that life line team. One of these days, I’ll write an article called “Women of The Strand” and include Dina Warren who also is part of the theater’s resurgence. Jesse Warren, account manager, walked with me up the front grand stair case. I could hear Annie singing at the top of the stairs. On December 2nd and 3rd, they’re staging ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’  So my hero, George Bailey might also be waiting for me at the top.

Jesse and I sat in a second floor office, overlooking Lakewood’s main street. He’s always this young enthusiastic persona.  We talked 94th Gala, and the amazing musical line-up for that night and other matters of greasepaint and roars. He thanked theater management, Scott MacFadden, Glen Harrison and Ray Coles for all their support.  Next, he phoned home, actually downstairs, to Chris Everett (absolutely not related to the former tennis player), and summoned him into the interview. Chris is the tech head, Jack of All Trades, the guy who makes people fly and who puts scenery and imagination into production. “This place would not be what it is. He brings this place to life,” Jesse added.



back stage view into the clouds of the theater.


the dressing room . my favorite place of lights and make up believe



Chris told me, “We make shows happen. Caitlyn Nelson is our assistant. Emily Lovell is our house lighting designer. She puts on a harness, climbs to the ceiling, drops down and hooks to a cage. That’s how lights focus in every show.” Later they showed me the ladder at the rear of the balcony which leads into the ceiling and how she crawls into position. Did I want to climb up and be a good journalist and take some pictures?  “I’m always a good journalist, but a safe one with my two feet anchored firmly at ground level,” I softly responded.

Chris continued, “Tom Frayley does House Audio and Gianni Scalise is the flyman and rigger and positive vibe technician. He climbs a five story ladder and hangs out on a steel catwalk.”  Chris explained how this crew does the work of ten people. Adding to Chris’ all around versatility is the fact that in the production of ‘Beauty and The Beast’ he played a part.



a “lighter” moment with Chris Everett, Caitlyn Rose & Gianni Scalise




My education of theater 101 behind the scenes continued. The crew has to learn everything before a production. Lighting and sound cues. They have five days to learn it all. That means 22-hour work days. “When it’s a musical production, we live for a week and a half here,” Chris proudly stated. He also reminded me that the technical director(himself) is also the house carpenter. His company is called Sound Foundation

Next was the inner sanctum walking tour to the basement level. Of course I flicked on the lights of the dressing rooms with all those light bulbs watching you put on make up. Imagination was quick to help me with my ‘Frankenstein’ make-up. Yes, I auditioned once when Reagan was President for that part.  An obscure doorway led to the orchestra pit and another small one led underneath the theater itself. It was a crawl space and I don’t crawl anymore. Gianni filled my sensibilities with lore of the theater; stories and legends of its rich history. Early on a drug store occupied the area where the gallery is located now.   And we’ll leave it at that.  Back upstairs, Emily and Caitlyn were figuring out how to get the box of fluorescent light bulbs up to the clouds above to change the dim bulbs to new bright ones. When I stared up, I had to hold on to the wall for support.



with tech wizard Chris Everett



It was time for Jesse to share info about the 94th Gala which he’s been diligently working on. Big Road Productions would be responsible for the best musical line-up they’ve ever had including The Big Road All Star Band. This would be my third Gala attended. And as I do often at the conclusion of my emotional pieces, I exhort readers to get off their sedentary sofa and come on down to The Strand on December 14th for a very special night. It really is.  Come for the Holiday Music and even the Dinner. Your choice. Here now the specifics of the night.


Wednesday December 14th Join BIG RoaD at The Strand Theater for “A VERY BIG RoaD Christmas” GALA NIGHT AT The Strand Theater!

The Strand Theater is proud to HONOR:

Thomas Jannarone, Owner Bar Anticipation/Attorney

Franke Previte, Academy Award Winning Composer (“Dirty Dancing”)

Steven Levine, Owner, WindMill Restuarants

Michael D’Elia, Committeemen, Lakewood Township


PERFORMING ARE : Bobby Bandiera, Lisa Sherman, Franke Previte, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Eddie Testa, Jobonanno, Joe Ferraro, Jt Bowen, Tommy Byrne

Band is: Ralph Notaro, Vinny Daniele, Joe Bellia, Arne Wendt, Tony Perruso, Bob Ferrel, Tommy Labella

Get your tickets now “A VERY BIG RoaD Christmas” GALA NIGHT AT The Strand Theater!

