Many 2017 LIFF Documentaries Have Local and Regional Connections

By RICK MELLERUP | May 31, 2017
Courtesy of: LIFF The LIFF’s Documentary Centerpiece Film this time around is Jonathan Olshefski’s ‘Quest.’

Unless you live in a big city or near a major university town or are a film festival fan you’re unlikely to have many chances to see documentary films.

Sure, you can find some on PBS. But the Public Broadcast System’s federal funding is once again being threatened. Meanwhile, the odds of your local multiplex theater dedicating even one screen to documentaries are about as great as the Philadelphia Phillies winning the 2017 World Series.

The Lighthouse International Film Festival annually provides relief in that regard to residents of and visitors to Southern Ocean County, and its 2017 lineup is no exception. This year’s festival will screen nine full-length documentaries, along with many documentary shorts.

The LIFF’s Documentary Centerpiece Film this time around is Jonathan Olshefski’s “Quest.”

Some readers may recall the 2014 movie “Boyhood,” nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture. What made this coming-of-age drama unique was that it was filmed over the course of a dozen years.

“Quest” is like “Boyhood” in that it was filmed over a period of time, eight or 10 years depending on your source. It is different from “Boyhood” in that instead of being a scripted movie with professional actors such as Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette it is a documentary focusing on an African-American North Philadelphia family headed by Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christinea, known as “Ma Quest.”

In a Variety review Guy Lodge wrote that the Raineys live in a “crumbling, bullet-riddled, left-behind strip of Philly” but also in a “loving, creative, occasionally conflicted household.” They are community leaders. Christopher runs a recording studio for young rappers in need of a platform; “Ma” works at a shelter for abused women. But the family suffers its own tragedies when son William has to battle a brain tumor and daughter P.J. loses an eye to a stray playground bullet.

“Beautifully carving out a film that feels as once narratively firm and organically shaped from over 300 hours of footage across the years,” said Lodge, “Olshelfski and editor Lindsay Utz happily save room for the small stuff: the fleeting pleasures of braiding hair and shooting hoops, along with the everyday arguments over finances and child-rearing, particularly as P.J.’s emerging adult identity challenges her parents’ expectations.”

Lodge called “Quest” “living, breathing, stunning.” Jude Dry of IndieWire deemed it “a sweeping and intimate documentary.”

“Quest” will be shown at the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

“Dina,” which won the U.S. documentary grand jury prize at Sundance this winter, is a love story, a rather unusual love story. Dina Buno is a 48-year-old who, as Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, “is determined to overcome mental disabilities (her mother describes them as “a smorgasbord”) and past trauma (a brutal attack by an ex-boyfriend) to embark upon a new romance.” Her second husband-to-be, Scott Levin, has his own difficulty, Asperger’s Syndrome.

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called “Dina” “a sensitive snapshot of two ordinary people on the autism spectrum who are determined to carve out a meaningful future together.”

“Perhaps the most beautiful romance at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival plays out in ‘Dina,’ a documentary as warm-hearted and open as its title character,” opined Sean P. Means of The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Dina” will be screened at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, June 9 at the LBI Foundation.

Interestingly, “Dina” was mostly filmed in a Philadelphia suburb. Historically the Philly area has a connection with LBI in that, for decades, it provided most of the Island’s summer residents and tourists. But in the last 15 years of so the Big Apple and North Jersey has challenged the City of Brotherly Love as the major conduit to the Island. So it is only fitting that another of the LIFF documentaries, “One October,” is set in New York City.

The film, directed by Rachel Shuman, was released this April. But it focuses on October 2008, when Clay Pigeon, a radio host for Jersey City’s WFMU, traipsed the streets of NYC, interviewing people to discover their preoccupations as the city – and country – dealt with an economic collapse and the potential election of our nation’s first black president.

“Filmmaker Rachel Shuman captures New York City not just in the voices of those being interviewed, but so many visual settings, from an animal blessing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights to a single mom in Harlem worried about gentrification to an older man in a park reflecting on the good life he’s lived,” wrote Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan in a review in the News & Observer of Raleigh.

“One October” will be screened at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 10 at the Foundation.

“The Oyster Farmers” is even more local in nature than the films discussed above, filmed as it was in Southern Ocean County.

Directed by Corrine G. Ruff and produced by Angela C. Anderson, the documentary tells the story of oyster aquaculture in Barnegat Bay through the lenses of fourth generation oysterman Dale Parsons Sr. and his son Dale Parsons Jr. of Parsons Seafood in Tuckerton and “new blood boutique oyster farmers” Matt Gregg and Scott Lennox of Forty North Oyster Farm, based in Barnegat.

“The Oyster Farmers” will be shown at the LBI Foundation at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

Another Jersey film is “Swim Team,” directed by Lara Stolman. It, a publicity blurb states, “chronicles the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team made up of diverse autistic teens. As they vie for state and national championships, SWIM TEAM follows three of the team’s star athletes in and out of the water, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels like winning.”

“Swim Team” is scheduled to be shown at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 at the Surf City firehouse.

“Gaza Surf Club” was filmed in the Gaza Strip between Egypt and Israel by German filmmakers. Yet it, too, has a local flavor because it is, as its title implies, at heart a surfing movie. “The bond of the ocean and the lure of the surf proves universal in its ability to entice,” reads a publicity blurb.

“Gaza Surf Club will be shown at the Surf City firehouse at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

Another surfing-related film, “The Crest,” directed by Mark Covino, will be screened at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 9 at the LBI Museum in Beach Haven.

“Two descendants of an Irish king,” reads a blurb, “journey to an island where he once presided – not to reclaim the land, but to surf the waves. … Covino again explores a unique family dynamic in a fantastic journey that spans the Atlantic and invites the viewer to come along on for the ride.”

The final two feature-length documentaries entered in the festival’s competition this year are “Santoalla,” directed by Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer, and Sandra Luckow’s “That Way Madness Lies.” The former will hit the screen at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 9 at the Surf City firehouse while the latter can be viewed at 3 p.m. that day at the Foundation. Neither seems to have the slightest connection to LBI, Southern Ocean County, New Jersey or even the mid-Atlantic region.

“Santoalla” is a true crime documentary set in a beautiful but economically distressed area of northwestern Spain. A Dutch couple, Martin Verfondern and Mago Pool, looking to live off the land, moved to a small hamlet in the 1990s and initially got along well with their neighbors, the Rodriguezes, a clan of local farmers. But in 2010 Verfondern disappeared, shortly after winning a lawsuit against the Rodriguezes.

“That Way Madness Lies” chronicles the mental decline of the director’s brother Duanne as he slides into severe paranoid schizophrenia. It has been called “a groundbreaking look at mental illness in America.”

That’s pretty much what many critics said when Ken Kesey published “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1962. There is a connection – Duanne Luckow was confined in the Oregon State Hospital, the same mental hospital that was the setting for Kesey’s novel and its 1975 movie adaptation.

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