Fundraiser Reveals Fourth Annual Film Festival Lineup
If the Lighthouse International Film Festival were a high school student, it would be in its fourth year – a senior – and still growing in every way. Even its fundraisers need more space, as evidenced by the full banquet hall at the Bayberry Inn on Saturday evening.
Co-owner Corey Kurica donated the use of the room for the festival fundraiser.
“We’re such a small community,” said Kurica, a fan of independent film and the arts. “We want to participate in the community to help out in any way we can.”
For $45 contributors wined and dined in a picturesque atmosphere, the back bar of the Bayberry banquet room looking like a scene from Kubrick’s “The Shining,” appropriately enough. A seasoned pianist played songs like “It Had to Be You” while some gently sang along. Door prizes were given out, including a skimboard from Island Surf and a surfboard donated by Surf Unlimited. Patrons laughed when an elderly woman who looked like she survived the Great Depression won the sweet sled.
Besides the growth of its fundraiser, fans of the festival would be the first to find out about the growth in the quality of films that the festival’s team was able to be procure this year. At least 15 films come from major film festivals around the world: six from Sundance, three from South By Southwest, and others from Berlin, Toronto, and Tribeca – as well as documentaries from as far as Rotterdam, Netherlands, which boasts one of the most esteemed documentary festivals in the world.
“I can’t believe it!” said Charlie Prince, LIFF executive director. “This year it’s really finally starting to gain momentum.”
Eric Johnson, a festival organizer and Prince’s right-hand-man when it comes to film selection, went over some of the upcoming highlights. New this year is a 90-minute, catered opening reception on board Miss Barnegat Light for filmmakers, jurors, major supporters and patron members of the Lighthouse International Film Society, which holds regular monthly screenings throughout the year.
This year’s opening film will be “For Ellen,” a drama that just made its world premiere at Tribeca and will have its second screening ever at Lighthouse. The story of an aspiring rock star trying to reconcile with his young daughter, it stars Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine” fame.
The Centerpiece Film this year is Sundance-premiered “Little Birds,” starring Juno Temple, Leslie Mann and Kate Bosworth. Co-producer Keith Fairclough owns a house on Long Beach Island and will be at the festival to answer questions, along with others who helped create it.
Another film, “Now Forager,” was partially shot in the Pine Barrens and is the best offering of local flavor this year, according to Johnson. “Especially if you really, really love food,” he said, teasing the culinary-driven romantic drama.
“Extracted” was described as the predecessor to “Inception,” having been shot before the highly successful mainstream movie.
“Come Hell or High Water” stands out for its unique way of showcasing body surfing. It is among several surf films that will be shown at the festival. “When you watch 130 surfing movies, it takes a lot for one to stand out,” said Prince. “It’s really incredible.”
If you’re looking for big stars, “Take This Waltz” is another romantic drama, originally premiered at Toronto and starring Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen.
Some films have no stars, but are simply powerful documentaries, such as “Chasing Ice,” which played at Sundance and was regarded by Prince as “one of the most important, talked-about independent films of the year.” From the makers of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film uses time-lapsed photography to show large portions of ice melting off glaciers that the crew often literally has to chase. “It’s incredibly powerful. The footage is amazing.”
“Cape Spin” depicts wind farms that were supposed to be built off Cape Cod, Mass. and captures the battle to do so – paralleling a similar debate going on about wind power use here on LBI today.
The festival will certainly remain “International” when it screens films like “The Ambassador,” a documentary about a man who attempts to buy an ambassadorship in the blood diamond culture within the Central African Republic, showing the ease behind doing so and the reality of world diplomacy today.
For Science Fiction fans, a documentary called “Journey to Planet X” will screen in which two scientists make their own science fiction films. The funny, heartwarming film captures the passion they put into each project.
It is that passion from independent filmmakers, actors and producers that brought tears to the eyes of Fred Shragger – who works logistics for the festival – during a speech he gave to the crowd.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to be involved in. The more you get to know them, the more you love them, and the more you want to see their movies,” he said.
Last year the independent film website indiewire.com added the Lighthouse International Film Festival to its “Best Film Fests That June Has to Offer” list, along with others in Edinburgh, Shanghai and Transylvania – the first N.J.-based film festival to be recognized.
Following last year’s festival, Lighthouse gained the support – and state grants – of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, which will double the festival’s promotion by $30,000. The aggressive advertising campaign will include a billboard and spots on radio stations, and focuses on drawing a new wave of patrons from surrounding metropolitan areas to Long Beach Island for the first weekend of June.
Other grants were gained from the Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, who also issued a proclamation read by Shragger.
“Now therefore be it resolved that June 1-3, 2012 be named Lighthouse International Film Festival days in Ocean County and we encourage all citizens to experience these new, exciting, and challenging films in honor of Long Beach Island’s historic Barnegat Lighthouse.”
For Prince, success in the Lighthouse International Film Festival’s fourth year means first and foremost making sure people enjoy the films and have a great experience. It also means having the event graduate to the realm of a weekend destination festival for film fans in surrounding metropolitan areas.
“We have a lineup that’s as good as some festivals in Nantucket that have been around 20 years,” Prince said, who described himself as “obsessed” and added it drives him crazy when Lighthouse gets compared to other film festivals in N.J., when none are able to acquire films from major festivals. Prince and his team view hundreds of films in person at festivals around the world and cultivate relationships with their filmmakers following screenings that impress them.
“If you’re not actively engaging them so that when you’re e-mailing them they know who you are, and it’s something that grows from there, I don’t think you have a chance of getting those top films. Not a lot of festivals have a team like ours, which is why they don’t have these films. At some point we’re going to get recognized for that. So we’ll see.”
On Monday, a full program for this year’s festival was released at lighthousefilmfestival.org. More information can be found concerning new venues this year, free tickets for college students, and more.