Writing Retreat for Women Film Writers Inspires Ahead of Lighthouse International Film Fest

‘Write By the Beach!’ Invites Women to Get Creative and Focused on LBI
By JON COEN | Jun 08, 2016
Photo by: Christine Rooney Eleanor Wilson working on her latest screenplay during the Write by the Beach project, leading up to the LIFF.

In 2015, following the Lighthouse International Film Festival, actress/director/writer Jennifer Prediger, whose film “Applesauce” closed the festival, was so taken by Long Beach Island, that she decided to extend her stay. Alone, Prediger found a perch facing the beach and started writing – head clear, inspired by the sight and smell of the Atlantic Ocean.

“In telling me about it last year after the fact, it just seemed like this would be a great thing to do every year, invite filmmakers down to use the surroundings to work on their latest projects, to time it with the festival and hopefully allow inspiration to flow both from an uninterrupted period of work and from being exposed to fellow filmmakers and works being screened at the festival,” said Eric Johnson, executive director of the Lighthouse International Film Festival, which returns to LBI this Thursday through Sunday.

The project is called “Write by the Beach,” specifically for women writers, and it incorporated two of the 2016 festival’s inaugural writers. The idea is to let the writers decompress, be surrounded by other writers, be inspired by the island environment and let the creativity flow.

“The mission is simple,” said Johnson. “Bring female filmmakers and writers to Long Beach Island for a week leading up to and including the festival, with no obligation except to foster their creativity on whatever project they are currently working. That’s it. No deadlines, no contingencies. Write. Create. Be inspired by LBI’s natural gifts, the essence of why the Island is so beloved.”

The participants included Eleanor Wilson, Bat-Sheva Guez and Farihah Zaman. The women arrived on Monday at a house in Loveladies and balanced their time between enjoying the beach and writing.

Wilson was born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, and has lived in New York for the last eight years. In addition to making films and producing commercials, she is the outreach director of “The Babushkas Of Chernobyl,” which plays at the Lighthouse Film Festival on Saturday, June 11, at 1 p.m. at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences. Her directorial debut, “Possum,” garnered many awards during its 2013 festival run, and her short, “Everything All At Once,” won Best Short Film at LIFF 2015, and was later released online on Sundance TV. She is also an actress and a co-founder of the Picture Farm Film Festival, an alumna of the Film Victoria Producer’s Attachment Program, and a former juror of the LIFF.

“I’ve been writing for a long time, but officially started writing scripts that I knew I wanted to make into films when I joined The Indies Lab, a collective of actors and writers who met once a week to read each others’ work,” Wilson said. “I joined as an actor, but quickly became more interested in writing, and developed my first two short film scripts through those sessions,” she explained last week before arriving on LBI.

Wilson doesn’t think there is a lack of women in screenwriting, but very few who are given an opportunity to rise to the top. In 1998, the percentage of women working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films was 17 percent, compared to 83 percent by their male counterparts, according to the Center for the Study of Women In Television & Film. That number has held steady through the past nearly 20 years, and today it is still only 19 percent.

“It’s fairly widely assumed that this is due to good old-fashioned sexism. But yes, it’s absolutely changing, especially thanks to the attention that the issue is getting at the moment in the media. High-profile women are also stepping forward to give tangible support to other female writers, such as The Writer’s Lab, funded by Meryl Streep. Others, like Jessica Chastain and Rose Byrne, have started their own production companies with the mission to create more films by women.”

She feels it’s tough in day-to-day life to find time to write when she’s trying to make money in the rough waters of being a freelancer.

“So just having a window of time to dedicate to it is invaluable, and being in a beautiful setting like LBI is a bonus.” Wilson added, “It’s wonderful that LIFF have chosen to focus on female writers only for this, to give more opportunity to the minority voice.”

Zaman was co-producer/director/photographer on the film “This Time Next Year,” which focused on several families’ long-term struggles in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and opened the festival in 2014. It was also screened at seven other film fests.

“LBI is one of my favorite places in the world,” Zaman said. “There is a reason my partner Jeff Weichert and I made ‘This Time Next Year’ about this island, as opposed to the many other areas in the country that struggled with other extreme weather events – and that is the amazing community here.” She added, “Of course, LBI has incredible beaches and spectacular sunsets, but there is also just a general feeling of strength and calm here that, combined with my own happy memories and connection to LBI, never fail to inspire.”

She feels there is something subtle but powerful about being in the company of other female writers.

“It’s just a corrective against the imbalance that exists in most other industry settings. Being involved in a program that seeks out women in a world that often prefers to overlook them, you’re reminded that the lazy claim you sometimes hear about how there are more successful male writers in the world because there are more male writers in general is simply untrue. We need to remind young women and girls that they can do whatever they want, and then prove it to them by not shutting them out of important opportunities as they grow.”

Guez, who has directed over a dozen short films, is passionate about weaving dance, magic, and experimental techniques into visually compelling, character-driven stories. She is the recipient of the JT3 Artist Award for Screenwriting & Directing. Her latest film, “Behind the Wall,” won the Panavision Grant for Best Cinematography at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

“It’s so peaceful and quiet here,” said Guez on Monday evening. “We walked down to the bay on our first evening, and I felt tension leave me that I didn’t even know I was carrying. This seems like a perfect spot to focus on writing without so many of the everyday distractions back in Brooklyn.”

“We hope that the work generated, started, and completed on LBI one day makes its way back for a future edition of LIFF,” said Johnson, “but it is by no means a requirement as we want the work to be unencumbered by outside influence such as the need to write a certain type of project, and just alleviate any of that type of pressure, of which there is already plenty when working through most scripts.”

The three writers will stay right through the weekend, attending films at the festival and other goings-on.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

(L to R) Bat-Sheva Guez, Farihah Zaman and Eleanor Wilson taking in the inspiration in Loveladies. (Photo by: Christine Rooney)
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.