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LIFF Unveiling the 16th Annual Lighthouse International Film Festival Competition Narrative and Documentary Films

Now in its 16th year, LIFF is proud to announce its list of feature films, documentaries and short film entries to be screened June 5th - 9th on beautiful Long Beach Island, NJ.

 

In addition to watching films, festivalgoers can rub shoulders with producers and directors, attend filmmaker discussion groups and party at after-hours special events with the actors and other creators.



[Still Image from Do I Shock U Like Lightning]

  

Narrative Feature Film Competition


CAST & CREW

Director: Jason Taylor // USA, 96 min

A very realistic, smart indie comedy about how to, or maybe how not to, make a low-budget independent film. It is an optimistic, maybe naive, account of a scruffy film produced by a motley crew of true cinema lovers who come together to fulfill their biggest dream: make a feature film. They are amateurs but ambitious, have no budget but are resourceful, lack industry connections but have passion in their hearts. What happens behind the scenes takes center stage in hilarious ways. While team members scramble to achieve their common goal on screen, the real action is between takes. The film crew’s theoretical preparations and practical improvisations, their hopes and doubts, their deep friendships, and a serious case of filmmaker wannabe syndrome, all come together on a wild film set, without the benefit of professional direction, only to end up provoking the essential question: Why are we doing this?

EAST COAST PREMIERE 


CLENCHED FIST

Director: Vivian Goffette // Belgium, 87 min

In this unconventional coming-of-age drama, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Vivian Goffette (for his short film Postcard, 1999) tells the story of Lucien, a shy 11-year-old boy living with his mother and older brother in the Belgian countryside. As if growing up isn’t hard enough, a brief encounter with his disgraced father shakes his world. Against the advice of his loved ones, he is lured into reconnecting with his dad in prison and endures deceit and manipulation that threatens to crush his young, fragile soul. Can the naive Lucien (played by the angelic Yanis Frisch) overcome the toxic influence of his father and take his own path on the way to adulthood? His conflicted journey is portrayed in a brutally honest, compassionate way in this beautiful, gentle, and very realistic film.

US PREMIERE


DO I SHOCK U LIKE LIGHTNING

Director: Kahlil Maskati // USA, 97 min

New Jersey’s own Kahlil Maskati's directorial debut is a bittersweet, musically-infused dramedy that plays all the right tunes. It explores the connection between creation and romance, hope and despair, melody and lyrics, all through the intimate, unlikely love story of Wardy and Ellie in LA. He plays the guitar in the park, and she joins in with her ukulele. Their collaboration brings them close together as friends, maybe lovers. The mutual search for personal and artistic harmony is short-lived, however, as Wardy prepares to move back to his hometown on the East Coast.  Will the tunes and the memories they carry live on?

WORLD PREMIERE


GAP FATHER

director: Ryousuke Honaka // Japan, 118 min

In this complex, but very gratifying, original work by first-time director Ryousuke Honaka, Rika is a young, lonely Japanese teenager, without a father figure in his life. Nakamura is a kind man who works for a company that offers a unique service - - dads-for-rent. What starts as an awkward client-provider professional interaction on the verge of the surreal, slowly develops into a delicate connection between two lonely strangers struggling to come to terms with loss and trying to fill huge holes in their respective lives. As they get closer and more co-dependent, the surrogate becomes the real thing, creating a deep human bond, beyond familial lines.

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE


THE LAST TAXI DRIVER

Director: Stergios Paschos // Greece, 114 min

Taxi drivers wander throughout the city at night, pick up passengers from all walks of life, and witness a host of bizarre scenarios, some of which happen only after dark. Martin Scorsese’s classic, “Taxi Driver,” serves as an inspiration for this peculiar tale of existential angst through the eyes of a fifty-year-old driver in Athens who is struggling to come to terms with his mundane repetitive everyday - and night - life. Prompted by the shocking suicide of a client in his cab and fueled by a one-night stand with a mysterious, attractive young woman, he goes on a wild ride that revitalizes him in his midlife crisis. The chain of events drags him down a rabbit hole of obsession, jealousy, and delusion, as he shifts into high gear, without any breaks. Will he crash?    