The Strand Theater

400 Clifton Ave

Lakewood, New Jersey

Tel: (732) 367-7789



Produced and Presented by:

Terry Camp and Jesse James Warren for BIG RoaD


If you have any questions please feel free to call Jesse Warren at 732-367-7789, ext.204 or by email at







The Strand Theater presents its 94th Anniversary Gala with “A Very BIG RoaD Christmas!” on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 – A night to celebrate this historic venue and enjoy lively holiday tunes with The BIG RoaD All-Star (Big) Band.


Tickets are $25.00 and doors open at 7:00 p.m. for the 8:00 p.m. show. Guests are also welcome for The Strand’s Gala Dinner and Cocktail Party at 6:00 p.m. – for which tickets are $100.00 (which includes an orchestra seat ticket).

The BIG RoaD All-Star Band is Mark Leimbach, Ralph Notaro, Joe Bellia, Vinny Daniele, Arne Wendt, Tony Perruso, Tommy Labella, and Bobby Ferrel. Vocals by Bobby Bandiera, JT Bowen, Franke Previte, Lisa Sherman, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Eddie Testa,Jo Boanno, Killer Joe and more!


The historic STRAND THEATER, a non-profit 501(c)3, is Ocean County’s premier entertainment venue. THE STRAND opened its doors in 1922 and it shines as brightly today as it did then. Located in historic downtown Lakewood, THE STRAND is easily accessible and offers a wide variety of live entertainment including concerts, dance, musicals, & theater, comic performances, and arts education.


Strand Gala Information- The Board of Directors of the Strand Center for the Arts are pleased to announce the celebration of the theater’s 94th Anniversary. We cordially invite you to join us for our Gala and Holiday Celebration on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. The Gala will begin in the Strand Gallery at 6pm followed by a live performance on our main stage at 8pm. Several area restaurants will be serving their signature dishes and cocktails will also be served.



August 10, 2016













with NJ Discover's Tara-Jean Vitale on our 1st visit to Tent City

with NJ Discover’s Tara-Jean Vitale on our 1st visit to Tent City

with the eloquent and accomplished musician Michael B.

with the eloquent and accomplished musician Michael B.


I’ve just finished watching film maker Jack Ballo’s ‘The New Destiny’s Bridge 2016’ for the second time in as many days. I had to; it’s above and beyond being a journalist, but being more a humanist. I reckon it would’ve been just as easy to take my review of the first version a couple of years ago, dress it up a bit with some Roget’s Thesaurus substitute words and present it to you. Who’d know? Better to take that review as it was, and maybe re-issue it down this paper a spell. Because much is the same. It is Jack’s enduring commitment, devotion to the homeless people of Tent City and to humanity’s unending scourge of homelessness that is so evident in this beautifully crafted story. It’s a candle that burns beyond its oil. There is no beauty in homelessness, but in the soul of people who see it, and try to solve it.

There’s a wooden horse outside my window. I’ve just ceremoniously put on my western hat and ran outside to jump on. I’m galloping into the sunset of introspection and homelessness. We are a funny species. I’m not laughing. I think we’ve been in the Garden of Eden all this time; we just don’t know it. There have been fellow humans talking about homelessness, poverty and hunger for a little over 2000 years. It doesn’t go away it just gets worse, on a grander scale. I don’t know anymore. I never did. We need the Jack Ballos’ to keep fighting, sharing, and moving us emotionally and spiritually.



I worry about a recent study by a couple of government scientists that give the good old human species about 30 more years. They came up with some formulas taking into account food, water, climate change, energy, and the most important, social unrest. How is it the top 88 richest people in the world have their combined wealth exceed the poorest 3 ½ billion fellow humans. This creates social unrest all around the world.




a familiar scene with Minister Steve

a familiar scene with Minister Steve

Angelo keeping warm in his tent. It still was so very cold.

Angelo keeping warm in his tent. It still was so very cold.

