Fire Island Film Festival 2023

On Saturday, July 15, I had the pleasure of attending the third annual Fire Island Film Festival on Ocean Beach. Hosted Founder Jesse Ray Sheps and Heather Nunez Miss New York USA 2022, the festival was founded in 2020 and is quickly becoming a staple of Fire Island. Sheps will be attending Yale University this fall and will be honored at the Long Island 30 under 30 Awards this August.

There was a total of eight short films shown, followed by a Q&A . Unlike last year where the movies were all vastly different regarding themes and messages, this year the movies all had a similar tone. Still, every movie that was shown was very entertaining and just an absolute joy to watch.

“Niko & Eleanor,” directed by Samantha Severin, is about a troubled young man who moves into the attic of a woman with Alzheimer’s. While he lives off her and pawns her belongings for cash, the two form a surprising symbiotic relationship. This movie was surprisingly moving as it shines a light on addiction and the various ways it can affect a person. The film is almost shot as if you are watching something that you shouldn’t be watching. The character Niko was described as “a good guy that has bad tendencies,” and you can absolutely see that description in his performance.

“The Third Defector,” directed by John Gray, is about an Iranian defector who becomes a person of interest for a spy in Paris. This was probably my favorite movie at the festival, very suspenseful despite being less than 15 minutes long. It was shot on location in Paris and the cinematography was stunning. If you are a fan of the James Bond franchise or old 1960’s spy espionage movies, then this movie is for you.

Directed by Tara Westwood, “Triggered” tells the story of a U.S. senator who faces her greatest challenge when a home invasion takes a shocking turn. Out of all the movies at the festival this one probably had the most famous cast including Isiah Whitlock Jr. ( “The Wire,” 2002) and local Fire Island celebrity Robert John Burke (“Blackkklansman,” 2018, among others.) Even though this was the most star-studded festival movie, it was also arguably the darkest movie as it deals with a topic that is unfortunately becoming an everyday occurrence in U.S. The film kept me gripped from beginning to end.

“Pennies from Heaven,” directed by Sandy Honig, tells the tale of two eccentric twin sisters who stumble upon a pickup truck full of pennies and follow the adventure wherever it takes them. After “Triggered,” I think the audience needed a bit of a decompression, and “Pennies from Heaven” gave them that. It was an audience favorite.

 Director Liam Burke (son of Robert Burke) tells the story of a man who is desperately trying to defend his clearly toxic relationship as well as his other poor life choices in “Poor Yorick.” This is a movie that a lot of people are going to relate to because we all know that one person that tries to convince themselves that everything is fine when it so obviously is not. It was not the most exciting movie, but it was still very entertaining, very well written and very well acted.

“Leaving Yellowstone,” directed by Kayla Arend, is about a young woman who must fight for her life when she discovers some disturbing revelations about her boyfriend. Arend said that this movie was deeply personal for her because something like this happened to someone that she was very close to. Even though that friend is still around, it still haunts her to this day. She hopes this movie will bring to life this horrible circumstance that so many women unfortunately find themselves in. The movie is shot with the gorgeous cinematography of a wintry Yellowstone Park that serves as a contrast to the horrors of the situation.

            Directed by Bianca Poletti, “Radical Honesty” is about a date that takes an incredibly awkward turn when Jack gets way too honest about the nature of his open relationship. This was a very awkward but funny film that the crowd seemed to adore. The dialogue was awkward and sarcastic but it worked well for the tone that this movie was trying to go for. This is one of those movies that almost anyone can relate to because we have all been in that situation before.

            “Death and Ramen,” directed by Tiger Ji, is the story of a ramen chef that spends his final night alive hanging out with the Grim Reaper. This was the last movies shown, and it was a very strange but extremely unique, heartwarming buddy comedy. I feel like the glue that held this movie together was the chemistry between the actors Bobby Lee and Matt Jones. If these two actors weren’t so good this movie could have crashed and burned.

As someone who has always loved movies as an art form, I am so happy that I had the privilege to go to the Fire Island Film Festival and experience it with a sold-out audience of people who also respect the art of film making along with the actors, directors and producers. Congratulations to Jesse Ray Sheps. Proceeds from the festival are donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Editor’s Note: Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Fire Island News has decided to not publish any on location photos of this event.