Three local filmmakers have crafted a documentary that depicts not only the anomalous vibrancy of Ocean Gallery World Center, the iconic three-floor art gallery on 2nd Street and the Boardwalk, but of the gallery’s equally-anomalous owner and proprietor, Joe Kroart.
Written, directed, edited, and briefly starred in by filmmakers William Strang-Moya, Trevor Taylor, and Colin Riley, the documentary’s plot summary describes the beachfront gallery as holding “a mystique and madness that in the summer of 2018, three filmmakers set out to capture. An eccentric artist-entrepreneur, a building unlike any other, and a half-century in the making, experience the center of Joe Kroart’s world. Ocean Gallery World Center.”
The film will have its public premiere on Feb. 17 at a venue in Ocean City that is to be determined; It debuted at the Art League of Ocean City on Jan. 25 at a private screening that was held for the movie’s stars, the employees and artisans of Ocean Gallery, and their families.
The documentary covers the history of the business as well as Kroart’s “art cars,” including the iconic Batmobile and the Titanic Car which was sunk to the bottom of the ocean to become part of an artificial reef, but it also focuses on Kroart’s marketing tactics over the years – from sinking said Titanic Car to the bottom of the ocean to riding a bicycle off the gallery’s roof. There wasn’t an actual person on the bike once it was pushed to the Boardwalk down below, but a video was cut to make it look like Kroart had made the jump himself, getting up from the bike and waving his arms after “surviving” the dummy fall.
“I started working at Ocean Gallery 28 years ago,” said David Schroeder, the gallery’s framer, at the film’s private screening. “It’s been a fun place to work and I wouldn’t have stayed there for half that long if it wasn’t for this man… I’ve seen everything and anything you could imagine this guy doing.”
The screening of the documentary was followed by a question and answer session with the directors, as well as the movie’s cast, which included Schroeder, Kroart, artist Paul DeRemigis Jr., and Nicole McArdle. Kroart’s daughter Laura Kroart also appeared in the documentary to talk about growing up in Ocean Gallery (“my brothers and I had a… different childhood,” she said), and the future of the business. Additionally, former Maryland Senator Jim Mathias and David “Bulldog” Rothner of Seacrets radio station Ocean 98 made guest appearances in the film.
“After the first two shots when the guys were there shooting, we were like, ‘whatever you guys want, we’re here. Come in whenever you want, do whatever you want, it’s an open door,’” Schroeder said. “Hands down this last year was the coolest summer for me… What you guys put together in there was mind-blowing, hilarious.”
“The crazy stuff that you saw [in the movie], that’s all real,” Kroart said.
A central message the documentary conveys is the “family” aspect of the business; not only the actual family members who sometimes work together, like Joe and Laura, but the employees who have worked together for decades, playing pranks on one another (particularly on resident artist DeRemigis) and sharing the fruits of their labor in the gallery’s many successes over the years.
“If you’re successful in something, they enjoy it as much as you do,” DeRemigis said. “When something’s good, [Kroart] is just as happy as I am when I create a new original, a new piece of art. That’s the whole thing, is sharing your success.”
In addition to the public screening on Feb. 17, “Joe Kroart’s World Center” will be shown during the Ocean City Film Festival at 4 p.m. on March 9 at the Francis Scott Key hotel.