Homelessness is part of the formula. Basic human rights of food, shelter and medical care from a very rich world. My story of enlightenment begins four years ago when I never understood homelessness. It was abstract, distant and the subject of a two minute NYC TV segment a week before Christmas. It was very cold and someone living in a cardboard box died from exposure. I felt bad.  I do know that every human starts out life the same way.

Four years ago, my new friend Sherry Rubel took Tara-Jean Vitale and me as NJ Discover reporters to visit Tent City in Lakewood. It was another cold snowy day. We met Minister Steve and eventually Jack and many residents. Tara-Jean and I debated homelessness in the car going home that day. Tent City was 22 miles from our comfortable insulated suburban worlds.  I’ve never been the same since.



with accomplished visionary film maker JACK BALLO

with accomplished visionary film maker JACK BALLO

one of my 'favorite tents'

one of my ‘favorite tents’


I needed to feel, be involved and understand and to be more human and less suburban. I entered a brave new world of social conscience. That’s why I marvel at Jack Ballo’s work. It’s all fitting and proper that I reviewed the first film a few years ago. I love the institution of movie making and its illumination of our world with the ability to teach, educate, and bring our world closer together. Hey everybody, go see this movie and set yourself up to feel what it’s like to be homeless and be filled with despair.

Jack painstakingly took a different approach to storytelling of Tent City from the first version. He looks more into the lives, souls, hopes of the residents. They’re just like me and you; no difference except circumstances of privilege and perhaps luck. There is a theme more easily recognized in the new version; the desire of people to have basic shelter, self-respect and dignity. President Lincoln lived in a log cabin and he was fine with that. In essence, it was a tiny house and the film exposes us to the promise of tiny houses; the concept growing in practicality every day. And our friend Sherry Rubel very much involved in the state wide quest to build tiny house communities.


with photographer and Tiny Houses activist Sherry Rubel at an exhibition of her Tent City photography.

with photographer and Tiny Houses activist Sherry Rubel at an exhibition of her Tent City photography.

with Minister Steve Brigham; an appropriate backdrop

with Minister Steve Brigham; an appropriate backdrop


The movie themes carefully the importance of making people feel they are part of society with its concomitant feeling of self -esteem. Jack Ballo strives to teach us that. Inherent in Jack’s film, is the message to be promulgated; we all need to see this; to feel the pain of homelessness. One of the most moving scenes for me (Jack was brilliant in documenting this) was the lit Christmas tree at night, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ playing gently. The scene could’ve been anywhere. A simple beautiful Christmas scene. But it was a homeless tent in obscure corner of Tent City.  Riveting for me. It should be riveting for you. Homelessness hurts us all.

I liked the slow seasonal transition from the warmth of summer to the desolation and futility of cold winter. It was a passage for me. When I let my guard down and drifted into the lives of these precious people, Jack reminded us that the courts were constantly after Minister Steve and the residents. There are many scenes when cops in traditional uniforms or shirts and ties are there to arrest and act on the wishes of the town. Eventually the township and the county won out. I remember going to court with them at Ocean County Court House and hearing the judge’s decision.


after the first Destiny's Bridge Premier with Rosemary Conte and Minister Steve. It was Rosemary's Easter Sunday Concert 5 years ago that first made me aware of homelessness close to home.

after the first Destiny’s Bridge Premier with Rosemary Conte and Minister Steve. It was Rosemary’s Easter Sunday Concert 5 years ago that first made me aware of homelessness close to home.


Jack’s ending is powerful and destructive and I’ll leave it at that. He craftily infuses wonderful music to accelerate our emotions.  I was riveted by his story telling and sensitivity. Actually I want more. I need to know about these fellow humans. One more comment that had me thinking and delving deep into the strains of my cellular honesty. The film tells the story of Lakewood, NJ, but in reality, it’s the story of any town in New Jersey or America. I’m reminded of a quote from ‘Casablanca,’ my favorite movie of all time. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, and Ilsa comes into his bar in Casablanca. He drinks almost to oblivion and says, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Of all the towns in New Jersey, they walk into Lakewood and set up Tent City. I was honest with myself. If Tent City appeared a mile from my house how would I feel? How would you feel? Is there any suburban town that would welcome them? I am upset with myself. I’m not perfect. Jack’s film continually makes me think and feel. It will do that to you and carpet you through many human emotions. So go see it and celebrate humanity’s hope and promise as well as the harsh realities of our existence. Jack leaves many uncovered, undraped soulful mirrors for us. Thanks Jack.   I just got off my wooden horse. My hat is gone. I brushed the suburban dust off.



