Lighthouse International Film Society Keeps Busy in Off-Season

Screening Stunning Documentary and Throwing Halloween Party
Oct 09, 2018

Some folks who visit Long Beach Island each June to take in the Lighthouse International Film Festival may think the people who bring us the LIFF hibernate much of the off-season. Locals, though, know members of the Lighthouse International Film Society keep busy year ’round, presenting acclaimed independent films to Island audiences and raising money to pay the bills for next year’s festival. This October is no exception.

The LIFS will screen the stunning documentary “The Guardians” at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Ship Bottom Firehouse, located at 2006 Central Ave. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased online at or at the door (advance purchase is advised). LIFS members and students can get in for free.

Locals are also familiar with monarch butterflies. Well, at least longtime locals are familiar with the king of butterflies. The Island used to be covered with monarchs each fall as they made their up-to-3,000-mile migration from upper New England and lower Canada to their winter quarters in Mexico. Just a decade or so ago there were so many low-flying monarch migrants that it was almost impossible to avoid splatting a couple with your windshield if you drove up the Boulevard from Beach Haven to Ship Bottom during a couple of autumn weeks.

Now the monarchs are much rarer on LBI. Indeed, they’re much rarer in all of North America. Scientists estimated over a billion monarchs could be found in eastern North America (a separate western population that winters in California and part of Mexico exists west of the Rocky Mountains)  two decades ago. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, there were only about 109 million in 2017. Actually, the 2017 count was good news, considering a record low of 33 million had been hit just a few years before.

Two major reasons are blamed for the precipitous population decline. One is the increasing use of herbicides, especially Monsanto’s Roundup. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in this country today are genetically modified for resistance to Roundup so it can be used to kill weeds without damaging the crops. But one weed, milkweed, is the monarch caterpillar’s only food, and Roundup and similar products are efficient killers of milkweed.

The second reason for the monarch’s disastrous decline is the loss of habitat in Mexico. Monarchs winter in the oyemel fir forest in mountainous southwestern Mexico. The firs are an important economic resource in Mexico’s Michoacan state, but those same firs are where monarchs roost during the winter, with thousands of them resting on a single fir, packed together to keep warm. In fact, that is how scientists estimate the monarch population, counting the acres of oyemel firs covered with butterflies instead of attempting the ridiculous task of counting them individually.

Populations of humans competing with populations of animals over the same resources is a story that goes back thousands of years. Humans usually win – just think of the American bison. But in the past few decades, people have started to protect other species. Mexico chimed in when it created the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in 1986, protecting 62 square miles of firs in the Sierra Madres mountains for monarchs; in 2000, the reserve was increased to 217 square miles. Needless to say, local loggers were not pleased and sometimes poach timber in the reserve.

“The Guardians” explores the tension between loggers and environmentalists in the small Mexican community of Donaciano Ojeda. The forest surrounding the town had been over-cut, and many residents supported the creation of the reserve, thinking tourism could take the place of logging. But some residents want to return to their old ways.

The movie, which took three years to film, centers its storyline around two of the “guardians,” Santos, a charismatic avocado farmer, and Aristeo, a philosophical tree caretaker.

“Rarely,” reads a blurb for the film, “has the communion of human and nature been told in such an evocative and surprising way, leaving viewers with a new perspective on the ecological challenges facing us all.”

The screening is cosponsored by the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, Bay Avenue Plant Co. and the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. After the film there will be a Q&A with the garden club’s Theresa Hagan and artist and monarch advocate Judith Johnson.

As you can see, the Lighthouse International Film Society has many supporters. Another one is The Gables Restaurant, located at 212 Centre St. in Beach Haven.

The Gables is hosting a Halloween party to benefit the festival from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. The evening will include tasty tidbits and libations, including a complimentary drink followed by a cash bar. Bay Village’s “Lisa” will be reading palms and tarot cards. And, considering the evening will benefit the LIFF, it shouldn’t be too surprising to read that silent horror films from years gone by will be screened.

Tickets for the party, where costumes are encouraged, are $100 per person, which shows it will be a classy event. In other words, you’ll want to make your costume something more original than a rubber Donald Trump mask. They may be purchased online at or at The Gables. Call 609-492-3553 for further information.

— Rick Mellerup

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