Lighthouse Film Festival to Showcase Changing Tides and Times Through Local Ties

By MICHAEL MOLINARO | May 29, 2014
Behind the scenes of ‘A Life Outside.’

Besides bringing a bevy of independent films of global pertinence and merit from the likes of Toronto and Cannes film festivals here to Long Beach Island each year, the Lighthouse International Film Festival has also always shone a light on local issues or featured films created by or featuring New Jersey residents, often those with shore ties specifically.

Its sixth year will be no different, its local connections appearing in the form of a 50-year surfer and LBI entrepreneur, a photographer capturing an underground music scene, and a Tuckerton native filmmaker and his wife who are seeing success with their LBI-based Superstorm Sandy recovery documentary among others.

Jeff Reichert of Tuckerton and his wife Farihah Zaman jumped at the chance to capture the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy from the perspective of LBI and its residents ravaged by the storm, and would continue to do so for a full year before compiling their film “This Time Next Year,” which will open the LIFF at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven on Thursday, June 4.

Since then the film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and was immediately picked up by festivals in Boston and Nashville. The filmmaking couple would appear alongside Al Roker on the Weather Channel’s “Wake Up With Al” program and in a number of other news programs for interviews.

“The Tribeca premiere was absolutely fantastic,” said Zaman. “We had a number of people we filmed there including Eileen and Brian Bowker, Joe and Beckie Mangino and Dawn Matrona-Annarumma, and seeing their responses to our look at the last year of their lives was tremendously moving. During the Q&A after the screening, we basically let them take over. Joe and Dawn and Eileen answered more questions from the audience than we did.”

Reichert and Zaman are no strangers to the LIFF having screened their “Gerrymandering” and “Remote Area Medical” documentaries there in previous years through Impact Partners – that company’s producer Dan O’Meara is a Beach Haven native whose parents suffered major damage during Sandy. Reichert spoke about what a ride it’s been both in making the film and representing the LBI area where he enjoyed many a summer as a child.

“We’re hearing from a lot of people both from LBI and from different coastal areas that our approach, which is really specific to the particular community we picked, is striking universal chords,” he said. “We’ve only shown it in a few places thus far, but we’re excited to take it further across the country and see if responses are similar.

“We’re really excited to have had this opportunity to make a movie about where we grew up. I’m also a little nervous. I hope the rest of the folks in the film like how we handled their stories, and that the rest of the community can embrace how we’ve portrayed LBI in “This Time Next Year.”

One of the victims of Superstorm Sandy was the Casino Pier of Seaside Heights, the washed-up remains of its Jet Star roller coaster becoming symbolic of the storm’s wrath. That is the setting for one of the LIFF’s most enticing surfing features this year, “A Life Outside,” which documents the importance of the pier to the local surfing scene through the minds of 50-year surfers such as Chris Mesanko who has owned Thundering Surf water park in Beach Haven since 1985.

“The film is really to me about relationships,” said Mesanko. “Here are these guys who started surfing when they were 10 or 12 years old that got together 20 times a year and surfing was the key to that. It keeps us young and to me that’s the message; you can have friendship for 50 years. How many friends do you know that have that?”

Mesanko said he was literally born on the beach and lived at a house along the Seaside Heights boardwalk just six blocks from the now destroyed Casino Pier, where he would get his own wave report before even getting out of bed in the morning. The structure’s design, said Mesanko, allowed for a point break to form on both the north and south sides of the pier, creating two outside waves and two inside bowls, enough to provide consistent surfing joy for decades.

“The bad news is it’s not there anymore and we don’t know if it’s going to be replaced or if it’ll ever have the magic configuration it once did.

“The board and the beach was really my home; it wasn’t just some place where people go. To see it all go is very sad and there’s nostalgia there that you just can’t get back; the story will never be the same. It’s a personal thing.”

The LIFF has always highlighted surf films as their own genre, often setting aside a specific LBI venue for them and featuring them in blocks. Mesanko talked about the appeal of these films. “There’s something really glamorous about the ocean in general, then they see people flying across the ocean, the whole culture, the beach boys – all that stuff was very romantic. People somehow attach to themselves the music, the long hair, the free lifestyle and I think people would like to aspire to it even when they can’t.”

“A Life Outside” director Catherine Brabec had finished the film but called Mesanko and other surfers in the film to create an alternate ending when Sandy brought the pier to an abrupt end.

The film will be screened June 7 at 8 p.m. at the Island Baptist Church in Beach Haven. “I never thought in a million years it’d be screened in the town I have my business in,” said Mesanko.

Local photographer Ann Coen will be contributing to the festival this year by opening up her gallery doors to feature the work of photographer Ken Salerno.

“Riot on the Dance Floor” chronicles the story of the now-defunct City Gardens, one of the state’s most infamous punk rock clubs and its main character and promoter, Randy Now. Photographs from some 10,000 images by Thrash magazine’s Salerno play an integral part in the film. (See separate story.)

“There were no iPhones or digital cameras so for someone to have this amazing library of film photographs – most totally unseen – is amazing,” said Coen. “Ken was the only photographer to capture the whole punk rock/hardcore scene at City Gardens. Anyone who was part of that genre of music would be so into the movie and the art show. He really has some amazing photos to share. The scene was so interesting because it was this hole-in-the-wall venue in Trenton that drew this punk crowd from throughout the tri-state area. There was nowhere like it in New Jersey to get those bookings, and Ken Salerno was there just capturing it all. I don’t even think some of the bands know the photos Ken has.”

The film will screen June 7 at 3:30 p.m. at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, followed by the opening of a Salerno exhibit at the recently opened Ann Coen Gallery at 1418 Long Beach Blvd. in Surf City that same day from 6 to 10 p.m.

The exhibit, titled “Caught in the Act,” will feature examples of all of Salerno’s work, which besides the scene at City Gardens includes the burgeoning 1960s surfing scene, the Caribbean in the 1970s, decades of gritty skateboarding, and, coming full circle, the plight of Seaside Heights since Superstorm Sandy.

Tickets to any of this year’s films can be purchased at the door or online at where a full lineup of this year’s films and their trailers awaits.

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