Facebook LINK:

Wednesday, August 17 at 7 PM – 9 PM

House of Independents

572 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park, New Jersey 07712


May 24, 2016

A Night on the Red Carpet: Premiere of “Who’s Jenna…?” film in Asbury Park NJ bY Calvin Schwartz May 24th 2016

A Night on the Red Carpet: Premiere of “Who’s Jenna…?” in Asbury Park NJ bY Calvin Schwartz May 24th 2016





This article is comprised of three distinct sections. Firstly, my experience on the Red Carpet last Friday May 20th evening in Asbury Park at the House of Independents; noting one of my pastimes is absorption of extant energy fields at special events. I take a couple of deep inhalations, pinch myself, and whisper, “look at where I am, Mah.” I was thrilled to have been invited as a journalist. Secondly, although I am just short of a light year away from Siskel and Ebert, I will construct my review of the film. “Who’s Jenna….?” in my own inimitable style. Thirdly, I will reprise my article which appeared on NJ Discover last summer after I spent a morning on the Somerville, New Jersey set of the film.





Tara-Jean Vitale & Calvin Schwartz on Red Carpet

Tara-Jean Vitale & Calvin Schwartz on Red Carpet

The cast & director Thomas Baldinger

The cast & director Thomas Baldinger



It’s a funny thing how fast you can become an energy barometer at certain events. As soon as Tara-Jean Vitale, co-reporter and TV host with me at NJ Discover LIVE, arrived on Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue House of Independents, a lengthy Red Carpet and backdrop secured along the façade, we both knew it was an electric night at the Jersey shore. We observed the early guests, splendidly dressed, were intermingling, smiling, hugging and posing. Yes, there was a certain air. The more guests arrived, more scenes of joy and hugs.  There were no ‘airs’ in the air around the theater. People were really glad to be there.  Bert Baron, (recent NJ Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Inductee) program director and morning drive show host from WCTC (1450 AM) was formally interviewing, freeing me to photo, absorb and mingle. Tara-Jean and I chatted with the film publicist and Lady in Red, Laura Madsen. She did good creating a sold-out event. By 7 PM, there was a flow through and around the Red Carpet of hundreds of people.


Laura Madsen & Bert Baron interviewing Tracey Birdsall

Laura Madsen & Bert Baron interviewing Tracey Birdsall

actors Bill Sorvino & Edwin Guerrero with Tara-Jean Vitale

actors Bill Sorvino & Edwin Guerrero with Tara-Jean Vitale


The cast arrived, euphoric and accessible. What I noticed when I spent time on the set and when some cast and young director Tom Baldinger appeared on NJ Discover LIVE TV SHOW and right in front of me on the streets of Asbury Park was that the cast and crew really liked each other; it was a real warmth, affection and respect.  I love hugs. I loved watching the cast at their premiere. I sensed the chemistry I was watching would translate to the film soon to be seen.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew a guest’s skirt over her head in a scene remindful of the iconic Marilyn Monroe picture. I actually caught it on camera (with proper permission). I sensed a true Hollywood evening. Cars on Cookman slowed down to check all the excitement. Slowly, the hundreds of guests, hugely anticipatory, made their way into the theater.


Kevin Cieri, Long Branch Cable Commission, portrait photographer Kathy Facciponti and actor Garry Pastore

Kevin Cieri, Long Branch Cable Commission, portrait photographer Kathy Facciponti and actor Garry Pastore

the Q & A with cast, crew & director

the Q & A with cast, crew & director



I’m jumping now to after the film. Cast and crew sat on stage graciously sharing and answering questions and always broadly smiling. The audience loved this. Then the iconic band, Slim Chance (Mario Casella) and The Gamblers, who did some of the original music in the film, performed at the after party. I’ve loved this band for years. They are simply electric just like the entire night had been. I moved to the front row while I had the chance. People started dancing. The cast were still hugging and posing. Then Slim Chance and The Gamblers performed “The Power.” One of my favorites. I pinched myself again.



at after party with Mario Casella, JT Bowen & Terry Camp

at after party with Mario Casella, JT Bowen & Terry Camp

Slim Chance & The Gamblers rocking the after party

Slim Chance & The Gamblers rocking the after party

SECTION TWO: A Review of “Who’s Jenna….?’