US PREMIERE


THE STRANGERS’ CASE

Director: Brandt Andersen // Jordan, 103 min

When tragedy strikes a Syrian family fleeing from war-ravaged Aleppo as refugees, it starts a chain reaction of events that changes the lives of others in four different countries. With an impressive international cast that includes French star Omar Sy, Yasmin Al Masri from Lebanon, Yahya Mahayni from Syria, Constantine Markoulakis from Greece, and Palestinian brothers Saleh and Ziad Bakri, American filmmaker and activist Brandt Andersen has crafted a powerful political thriller about displacement, crime, death, and survival at all cost. 

US PREMIERE


Official Selection: Berlin, Winner of the Amnesty International Award


A TIME APART

Director: Courtney Hope Therond // USA, 75 min

An intimate, romantic drama about a young, beautiful, and perfect couple, Alyssa and Luka, whose personal aspirations and professional goals send them in different directions and are kept far apart by pandemic-induced lockdowns. The forced, long-distance relationship takes a toll, and a breakup seems inevitable, but when Alyssa returns to Paris from LA to finalize their divorce, the two get to spend some time together and re-kindle their passion. But is it enough to save their marriage? Leaning on the impressive performances of Lana Bay and Emmanuel Berthelot, filmmaker Courtney Hope Thérond provides a sensitive and honest account of a waning love story that stems from personal attraction, but is challenged by the physical and geographical realities of life. 

EAST COAST PREMIERE


WIDOWBIRD

Directors: Yoni and Miki Benyamini // USA, 85 min

This unconventional film noir, which is more delicate than dark, subtly combines a kaleidoscope of styles, genres, and themes. In this artsy thriller, the Benyamini Brothers follow a grieving journalist (played by singer-songwriter Nellie McKay) on her journey from New York to snowy New Hampshire, where she is expected to interview a conservative Senator/presidential hopeful. Alarming information about the mysterious disappearance of a young woman and its possible connection to the Senator complicates her mission, as she aims to shed light on secrets that might destroy the Senator’s career and, quite possibly, rid her of the ghosts of her own past.

WORLD PREMIERE


YELLOW BUS

Director: Wendy Bednarz // UAE, 109 min

Set in Abu Dhabi, this hard-hitting drama tells the story of an Indian mother fighting for justice in the wake of a tragic event involving her daughter that took place on a school bus. As a migrant worker, she finds it incredibly difficult to accept the local bureaucracy and institutional culture that stands between her and the truth of what happened. She refuses to accept any monetary compensation or made-up explanations and insists on conducting her own investigation into this case of harrowing negligence and coverup. In this United Arab Emirates-produced project, American director Wendy Bednarz creates a film that is unexpectedly critical of Gulf society, as it touches deeply on a personal level.


Official Selection: Toronto International Film Festival



DOCUMENTARY FEATURES

 

ALL AMERICAN

Director: Mark Andrew Altschul // USA, 87 min 

Energetic and soulful, this sports doc offers us an in-depth look into Women Wrestling through the lens of immigrant teenage girls. In the personal story of brave Amrah, the daughter of Muslim Yemeni parents, who leaves behind her family's conservative traditions to find her own path in America, we are exposed to the high school women's wrestling league. Fighting on the mattress and in real life, these teenage girls are dreaming of being winners and, more than that - of earning a sense of belonging and acceptance in society. Photographer Mark Andrew Altschul brings to the big screen an inspiring film about charming, unrelenting characters on a backdrop of physical sports action.

WORLD PREMIERE


ARRIVING IN FIVE MINUTES PERIOD

Directors: Trevor Lyon and Colby Smith // USA, 95 MIN

Justice Kibbe is a Door Dash driver with lofty ambitions and a quick wit. He sets out on a road trip from New Jersey to the Cincinnati Zoo, accepting every available DoorDash order along the way, including ones for non-tippers. Beyond the backdrop of the deliveries is a young man struggling to make ends meet in an economy that is sparse with opportunities for his generation.  What results is an exploration of his generational “situation,” his loneliness, and also his innate kindness, all overarched by a revealing look at how people treat each other in an increasingly digital world?

