As part of our resilience work, The Rockefeller Foundation supported the creation of This Time Next Year, a documentary about Long Beach Island, a small coastal New Jersey community, and its struggle to bounce back from Superstorm Sandy. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back in May, and we spoke with directors Farihah Zaman and Jeff Reichert.
What drew you to the stories you tell in This Time Next Year?
We’re generally drawn more to personalities than stories, per se. Choosing subjects for a documentary is a funny thing—who you want to work with often depends as much on chemistry as it does how a person’s narrative fits into a preconceived notion of what a film might include. So, in This Time Next Year, we were lucky to find people we really connected to who were rebuilding their homes and businesses—the Manginos, Bowkers, Matrona-Annarummas. But there are also folks in the film like Leslie Houston, who weathered the storm, and did not have a terrific amount of damage, but had this amazing perspective on the island community as a whole, and a seasonal renter like Mark Dmochowski whose memories of the Long Beach Island of his youth added an important extra dimension. When building a portrait of place, you have to be careful not to focus on just the most obviously dramatic stories. Weaving in a variety of perspectives makes the final film richer.
What has This Time Next Year meant for Long Beach Island? Has it changed the lives of the people we meet through the film?
We just screened the film on Long Beach Island for the first time a few weeks ago, as the opening night film of the great Lighthouse International Film Festival. It was a terrific night—over four hundred people attended and we saw almost everyone who appears in the film in the audience. It’s hard to say just from that one screening how This Time Next Year will impact the community at large, but we did receive feedback that suggested our focus, which was more on the islanders’ long term resilience than the storm itself, proved cathartic for many.
During the Q&A, one of the film’s heroes, Joe Mangino, presented us with a photo of the famousBarnegat Lighthouse signed by all of the film’s major subjects. When he gave it to us, he told us that we’d taken “the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through and made something beautiful from it.” Several others have told us that they liked when we’d come by to film because it gave them a chance to take stock of all the progress in their lives since we’d last visited; they felt that in the midst of the rebuilding, paperwork, arguments with insurance and unexpected delays, that it was easy to lose sight of forward movement. We hope that the film is an accurate reflection of how amazing we felt they all are.
Along with the Tribeca Film Festival, one of your very first screenings was at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island. What can you tell us about the community engagement campaign as it’s continued? How are storm-affected and vulnerable communities reacting to what they see in the film?
The goal of the This Time Next Year campaign is to partner with experts who are working in natural disasters preparedness, response and recovery, and for them to use the film as a tool to educate communities and show a side of the recovery story that is often overlooked.
We are approaching this goal from two different angles:
First, we are bringing the film to communities that are the most vulnerable to natural disasters, starting with a focus on cities on the East Coast that are often hit by hurricanes. In each of these cities, we are working with local partners who are nonprofits, government entities, individuals, etc. to create events with the film. Whether it is a full screening or showing a series of clips, the event will include a panel discussion with experts in the field who will educate and engage the audience on how they can prepare for natural disasters.
Second, we have been working with the many conference organizers, focusing on weather, climate, natural disaster, and other related issues, to include the film in their programming. This allows us to reach out to the experts directly so they can incorporate the film in their work. One example of such events is an upcoming conference for meteorologists, who organize talks on how to more effectively convey information about incoming weather to viewers so they are fully prepared.
Thus far in the campaign, the communities who have seen the film and been exposed to storms have had extremely positive reactions. The overall consensus is that the film does a great job of representing the experience of rebuilding after a natural disaster.
What one lesson about resilience that you learned from making This Time Next Year do you wish you could share with vulnerable communities around the country?
I think we saw over and over again just how much more people can do for themselves and their communities than they’d ever imagined. Late in the shoot, we met a few women working with Joe’s volunteer organization S.T.A.R.T. They were at a gutted home on a weekend cutting and hanging drywall like a pair of professional builders. We asked them if they’d had any prior experience doing anything at all like this prior to Sandy and they just laughed. Sandy was their on-the-job training, and we ran across similar stories up and down the island.