I’ve got a long history of movie watching and appreciation. It’s quirky and obsessive. Ten years ago, I was watching ‘Casablanca’ for the 44th time and at the last scene, when Bogart shoots Major Strasser, Claude Rains picks up a bottle of Vichy Water, 1942’s version of our bottled water. Rains throws the bottle into the garbage. I let out a scream. There was a novel in my head in that one second. Five years later, ‘Vichy Water,’ my first novel was published. I tell this story here to dramatize my affection with movies and how powerful an influence in my life. Over the years, I’ve developed my personal movie rating system. It’s simple enough and it works. I judge a movie by whether I would see it again; simple. I’ve seen ‘The Godfather’ again and again(embarrassed how many times). ‘Casablanca’ those 44 times. Sometimes I’ll see a movie again just for a particular scene.

Yes, I’d see ‘Who’s Jenna……?’ again. This was a delightfully funny film with adult film references, a little blackmail, frenetic dialogue (and well delivered) and romance. Without giving too much away, Bill Sorvino’s character, Jonathan has a girlfriend. His best friend, Andy, is obsessively, therefore comically convinced she looks like an adult film star and that leads to comedic romps. The plot thickens with a ‘familial’ twist.


Mario Casella & Lisa Sherman on stage

Mario Casella & Lisa Sherman on stage at after party


I appreciate sharp dialogue in preciously funny situations. Tom Baldinger, writer, director, delivers that.  Some of the scenes were priceless like the old credit card commercial. That’s why I’ll see it again. The acting ensemble is quite accomplished which translates (for me) to a healthy infusion of their improvisational/ad libing skills in the filming. You can sense they’re having fun together filming and embellishing. Tom, I get the feeling openly welcomed their ‘addition’ skills.

I’m a facial expression guy. I pay attention to faces in situations. Their acting gives me my facial expression fix. It’s there. Props to this special cast including Tracey Birdsall, Bill Sorvino, Joseph D’Onofrio, Garry Pastore (who just makes me laugh throughout film), Edwin Guerrero, Lenny Venito, Vic Dibitetto, Michael Tota, Jill Christy Reiss and cameos including The Sopranos Vincent Pastore.   I’m a Jersey guy since birth. I love the fact it’s a Jersey film; familiar sights and sounds.





with film public relations & the Lady in Red blogger Laura Madsen on the set of 'Who's Jenna....?' last summer.

with film public relations & the Lady in Red blogger Laura Madsen on the set of ‘Who’s Jenna….?’ last summer.


Hooray for social media, networking and circles of commonality. For the last several years, Laura Madsen, publicist and innovative writer/blogger at and I have travelled in similar circles of commonality (as I call it). Our energies and passions emanate from Jersey life and the arts. If you’ve read my musings over the past few years, I’ve postulated that Jersey has become the pop culture capital of America and Laura is always at the epicenter. For verification of the postulate, just look at ‘The Soprano’s’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’, “Jersey Boy’s’, ‘Jersey Shore’, ‘Jersey Housewives’, ‘Garden State’, and ‘Jersey Girl’.  Laura and I never had the opportunity for the sharing of notes and synchronicities; we never met formally.

A few weeks ago, Laura contacted me via Facebook and asked if I’d like to cover the filming of a feature film, “Who’s Jenna…..?” which is a comedy  written by award winning producer, director Tom Baldinger from 624 Productions, LLC, a New Jersey based company. Laura hinted that the film title had something to do with an adult film star but that’s all she said. My response to her was immediate and decisive; “I’d love to hang around the set and do some absorbing and interviewing for NJ Discover.”

The next decision for me was where to surface for the best absorption opportunity. The filming was taking place at the Lakewood Country Club for an on-location golf scene or the following day at Verve Restaurant in Somerville.  I surmised that it’s best not to hang around a hot golf course as Jersey was in heat wave, so I opted for the cool basement confines of Verve for the shooting of a dinner scene. And I’d get a chance to hang a bit with actor Garry Pastore; I’ve been a fan for years.