NEW JERSEY PREMIERE


A BUFFALO STORY

Director: Colin Ruggiero // USA,120 min

A Buffalo Story tells of the return of bison to the North American landscapes they once defined and outlines some of the important ecological and cultural impacts of that restoration. The mighty buffalo once roamed the Great Plains, but after many decades, due to deterioration of natural habitats and human impact, they have all but disappeared. Through the work of Jason Baldes, a Shoshone Tribal Member, we follow the efforts to restore the buffalo to the Wind River Reservation, home of the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes. With stunning imagery, this film explores the restoration of the buffalo, not only as a natural and ancient inhabitant of this ecosystem, but also as a traditional connection to the historical and spiritual life of the Native American tribes in the area. In this film we see the possibility for redemption, not only for our spirit, but also for our feeling of connection to wildlife and the natural world.

EAST COAST PREMIERE


DREAMS HAVE NO SCENT

Director: Solmaz Gholami // Germany, 88 min

Iranian journalist, scholar, and filmmaker Solmaz Gholami presents a five-episode mosaic portraying the beloved homeland she escaped in 2016. Through unique bits and pieces, archival footage, Iranian social media videos, and her own materials, the unrelenting dissident takes on the theocratic Iranian regime and its oppressive paramilitary force, the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), while hailing the courageous masses who push back against social oppression in the spirit of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement. Through a deep, emotionally-charged narrative and vivid imagery of fearless efforts to instigate positive change, this film underscores how a pervasive voice can catalyze hope for transformation.

WORLD PREMIERE 


MEDIHA

Director: Hasan Oswald // USA, 87 min

This is a story of courage and survival from the Yazidi genocide and its aftermath, as shown through the personal lens of one of its survivors, Mediha, a teenage Yazidi girl. Her story begins to unfold in a refugee camp, where she is reunited with two of her younger brothers, Ghazwan and Adnan, after kidnapping and enslavement by ISIS. Mediha and her brothers must now attempt to rebuild their lives, but with the whereabouts of their father, mother, and baby brother unknown. Faced with local and international complexities, which still continue to affect rescue and accountability efforts eight years after the genocide, the siblings turn to a network of Yazidi rescuers in the search of their missing family members. The story highlights the ongoing and enduring impact of ISIS atrocities on the Yazidi community, but also sheds an important light on the many universal challenges faced by all refugees, worldwide. From LIFF alumni, director Hasan Oswald (Higher Love) and producer Jason Loftus (Eternal Spring), and executive producer, Emma Thompson.


VIA SEDNA

Directors: Ramona Waldner and Alexander Brugger // Austria, 90 min

Dreaming of an expedition that would be different from anything they had ever experienced before, an adventurous crew of eight female sailors and climbers plan to sail from France to Greenland to attempt a first ascent of a Big Wall. Under the helm of Captain Marta Guemes and expedition leader, Caro North, and after months of preparation, they finally were able to set sail from La Rochelle. But it soon became clear that Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the seas, would put the team to the test, forcing them to overcome the many obstacles that the rugged Atlantic and Arctic Oceans would throw at them. There is great beauty in the landscape and cinematography here, but the true beauty of this film, comes from the camaraderie and teamwork of the women, their perseverance, and their commitment to protecting their environment. 

US PREMIERE 

This screening is supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum, NYC 


UNDIVIDE US

Director: Kristi Kendall // USA, 73 min

America is at a crossroads where politicians, traditional media, and social media fan the flames of toxic partisanship that have led many Americans to question whether they can trust their fellow citizens. UNDIVIDE US stands as a beacon of hope and a call to action. Through the intimate lens of six focus groups across three American cities, the film explores the twisted landscape of toxic polarization, revealing how it drives us to places fundamentally un-American places. Yet, within these divisions, the film uncovers the potential for healing conversation and the rediscovery of the value of local community, mutual respect, and democracy. Aiming to awaken the silenced majority that seeks solutions rather than strife, UNDIVIDE US is not just a documentary; it’s a timely and urgent plea to reclaim the nation’s soul through open discourse, civic engagement, and self-governance. 


UNLIKELY ALLIES

Director: Anthony Pedone // USA, 97 min

In 2003, a low-level cannabis case would end Weldon Angelos’ promising career in the Hip-Hop industry. But it would also give birth to a national movement to reform our country’s criminal justice system, uniting far-right conservatives like billionaire Charles Koch and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) with liberals such as Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ), Van Jones, and musicians Alicia Keys and Snoop Dogg. This unbelievable story of an aspiring Salt Lake City-based musician who united political rivals from his jail cell to launch a campaign for a rare joint cause is effectively documented on screen in a way that is entertaining, inspiring, and impactful.

East Coast Premiere

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