Filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman directed the documentary, “This Time Next Year,” which profiles the community on Long Beach Island, New Jersey as it rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012. They spent a year filming on the island to learn about the long-term effects of the storm.
The movie was part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and it will do the film festival circuit for perhaps another year. Watch for it to come out in theaters, DVD, and VOD.
I spoke with the directors last week about their experience making the documentary and why they chose to focus on Long Beach Island. Below are highlights from our conversation.
Melanie: Jeff, your family was from Long Beach Island? Is that why you chose this community?
Jeff: Yes, my mother and her sister grew up on the island. They were all evacuated during the last big storm, the storm of ’62. My mom moved off the island in the late 70’s, early 80’s, I guess, and my aunt lived there until the 90’s. They all still live just on the mainland near Long Beach Island.
Our producer, Dan O’Meara, his parents still live in Beach Haven, and they lost the first floor of their home in the storm….
And just as a side note, on a family vacation there a couple of years ago, Farihah and I got engaged on the island. So, it’s a very special place for us….
Melanie: What did you learn through the process of making the film?
Farihah: The day-to-day of what it’s like to go through something like this where at least a little part of every day of your life is devoted to thinking about the storm or reminders of the storm. One of the women in the film talks about how 8 or 9 months later, she won’t think about it in a really meaningful way, but every now and then, she goes to find a pan that she needs and thinks, “Oh, right, that was lost.”
The other thing we learned is the depth of the emotional scars….
Melanie: What do you say to people who might say that there were other areas harder hit than the one you chose to focus on?
Farihah: It’s a portrait of a place, so we wanted to stay true to what was going on in that place. Rather than that place representing the absolute hardest, toughest stories that you heard coming out of the storm, it’s more about what’s very fragile, being in a once secure position.
So, these aren’t necessarily people who were really struggling before. They worked very hard to be in a working class and middle class position where they were relatively secure, and the idea that nature wiped that out in a heartbeat. And even though many of them, you see improvements in their lives and they’re back in their homes, there’s still the psychological sense of insecurity. But also, they spent their entire life savings trying to get back into their home or trying to raise their home.
Melanie: It seems to me that people outside of New Jersey may be surprised that these people are not like the characters on “Jersey Shore” but are just like everyone else.
Jeff: The folks in this film, the heroes, are school teachers and deli owners and random homeowners and mothers of disabled children just trying to put their lives back together. It seemed to us to be something that would be exciting for a documentary to look at.
This is a broad generalization, but a lot of times, documentaries can tend to focus on what the culture at large deems to be exceptional or deems to be the best case of something or the most interesting, focusing on the scarcity or rarity of it…. We think that [the people] in the film are just as amazing as that.
Melanie: What are you working on next?
Farihah: We are starting to talk about a documentary we want to shoot in Luling, Texas, which is a small town about 45 minutes east of Austin, and it’s one of those towns that benefited from the oil boom and is now on the other side of that. And we want to explore the economic and social impact through a beauty pageant that they do called the Watermelon Thump Queen.