Time constraints of being on set and getting a few minutes to chat (at the break) with director Tom Baldinger made me formulate a direction I wanted to take with this coverage. I’m quick to admit that my experience of being on sets is somewhat limited although I was on set back in the 90’s with Meryl Streep, William Hurt and Renee Zellweger and wound up in the Christmas scene in ‘One True Thing.’ My focus for “Who’s Jenna….?”  was the art of detail and precision in the film making process.


filming a very funny scene. and that's all I can say about that

filming a very funny scene. and look at those serious faces

Laura’s phone messaging last Wednesday morning got me to Verve’s rear parking lot (on foot), through a rear kitchen door, down a steep stairway, through a narrow hallway to a basement dining room, filled with tables and patrons (all actors).  I never asked if this was an active part of the restaurant or just the basement set for a very funny scene. Seated at a large table, with cameras aimed, were actors Garry Pastore, Lenny Venito, Vic Dibitetto (also a very funny comedian whom I saw recently at Count Basie Theater at a Frank Sinatra Birthday Party), and Bill Sorvino, playing the lead role of Jonathan Burke. Next, Laura introduced me to the film director, Tom Baldinger; first and lasting impressions were that of an affable, intense, creative, focused force in the universe. It’s funny how fast you can “size” people. Waiters started bringing steaming plates of pasta, meat balls, chicken and foot long sausage in front of the seated actors; it was 10 AM.  Someone yelled, “Get the Dunkin Donuts coffee cup off the table.” Actor Michael Tota introduced himself. He and I have been part of central Jersey concentric circles; we never met live, but knew of each other.

Readers can go to the film website for more plot/story information.!whos-jenna/c6h0n

The basement area was relatively small; an additional eight tables or so had ‘diners’ (actors) to make for a perfectly realistic restaurant set; the table next had a woman and her young daughter. The small room size and 90-degree outdoor heat made the set challenging.  I watched the crew fill the four actors’ wine glasses half-way with grape juice.  The wine glasses would be an interesting focus for me; the exact level of the juice in the glass was maintained for the next 94 minutes (multiple takes) that I watched from the rear side behind the cameras where Laura and I were positioned. As they were ready to shoot the scene, I heard “Quiet on the set.”  I smiled. This was real.


more from on the set & that funny scene.

more from on the set & that funny scene.


I won’t give much away but the scene was hysterically funny as the four actors ate (pretended to eat as the sausage maintained its great length throughout), drank, conversed and laughed. I love watching eyes of the actors moving from person to person; just that small detail embraced me. Watching my friend Garry Pastore talk/act/move his eyes/laugh and then greet Michael Tota’s character when he walked over was perfectly real. There was a poignant albeit funny story going on.  Director Tom Baldinger meticulously instructed Michael Tota how to grab himself while talking and then look at Vic Dibetto’s character. It had to be the same grab in every take. The repartee with Lenny, Bill and Garry was priceless. I’d love to use their words the next time I go to my primary care physician and see how it’s received. I savored every minute of absorption.

Something else I noticed; about the crew; a special esprit de corps. They were a well-oiled machine, anticipating, performing, and functioning like the offensive backfield of a local college football team. They loved what they were doing and with whom; their director. I like to observe those elements. The body heat generated in the basement’s close quarters moved me to Main Street in Somerville for an hour until I caught up with director Tom Baldinger just before lunch.

I mentioned to Tom that I have a relatively undiscerning eye when it comes to matters of film making but I’m a HUGE movie fan going to back to 1939 vintage. Tom was engaging and thrilled to be chatting. Once I flipped on my reporter’s recorder, he started. “For me it’s very important that what’s said-dialogue is not just dialogue-there’s a purpose to why people say certain things. That’s why when I write my scripts, I try to be very careful with the words that are said. I try to make sure that the voices are separate from each other-that the characters are separate.  There is a voice in each one of them. When you are on set, everything has to have a place because I’ve seen tons of movies-big budget films; sometimes the detail is not there. For me there are a lot of people watching movies who will not like a movie because there is something wrong-a missing detail-or if dialogue doesn’t match up correctly-or characters not really synching together. That’s very important to me.”

