Do you how much I missed movies on the big screen, and also film festivals, after three months of the pandemic? I drove over an hour, to a destination in a state I don’t live in, on a Tuesday night, to get that feeling again.
The occasion was the Lighthouse Film Festival, which is typically held each June on Long Beach Island, on the Jersey Shore. While just about every film festival in the U.S. since March has been canceled, the Lighthouse Festival went a different way: It went to an outdoor, all drive-in format, which required attendees to stay in their cars.
The festival, which runs through Sunday, features movies at three separate venues each night, starting at around 8:30 and 11:15. That was the plan, anyway; the scheduled second movie of the night Tuesday, the satirical short John Bronco, was postponed, on account of the wind blowing too hard for the inflatable screen to remain standing. Those being the perils of hosting an improvised outdoor film festival, at night, a block from the Atlantic Ocean.
Amir Bogen, the festival’s executive director, said over the radio frequency that broadcast the movies’ sound that the Lighthouse Film Festival is believed to be the world’s first completely drive-in film festival. Opening night attracted several dozen cars, all crammed into a small public park.
The Lighthouse Film Festival is believed to be the world’s first completely drive-in film festival
Sure, the format subtracted many of the things most commonly associated with film festivals, which include seeing friends who are fellow regulars on the festival circuit, and making conversations before the movies and after. And when the opening film began, it wasn’t quite dark enough for the screen to be as clear as it should have been. But that said, the night still featured what we’d all been waiting for: A movie, on the big screen, at last.
On Tuesday night, for opening night of the festival, the Lighthouse Film Festival featured The Outpost, an Afghanistan War film directed by Rod Lurie, and based on the non-fiction book by CNN anchor Jake Tapper. The film, naturally, was supposed to premiere at South by Southwest back in March, before that whole festival was canceled; Brogen called it the “unofficial world premiere.” The festival’s lineup is full, in fact, with films that were scheduled for SXSW and other cancelled festivals from throughout the spring.
The Outpost is a reasonably strong war film, probably the best feature film made to date about the war in Afghanistan (although, compared to Lone Survivor, 12 Strong, and War Machine, the competition isn’t exactly stiff. The 2010 documentary Restrepo, though, has them all beat).
The film tells the story of the Battle of Kamdesh, from late 2009, in which around 50 U.S. soldiers in a base located at the bottom of a mountain faced off against hundreds of Taliban. It says a lot about the futility of the American Forever War that this battle was not only taking place in the ninth year of the war, but there’s open talk among the characters about the U.S. pulling out of Afghanistan soon after these events. American involvement in that war still continues for many years after that.
The hour-plus of The Outpost, in the tradition of Jarhead, features the characters getting to know one another and preparing for the battle to began, although they’re occasionally fired upon by the enemy, to the point where multiple major characters are killed even before the main battle starts. That battle, exceptionally rendered by Lurie and cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, comprises the main battle itself.
The cast features several actors, including Orlando Bloom and Caleb Landry Jones, looking practically unrecognizable with shaved heads. Scott Eastwood plays the other lead – a character named Clint! – while speaking of sons of movie stars, another pivotal role is played by Milo Gibson, the son of Mel, whose face and voice instantly recall his old man. Milo has had four credited roles to date and played soldiers in three of them (and Al Capone in the fourth).
I liked The Outpost more than any film Rod Lurie has ever made, with the possible exception of his 1999 debut Deterrence
I liked The Outpost more than any film Rod Lurie has ever made, with the possible exception of his 1999 debut Deterrence. That film, made in 1999 but set in the future of 2008, starred Kevin Pollak as the first Jewish president of the United States, in a nuclear standoff with Uday Hussein. His The Contender was an odd gloss on the Clinton impeachment, while his Nothing But the Truth featured a face-off between fictitious versions of Valerie Plame and Judith Miller. I did, however, love Lurie’s short-lived, bonkers TV series Line of Fire, which starred David Paymer as a mob boss in Virginia.
The Outpost will receive a Fathom Events release around July 4, with a VOD run to follow. If you’re a fan of war movies, those actors, or Jake Tapper, the movie is for you. And if you’d like to find a way to catch festival movies on a big screen outdoors, the Lighthouse Film Festival runs through Sunday.