The Lighthouse International Film Festival has grown exponentially since its creation eight years ago, but the mission remains the same — shine a spotlight on new and innovative films, while helping to foster the next generation of filmmakers. This year’s festival, which takes place June 9-12 across several locations on Long Beach Island, not only accomplishes that but shows evidence that the mission is working.
In addition to screening 25 feature-length films and 45 shorts, the festival includes 21 films being screened for the first time in New Jersey and one being screened for the first time anywhere in the world. Highlights include:
- “Cameraperson” by Kirsten Johnson kicks off the festival on Thursday, June 9. This breakout documentary from the Sundance Film Festival, asks the question: what does it mean to film another person? How does it affect that person? And what does it do to the one who films?
- “Chronicle of a Summer in Europe” by Kristian Kiehling will have its world premiere at Lighthouse. Kiehling spent the summer of 2015 traveling the Syrian refugee route from Malta and the Mediterranean Sea to England. His film shows the difficulties that refugees, government, and humanitarian volunteers alike all face in wake of unprecedented events.
- “Women Who Kill“ by Ingrid Jungermann won Best Screenplay at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells the story of Morgan and ex-girlfriend Jean, locally famous podcasters, who suspect Morgan’s new love interest may be a murderer.
- “The Last Laugh” by Ferne Pearlstein closes out the festival on Sunday, June 12. The film asks the question: can humor and the Holocaust ever co-exist? Pearlstein puts this question to Holocaust survivors as well as some of the biggest names in comedy, including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried and Rob Reiner.
In addition to those from the United States, there are feature films from Australia, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, New Zealand and Norway. Plus, short films from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, the U.K. and the United States. Many of the filmmakers from around the world will be in attendance as well, including some who don’t have far to travel to share their films inspired by the local area.
- “Yesterday’s Fish, Today’s Challenges” by David Kaltenbach tells the incredible story of the Scandinavians settling at the northern tip of Long Beach Island and forging the roads to establish the commercial fishing industry. By stepping back to the turn of the century, the film takes you on an in-depth journey of the decades and ends up at the doorsteps of today’s local fishermen.
- “Just Beneath the Surface” by Jon Coen is a mini documentary focusing on the Long Beach Island area. Specifically, it takes a look at two hyperlocal food sources – blue claw crabs and Jersey tomatoes, and examines what it is about Southern Ocean County that inspires local artists.
- “Colby” by Alex Markman spins the story of its title character, a troubled young drifter stranded in a small beach town, who breaks into a wealthy home and cons her way into the good graces of the family that lives there.
- “Space Cadet” by Brendan Walsh takes us back to August 1987 when police responded to the call of a deceased person on the marsh of Long Beach Island. The man was Frank Yuhas, a decorated war veteran. Almost 30 years later, his brother Jim still tries to make sense of what happened that night in this true-life documentary.
- “Inspired” by Maggie Kaszuba follows a high school basketball player named Sam as he struggles to understand the way life works and discovers truly how fragile life is.
- “Feast At the Beach,” by Bobby Guarino and Tom Bentey, a short film that spotlights the best block party of the summer.
“We have, over time, germinated a large following of filmmakers who participate in New Jersey as well as a large number of fans who have become film enthusiasts,” explained Christine Rooney, the Festival’s Managing Director who has been with Lighthouse since the festival’s inception. She adds that films like “Inspired” and “Colby” have already been seen on the festival circuit and were well received.
These local films are examples of how Lighthouse has helped foster new filmmakers, but this year’s festival aims to go even farther. This year marks the launch of Write By The Sea, a retreat for female screenwriters and filmmakers. Three writers (Eleanor Wilson, Bat-Sheva Guez, and Farihah Zaman) are traveling to Long Beach Island for the week leading up to and including the festival. There only obligation is to keep working on whatever project they are currently involved in. Housing is donated by local LBI residents for the festival to help encourage creativity and for the filmmakers to enjoy the beauty of the local area.
In addition to the Write By The Sea program, nearly one-quarter of the films shown in this year’s festival are by female screenwriters or directors. The list includes the festival’s Opening Night Film (“Cameraperson”), Narrative Centerpiece Film (“Women Who Kill”) and the Closing Night Film (“The Last Laugh”).
“Our goal is to foster all kinds of emerging filmmakers, whether they are high school students, independent filmmakers, women or people of color,” said Rooney. “We are there to encourage filmmakers to create and give them a place to be. Write By The Sea has three very accomplished filmmakers coming down here to be inspired, to spend time collaborating and to talk to other women filmmakers. This is the first year we’ve done it and we hope to continue to expand the program.”
The combination of interesting and thought-provoking films, first-time screenings in the state and filmmakers in attendance all help to create a unique atmosphere.
“A film festival is not like going to the movies,” continued Rooney. “A film festival is a cinematic experience. You go to see films in which everyone is interested in seeing it and where there might be a filmmaker that will talk to you about the film. It’s a difference experience. It’s not the same as going to a movie or seeing it at home. It’s an experience.
“It’s also a peak behind-the-screen,” adds Rooney. “The filmmakers are there to tell their story and share their journey. It’s a great way to look at the art of film today. In our opinion, independent film is the voice and the stories that are happening now. And film festivals like Lighthouse give filmmakers a place to tell their story and have their voices heard, as well as an outlet to have their issues examined and discussed. We like to say we are ‘transforming the way you see the world, one film at a time.’”