Interviewing director Thomas Baldinger

Interviewing director Thomas Baldinger

I mentioned, “Translates down to your crew. I was watching them measure grape juice in a glass to make sure it was exact level.”  “It’s all about continuity. How many times have you seen a movie where the glass is half-full and in the next shot- it’s the same conversation- the glass is either empty or not there. I was watching a movie last night-‘Mission Impossible 3’ and saw where all the extras were and I have to give a lot of credit to J.J. Abrams. A lot of time you’ll see movies with extras. They are in the shot then they are not there. My crew; I have to be honest with you. The meticulous and tight atmosphere really comes from them because I think they see me as a visionary. I’ve built this and I’m not trying to sound egotistical but I’ve built this company and in some ways they look at me as their leader and so they are on the ride. They want-they feel this is going to be successful. They want to be on the same boat. I’ve always set goals and reached my goals. I think that’s why everybody on this crew wants to do everything perfectly because they want to take this next step into this industry.”

Taking it further I added, “I’ve watched a melding of you all there.” Tom said, “Yes.” “I was so impressed with the detail. When Michael comes over to Garry at the table, you tell him exactly what to grab and do.”  Tom added, “Yes, when we shoot the reverse, we need to see him grab himself and that action-when we’re in post, you see Vic’s reaction. It makes my editor’s job so much easier. And when you are sitting around the post, you are not saying we forgot that or look at that.”

The night before I heard interesting news about Apple and the film business; “Your work as an Indie film maker has an interesting future. Apple announced yesterday it may give money to Indies.” “I hope so. I heard a little about that. I work on Wall Street and I’ve been out of work mode for the last week or two. My father who actually works for Bloomberg said you have to check this out. When I get a moment, I’ll read about it; very interesting.”


director Thomas Baldinger and Calvin Schwartz calling it a wrap.

director Thomas Baldinger and Calvin Schwartz calling it a wrap.



I thought Apple wants to do what Netflix is doing. Tom was quick to comment. “That is where the market seems to be going; where the industry is going and I’m going to quote a famous actor hearing him talk about Indie films. Alec Baldwin was on Howard Stern show a few weeks ago. He was talking about how film has changed over past 20 or 30 years; that now big budget movies are all technical, special effects, CGI. Not that the big budget films don’t get into the story or content but they are more Marvel and super heroes. I love those movies and I’m there with the popcorn, but the Indie industry-that’s where you get down into characters, stories and dialogues and really get into it. What the Indie film industry has done-it has born the writer-director and sometimes that’s good-sometimes bad because studios say we only have $250,000 to spend. We can’t spend another $100,000 for a director, so let’s make the writer the director. That’s a bad choice but when you have a good script and a good writer who can be a director, studios need to take that into consideration. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime-all that stuff; it’s really starting to blow up. Quite frankly, ‘House of Cards;’ I said to my wife last year that they don’t have to win an Emmy; just be being nominated, Netflix was doing cartwheels down the hallway because they knew all of a sudden they got something and now everybody else is trying to do it.”

I asked Tom about quality. “Quality is better. I mean we’re shooting with a red camera where some of those shows you see with bigger name people are shooting with the same equipment. We’re trying to bring high quality products with lower budgets and eventually, hopefully somebody like Apple will say I like your product and I want to put more money into it and give us an opportunity to do even more.”

Tom smiled, took a deep inhalation and was ready to go on talking. It was I who suggested that he eat lunch but that down the road a spell, he should come on NJ Discover Live Radio/TV show with the cast and Laura Madsen and continue our chat. After a firm hand-shake cementing the deal and a photo-op of course, I was on the road again, heading to Yurcak Field on Rutgers campus with NJ Discover broadcasting the television coverage of the Skye Blue FC Professional Women’s Soccer match against Kansas City. A bunch of questions suddenly popped into consciousness on Route 287 to ask Tom and the cast. It would wait until October 5th for NJ Discover’s Live Show with them. We move fast here in Central Jersey.


IMDB “Who’s Jenna…..”

Jersey Shore Retro Blog Kevin Cieri:

624 Productions:

Laura Madsen Blog:

Calvin Schwartz


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