Behind the Scenes With the Lighthouse International Film Festival

By MARC LIPMAN | May 01, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill The LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences is converted into a film festival theater, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, who, as the author details, perform many different tasks.

Last June the Lighthouse International Film Festival on Long Beach Island finished its 10th year, and I am looking forward to the upcoming one. Eleven years ago it started with a small group of people sitting around the kitchen table blue-skying about an idea to show artsy-type films on LBI. Now, people from all over the world gather here, patrons and producers. The opening night film last June filled every available seat at the LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, our largest venue.

As an aside, I wondered what would have happened if 11 years ago they had thought about a gathering of motorcycle riders. Would LBI be inundated with bikers every spring? (Can I make a comment like this since I ride a motorcycle)?

This event is made possible by the yearlong efforts of the staff plus the work of many dozens of volunteers, of which I am one (everybody is unpaid). Like the tip of an iceberg, I see only the preparations of a few weeks before the festival and the few days afterward, not the many, many months of screening films, narrowing a field of thousands down to about a hundred and preparing a schedule of events for three venues plus the virtual reality experience, not to mention the breakfasts with the filmmakers, the centerpiece parties (dinner parties) and the awards ceremony.

When my wife and I started volunteering eight years ago, our tasks included moving chairs and selling tickets; I moved the chairs and she sold the tickets. Prior to the showing of the films, there is a lot of setup at the venues. All the windows have to be covered with black plastic so that absolutely no light shows through. Even a pinhole must be covered with a piece of tape. The tape we use seems to stick better to people than to the windows. Occasionally the tape comes loose and must be re-taped. The parts that come loose always seem to be the ones that require the tallest ladder.

We still do those tasks, but this year I have also taken on the highly technical position of being the lighting coordinator at the LBI Foundation. When the venue manager has finished introducing the film, I slowly turn down the top left dimmer slider and then flip the switch to turn off the stage lights completely. When the film is over and the credits have stopped rolling, I flip the top left switch to the right and slowly turn up the dimmer slider. What a responsibility!

Seeing a film at the festival is much different than going to a movie at the multiplex. For one thing, there is no 20 minutes of previews of upcoming films (usually action-hero ones) or 10 minutes of food dancing around on the screen. Also, the plot (if any) in a commercial movie is somewhat pre-digested. You can go to the restroom in the middle of the movie and come back without missing much. In many of the festival films, a lot is left to the interpretation of the viewer. I would guess that in some of the films, if three viewers were to provide a short description of the story, I might wonder if they were talking about the same film.

The films consist of full-length ones and short films. The descriptions of some of the short films seemed to be longer than the films themselves. There are narrative films and documentary films plus a new category this year: “Storytellers” (non-classic formats and styles).

After each film, part of our job as festival volunteers is to tabulate the viewer survey information. This information is important, as funding depends on it. You might think that this is fast and easy, and sometimes it is. However, tallying up the results for over 150 viewers takes time, not including the feedback from a viewer who enters only a ZIP Code (we need to know home state) or checks both “Exceeds Expectations” and “Meets Expectations.”

For me, the festival ended when I helped get all the materials moved to a storage facility and carefully put into the two storage units – as always, following orders.

To summarize the volunteer experience, for me, it consists of:

  • Anticipation
  • Hours of work
  • It’s over – I’m bored.

Marc Lipman lives in Green Brook, N.J., and Barnegat Light.




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