2018 Lighthouse International Film Festival Movies Announced

Opening Night Film Portrays Emily Dickinson as Lesbian Lover
May 23, 2018
“Wild Nights With Emily,” directed by Madeleine Olnek

The Lighthouse International Film Festival has announced the full lineup of films for its 10th annual festival on Long Beach Island. It will run from Thursday, June 7, through Sunday, June 10, will present 100 movies both full-length and short, and, as has been the case for several years, will continue to focus on female filmmakers – 47 of the works were directed by women – and environmental films.

The festival, as usual, will also include popular nightly parties and breakfast with filmmakers forums, and have a large number of directors, producers, screenwriters and actors present to talk with festival attendees after their films are screened. A couple of relatively new traditions will continue as well – virtual reality films, first shown last year, will be offered, while the third edition of its Write by the Beach retreat program for female filmmakers and screenwriters – a week of writing on LBI prior to and encompassing the festival that provides professional mentorship, a motivating environment and dynamic inspiration from participating festival filmmakers – will return. This year’s selected Write by the Beach participants are Sharon E. Cooper, Anne Hu and Rose Schimm. Finally, there will be a new twist in this year’s festival, the showing of episodic content.

The SandPaper will try to describe many of the festival’s films to its readers in the coming weeks. For now we’ll concentrate on the fest’s opening offering, to be shown at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 7.

“Wild Nights With Emily,” directed by Madeleine Olnek, is described by the folks at LIFF as “a rousing Emily Dickinson comedy starring Molly Shannon that brought audiences to their feet at SXSW 2018 (the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, which took place this year in March).”

“We knew immediately that we wanted to open our 2018 Festival with ‘Wild Nights With Emily.’ It’s a special kind of comedy and a film the LIFF audience will love,” said LIFF’s Eric Johnson. “Madeleine Olnek has consistently pushed the comedic envelope in her previous films, and this film brings it all together, telling a terrific story with a ton of heart and laughs. It is punctuated by a pitch-perfect turn from Molly Shannon, and it all works in a sublime way. Kicking off the 2018 festival with Madeleine’s film allows us to present a superb piece of independent cinema to our audience while continuing to champion Madeleine as a director who embodies the independent film values that LIFF embraces.”

Olnek will be in attendance to talk about her film after its screening.

“Madeleine Olnek’s movies may be an acquired taste, but the woman knows how to write a catchy premise,” wrote Judy Dry, reviewing the film at SXSW for IndieWire. “Her three feature films – all madcap comedies with absurdist leanings – include lesbian aliens looking for love, lesbian hustlers picking up women outside Talbot’s – and now, lesbian Emily Dickinson traipsing across her Amherst lawn after a tryst with her sister-in-law, her petticoats flung about her head. That’s the premise of ‘Wild Nights With Emily,’ and to say that they just don’t make movies like this anymore would be grossly inaccurate: It’s hard to imagine anyone making this movie other than Olnek. …  Here’s hoping for many more movies like ‘Wild Nights With Emily’ – though Olnek is definitely one of a kind.”

Dry gave the film an A- rating.

John Defore, reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter, didn’t assign a grade, but it probably would have been a poor one if he had.

“Debates over Emily Dickinson’s personal life are a staple not just among literary scholars and poetry lovers but with assemblers of LGBT histories eager to add another gay genius to the pantheon,” wrote Defore. “Treating the argument as if it were settled once and for all, Madeleine Olnek’s ‘Wild Nights With Emily’ is unambiguous in showing the poet as the lifelong lover of her sister-in-law Susan Dickinson (nee Gilbert), and as nothing like the reclusive spinster of popular myth. The merits of its scholarship may be a moot point, as the humble production and peculiar tone of ‘Wild Nights’ will likely – despite the draw of star Molly Shannon, a standout presence in some recent indies – limit its appeal largely to the English and Queer Studies departments of universities across the country.”

Seldom have two reviews conflicted so dramatically. Dry, for example, wrote the film “has the rich look of a period-authentic drama.” Defore opined, “Clearly made on a tiny budget, the picture lacks the resources to sell the illusion of its period, and instead feels a bit like an extended ‘Drunk History’ production.” Dry found one actress’s performance “hilarious” and another’s “plausible,” but Defore called the cast’s performances “exaggerated.”

It seems as if LIFF viewers will have to make up their own minds as to the worth of “Wild Nights With Emily.” Or maybe Defore hadn’t seen previous Olnek efforts and hadn’t yet developed the acquired taste Dry mentioned.

— Rick Mellerup


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