This year’s edition of the Lighthouse International Film Festival features two documentaries of particular interest to South Jersey.
Oscar-winning documentarian Julia Reichert, who spent her summers growing up on Long Beach Island, returns to the festival with her newest full-length work Saturday. Titled “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” it is a tale about the fight during the 1970s by American secretaries fed up with on-the-job abuse that inspired the movie starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, as well as the Grammy-winning song by Parton.
“The Pine Barrens” is a documentary filmed over six years in the 1.1 million acres located in the middle of the state. The film, which will be screened Friday, is about an unknowable place and the passions and defiance of the characters connected to it.
The Lighthouse International Film Festival is proceeding this year as a drive-in film festival for the first time because of COVID-19 precautions. New films will be shown on big screens at three pop-up, drive-in venues through Sunday.
The festival features a total of 28 films including world premieres and SXSW and Sundance titles.
Reichert, 73, said the fact that she made a documentary with her partner Steven Bognar about the 9to5 movement happened a little bit by chance.
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“I ran into an old friend in Washington D.C., Karen Nussbaum. She is in the film,” Reichert said.
Reichert had just had her first grandchild and had just finished making her short TV documentary “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” in 2009.
“That movement (9to5) was quite influential at the time,” said Reichert, who added it was the first time sexual harassment was challenged. “It kind of struck me that the movement shouldn’t be forgotten about. ... We thought it was a good part of history to bring back.”
Reichert deciding to make a documentary out of the 9to5 story is not totally out of left field.
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In 1978, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her 1976 documentary feature “Union Maids.” In that film, three female union organizers of the early Depression era discuss and reminisce about their actions of the time.
“It (‘Union Maids’) was an oral history film. People telling their stories. There are no experts, no historians and no union leaders,” Reichert said. “‘9to5’ is a sister movie from a different era.”
Reichert started shooting “9to5” seven years ago, but she put a pause in making it to create last year’s “American Factory,” which won her and her Northfield-raised nephew Oscar statues for best documentary feature in February. Jeff Reichert was not involved with “9to5.”
“9to5: The Story of a Movement” also was selected to be shown at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, which was canceled in the early days of COVID-19 in the U.S.
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Reichert chose to make a documentary bringing the “9to5” movement to light, while David Scott Kessler decided to create a documentary that will show most viewers aspects of the Pine Barrens they have never seen, even if they have lived in New Jersey their entire lives.
The Pinelands National Reserve occupies 22% of the state’s land area, including territory in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties.
“I had a fascination before I ever went there. It’s a strange place. Who are the Pineys?” asked Kessler, 44, of Philadelphia, who added he may have first heard about the Pine Barrens through Weird New Jersey magazine.
Kessler, a Union County native, had award-winning illustrator Allen Crawford serve as a guide to Kessler while he was filming and take him to places he would have never found on his own. Crawford, who grew up in the Pine Barrens, appears in the documentary.
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Besides the forest itself and Crawford, “The Pine Barrens” features Port Republic Mayor and traditional craftmaker Gary B. Giberson, a basket weaver, a cranberry farmer, a songwriter and dozens of bonfire storytellers.
Kessler hopes his documentary can serve as the cinematic equivalent of American writer John McPhee’s 1968 book “The Pine Barrens,” which he said sparked the political will to make the Pinelands a national reserve.
“The whole project grew over all these years,” said Kessler. For instance, “the politics of the pipeline” — a proposed but ultimately scrapped South Jersey Gas pipeline that would have run from Maurice River Township to the former B.L. England plant in Upper Township — “I didn’t touch on during the first few years of filming.”