Summer in New Jersey belongs to the shore. For those of us who grew up spending our summers there, making the annual pilgrimage – hopefully, more than one – has been given new meaning by the devastating impact Superstorm Sandy has had on our coastal communities. People’s affection for the Jersey Shore has been amplified since the storm, and rebuilding it has turned out to be one of our nation’s few bi-partisan causes, thanks to President Obama and Governor Christie – about a month ago, the federal government approved New Jersey’s plan to spend $1.83 billion in grants to help homeowners and businesses get back on their feet.
In one of the hardest hit communities, they’re ringing in the summer with another tradition of the season: movies.
On Thursday, June 6th, the Lighthouse International Film Festival will celebrate its fifth year in Long Beach Island, a beloved part of the shore that was turned upside down by Sandy. Over 75 films from 20 countries will be screened through Sunday, June 9th. In a written message, Governor Christie praised the festival for embodying the state’s Stronger Than The Storm rallying call: “I commend the filmmakers and all those in attendance for continuing its tradition of hosting this event on Long Beach Island, celebrating its rich cultural history and demonstrating the people’s strength and spirit following Superstorm Sandy.”
And, indeed, the Lighthouse International Film Festival has demonstrated strength and spirit by coming back bigger and better than before, at a time when it counts most. They’ve added a full day of programming (Thursday), and, for the first time, the historic Surflight Theatre is on their list of screening venues.
I spoke with LIFF Managing Director Christine Rooney about what went into this comeback.
“We have worked tirelessly and diligently to be up and running for the summer season,” Rooney told me by phone. “We are extremely proud of Long Beach Island, and how it’s bounced back. The beaches are clean and ready to go, the hotels are ready, and the film festival venues are ready.”
In this year’s crop of films, context plays a big part in the content. The short documentary East Coast Rising tells the story of Superstorm Sandy from the hopeful point of view of the local surf community. Shot in Long Beach Island, it reflects on the charged relationship surfers have with extreme weather, which can make for big waves, but can also tip over into tragedy for a shore town.
By fateful coincidence, the feature-length documentary Shored Up – a critical look at how we develop our coastlines – was also shot in Long Beach Island (before and after Sandy), as well as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The scientific, political, and existential predicaments that the film deals with were thrown into stark relief when Sandy struck, and the filmmakers found themselves back on location in post-Sandy LBI to expand a project they thought was in the can. The result is a vivid firsthand look at Sandy’s aftermath, and a nuanced articulation of a national issue: how best to protect and preserve communities built on shifting shores?
Shored Up will kick off the festival at 7 PM on June 6 at the fully restored Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, where Sandy caused extensive damage. All LBI first responders are invited to the event as guests of honor.
A completely different kind of documentary, Bending Steel, is considered to be the centerpiece of this year’s festival. It’s a meditative profile on a modern day strongman, Chris Schoeke, who will be giving a performance after the screening at a festival after-party at The Dutchman’s Brauhaus. Like the title implies, he’ll be demonstrating his mind-over-metal talents before an audience of movie-goers. You can check out the film’s official site here, and the official trailer below.
Other films being presented by the festival are Mother of George (2013 Sundance), A Teacher (2013 Sundance), Therese Desqueyroux (2012 Cannes – Closing Film) starring Audrey Tatou, A Hijacking (2012 Venice/Toronto), Grow Up Tony Phillips (2013 SXSW), Aqui y Alla (2012 Cannes – Winner, Best Feature, Critics Week), and Here and Now, a film shot in a single day by 25 filmmakers and surfers (2012 New York Surf Film Festival – Best Feature).
A complete listing can be found here.
Saturday and Sunday mornings will feature Filmmakers Breakfast events at The Gateway in Ship Bottom from 9 to 10:30 AM, with noted film critic Glenn Kenney moderating panel discussions with some of the filmmakers. A closing party and awards ceremony will start at 6 PM on Sunday at The Dutchman’s Brauhaus.
To me, catching a movie or two (or three or four or 34), having a cold beer at one of the after-parties at The Dutchman’s Brauhaus, and seeing an old-time strongman bend planks of steel with his bare hands sounds like a truly excellent way to rediscover what it’s all about down the shore. And this summer, we shouldn’t take that for granted.
“We all love the shore,” says Rooney. “New Jersey is famous for our shore communities – and they are an economic powerhouse. The people who run the local businesses – restaurants, hotels, theaters – they’re all real working people of New Jersey. We’re bringing films and filmmakers from around the world to LBI. We hope to see everyone there.”
For more info, go to: lighthousefilmfestival.org.
Tickets are also available at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce office, Things A-Drift in Ship Bottom, and the LBI Foundation in Loveladies.