Lighthouse International Film Festival Celebrating 10th Birthday

So Don’t Let Screening of ‘Obit’ Scare You
Apr 25, 2018

The Lighthouse International Film Society will screen the acclaimed documentary “Obit” at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences on Saturday, April 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets for the screening, which will be followed by a Q&A with director Vanessa Gould, are $5 and may be purchased online at lighthousefilmfestival.org or at the door.

Don’t take the showing of “Obit” as a bad omen – the Lighthouse International Film Festival is alive and well. It will be celebrating its 10th anniversary from June 7 to 10 and will kick off the festivities on Saturday, May 5, once again at the Foundation, when it hosts a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. that will feature film screenings, a gathering of filmmakers, a taco bar, an actual bar featuring Señor Sangria, and, most importantly, the unveiling of the 2018 LIFF film lineup.

Tickets for the Cinco De Mayo Fiesta are $35 online at lighthousefilmfestival.org or $40 at the door.

So, the festival is in good health, assuredly better health than the people featured in the obituary pages of The New York Times. Then again, if you are honored with a Times obit you’ve had a good, or at least influential – even if infamous – life.

Now, any newspaper or wire service can spin out basic obits on truly famous people. Besides, obits for the fabulously famous are written in advance, especially when such subjects are aging.

But when you’re dealing with the death – and more importantly, life – of someone like William P. Wilson, you’ve got to dig deeper to find info. One of the main narrative lines of “Obit” is the shaping of Wilson’s obituary, composed by veteran obit writer Bruce Weber.

Never heard of William P. Wilson? He was a media consultant to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign, given credit for helping JFK win his first televised debate against Richard M. Nixon. Wilson was a shaper of an important moment, for sure. Think of how history may have been changed if Nixon had won that TV showdown and thus the tight election: Nixon, being an anti-communist hawk in 1962, might have sparked WWIII by following the generals’ advice and invading Cuba during the Missile Crisis.

“Obit” follows the daily workings of the Times’ obituary desk. Writers are interviewed about how they research their subjects and draft their stories; editorial meetings are filmed, where leads are discussed and it is decided who, exactly, is worthy of an obituary in the country’s most influential newspaper, what film critic Godfrey Cheshire called “that veritable Oscar of the afterlife.”

If it sounds like such a movie could be dry and even morbid, the critics didn’t find it so at all.

“As documentaries go, few of them are as outright entertaining to watch,” opined Deadline.com’s Pete Hammond, who called it his favorite documentary of the first half of 2017.

“‘Obit’ teems with colorful anecdotes,” wrote Soheil Rezayazdi of Filmmaker. “Gould’s camera hovers as reporters research, call relatives and pitch pieces to editors. She mixes the fly-on-the-wall work with abnormally eloquent interviews – these are Times writers, after all – and splashes of archival footage to take us outside the cubicles. The film celebrates human achievement and human strangeness. It effuses an obit writer’s intellectual curiosity and itch for a good story.”

“Vanessa Gould’s ‘Obit,’” wrote Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, “is a life-affirming, slyly amusing affectionate tribute to the skilled reporters at the New York Times who spend their days gathering information and writing the first-draft mini-histories of the most interesting players on the world stage, from superstar celebrities to historical supporting players to anonymous figures who impacted our lives without us ever knowing their names – until they died.” —R.M.

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