LONG BEACH ISLAND – It was a week of firsts. It was the first time several movies were shown to the public, and it was the first time that the Lighthouse International Film Festival was a drive-in. In fact, the local event was the first and only international film festival that was a drive-in.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, the organizers of the festival were left brainstorming ways to still get fiction, documentary, and other films to the public while protecting theater-goers and staff. Fortunately, one of the outdoor activities that was approved by the governor was drive-ins.
Pop-up drive-in venues were set up in Beach Haven, Loveladies, and Stafford. Cars lined up to watch films on the big screens for five days.
The Festival opened on Tuesday, June 16 with the war drama “The Outpost” and ended with the comedy “The Last Shift.” There were 31 unreleased films in between. Some of them were world premieres or films that showed at Sundance or SXSW.
The festival showed films “as they were meant to be seen – on the big screen – while keeping the health and safety of its attendees its top priority,” Spokesperson Christine Rooney had said about the festival. “Like all responsible New Jersey businesses and non-profits LIFF has come to realize that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option, at this unique point in time, and that the Festival cannot be presented in its usual format this year.”
There is a huge shortage of cultural and entertainment events due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and festival organizers hoped to fill that void.
“While COVID-19 put our daily lives on hold, it also shut down the window to the alternative universe of imagination, creation, and art that is cinema. Lighthouse International Film Festival is here to reopen this window on the big screen, as part of LBIs rejuvenation,” said LIFF executive director Amir Bogen.
As with schools, sometimes the best way to reach people was online. The virtual component of the event had scores of short films, episodic projects, surf films and other features. It was also the way that the winners of the festival were announced.
Films were awarded in several categories. The award for Best Narrative Feature went to “The Subject,” by Lanie Zipoy. It is about a documentarian who caught the murder of an African American teen on tape, and now someone is videotaping his every move.
The award for Best Feature-Length Documentary went to “Feels Good Man” by Arthur Jones. This chronicles how indie comic character Pepe the Frog became the icon of hate groups, and the artist’s attempt to regain control of the character.
The Best Short Narrative Film was “White Eye” by Tomer Shushan, about a man who finds his stolen bicycle and his struggles with himself.
The Best Short Documentary was “Ashes To Ashes” by Taylor Rees & co-director Renan Ozturk, which follows the story of Winfred Rembert, the only living survivor of a lynching. It also won an award for Social Impact.
The Best Episodic Project was “Lost In Traplanta,” by Mathieu Rochet.
The Jennifer Snyder Bryceland award is a $3,500 prize to a feature-length documentary that “displays artistic excellence, incorporates (social) environmental themes (local, regional or global), and inspires optimism in audiences.” It was awarded to “Why Is We Americans?” by Udi Aloni & co-director Ayana Stafford-Morris, about the Baraka family and their relationship with Newark.
The Best High School Student Film was “Empty” by Vic Pater, an animated journey using metaphors to have the audience understand mental illness.