LONG BEACH ISLAND – The Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts & Sciences was filled with about 100 locals, filmmakers and film enthusiasts on May 6 for the 9th Annual Lighthouse International Film Festival (LIFF) Kick-Off Party.
Guests were invited to take part in a silent auction, sample local seafood – sushi, mini crab cakes, shrimp pasta – wings, ice cream and spirits, all of which were donated, as well as preview films entered in the festival and watch an hour-long screening of a film made in Uganda.
The LIFF celebrates four days of features, shorts, documentaries and family films from around the world in honor of Long Beach Island’s historic Barnegat Lighthouse.
“The Lighthouse Film Festival is a gift to our community and we are so happy to have it here and it’s so much fun,” said Managing Director Christine Rooney at the event.
The film festival will take place from June 8 to 11 on the island, with different films being screened each day and Breakfast with the Filmmakers’ on Saturday and Sunday.
Sneak Peek From Local Filmmakers
Angela Andersen was brimming with excitement and rocking an oyster necklace arriving at the kick-off party, as she just found out the night before that the film she produced, The Oyster Farmers, had made it into the film festival’s lineup. The film is a documentary that focuses on oyster aquaculture in the Barnegat Bay. Its director Corrine Ruff is a returning filmmaker who had a film featured in the LIFF in 2013.
Another locally produced film that’s generating some buzz is Swim Team, a documentary that chronicles the rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team made up of children and teens on the autism spectrum.
The big screen is clearly something that LBI locals get excited about. According to volunteer Amy Williams, only three people signed up on Facebook for an Earth Day film screening fundraiser of Ocean Frontiers III at Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company, but over 100 people showed up.
Speaking about the kick-off party, she said, “A lot of it is to get people excited about the event and get people together who maybe haven’t seen each other in a whole year.”
She said she doesn’t feel like people really appreciate how amazing it is to have such culture on the island. “This is something I feel like you find in New York City.”
Ugandan Film Screening
Partygoers were treated to a screening of Who Killed Captain Alex, a film made with only $85 in Uganda, Africa. The English subtitled movie is an action/comedy where Captain Alex, the local military’s top soldier, is sent out to destroy the evil Tiger Mafia, which controls the city of Kampala from the shadows.
Its producer Alan Hofmanis was at the party to talk about the movie and the unlikelihood of it even being shown. The movie’s director Isaac Nabwana, who was unable to get a visa to come to the U.S., never imagined anyone outside of his own village would ever see it. His filmmaking process requires him to burn the movie to a disk, and then completely erase his computer in order to make the next film.
“Guns” used during action scenes in the movie, which Hofmanis passed around at the screening, were made by hand from everyday items like luggage handles.
Hofmanis said the movie is huge among Uganda’s locals. “Basically if you’re ten years old, you know it,” he said. “It’s the biggest film in Africa, period.” Instead of Hollywood or Bollywood, the movie industry there is known as Wakaliwood.
Nabwana has made over 50 other films and has 14 others on the way. His 2016 film Bad Black will be screened at the film festival.
In a region where few people have electricity, TV sets or DVD players, he said Ugandan locals often watch Nabwana’s movies family style. Movie disks are sold to them for under $1.
Typically a few short films are shown at the kick-off party, but because Hofmanis was in town, the LIFF staff jumped at the chance to have him come in and showcase his unique work.
The Film Selection Process
The LIFF invites filmmakers from around the world to submit their work into the festival. Although this year’s festival does include a few New Jersey features, Executive Director Eric Johnson said that’s not necessarily the goal.
“We never want it to be just New Jersey films or only international films, we want it to be the best films – that’s our goal,” he said.
He said they try to make the submission process as simple as possible for filmmakers, since it already takes a lot of time and money to make a movie. The selection process takes six months, from November to March, during which time Johnson and the rest of the film festival staff decide how they want to craft the year’s program, what the trends are and which films they want to include in the festival.
He said the festival has continued to grow year over year, and that they’re trying to attract filmmakers who want to keep coming back to the festival and encourage them to tell other filmmakers about it.
“We’re not a market festival, they’re not coming here to sell their films for millions of dollars like at Sundance, but what they’re getting is real, honest feedback from people about what they think of their film,” said Johnson.
Film screenings will be held at three different venues on the island and will include a virtual reality element for the first time. Johnson said that many LIFF pass holders will go to Breakfast with the Filmmakers’ to decide which films they want to see based on what piques their interest. He said that sometimes a film isn’t even on someone’s radar, but then a filmmaker speaks to one small detail that catches their ear and inspires them to go see it.
The festival kicks off with a screening of King of Peking on June 8 at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences. Johnson described it as a “fun, funny, sweet” film that just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Set in 1990s Beijing, China, “It’s about a father who thinks the best way to bond with his 10-year-old son is to bring him into the family DVD bootlegging business,” he added. Director Sam Voutas will also be at the screening.
Two other films that have been announced are Dina, about the challenges facing an autistic couple and Quest, a documentary shot over the course of eight years that follows the lives of a North Philadelphia family. Both films recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
“We have a ton of filmmakers coming in for the festival, more than I ever would have thought nine years ago,” said Johnson.
More information about the festival can be found at lighthousefilmfestival.org.