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St. Paul’s Church in Port Jefferson Station

By Jill Webb

St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church’s first meeting was held on Dec. 13, 1917, marking its 100th anniversary this upcoming December. During the church’s first meeting, as the then-called The English Lutheran church of Port Jefferson Station, the Rev. Pallmeyer and his associates decided that services would be held at the Grange Hall on Route 112 and Union Street. Back then, the hall’s rent was only $10 per month.

The church has faced hardships over the past century. During the Depression, the church found difficulty in acquiring a full-time pastor along with acquiring guest pastors. This forced the church to close its doors for a year before reopening as the renamed St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, now at 309 Patchogue Road (Route 112), Port Jefferson Station.

Currently the church has approximately 150 members. “We are small but mighty,” said the president of the church council, Betsy Prosser. John Reiersen, the chairman of the 100th anniversary committee, emphasizes the welcoming atmosphere at the church over the 45 years he’s been a member. “We’re known as the friendly church on top of the hill,” he said.

Pastor Paul Downing, who has been with the church for four years, said the church has lasted so long due to the commitment of the members. “They’re committed not only to coming together to have a worship home, but also to serve the community,” Downing said.

One of the ways St. Paul’s serves the community is through feeding the hungry. The church does a soup kitchen twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays, feeding around 40 to 60 people each time. They do these soup kitchens through the Welcome Friends organization, which is an interfaith not-for-profit corporation serving the Port Jefferson area. Through Welcome Friends, each day of the week a different place of worship hosts the soup kitchen. “People have a place to go each and everyday to get a good meal,” Downing said. Their devotion to the community can be attributed to their motto “God’s work, our hands,” Prosser said, adding, “and sometimes our feet.”

In an obvious contrast to the busy road it resides on today, the area around St. Paul’s used to be very rural, causing the church to stand out. According to John Sehlmeyer, the vice president of the council, the church became a hub to the area’s residents. “Everything that happened here — whether somebody had a baby, somebody got married or somebody visited from out of town — it made the newspapers,” Sehlmeyer said. “All of the community always came and attended these events.”

A struggle St. Paul’s has been trying to overcome is the decline in millennial church attendance. They are constantly putting forth initiatives, including an outreach to Stony Brook University to promote how close the church is to the railroad station. “We’re hoping to see some kind of a rebirth where people start valuing attendance,” Reiersen said. He sees a potential rise in attendance with Generation Z.

Downing sees raising the attendance as more of a challenge than a struggle. “It’s just like when the church started, when you have this curiosity and this message of hope that Christ brings to the world that we are part of,” Downing said. “That’s exciting to be able to share that.”

Noting the division in politics, Downing strives to bridge the gap of differences with his faith. While he realizes that ethnically the Port Jefferson area has little diversity, he has noticed there are clear divisions in points of view, talents and gifts. Growing up in a congregation in Queens, “diversity was obvious and plentiful,” Downing said. “This congregation has taught me that diversity takes a lot of forms.”

As their 100th anniversary nears, the congregation has a lot planned for the celebration. “We got a theme during the year for the 100th year anniversary: ‘Let’s not look 100 years old,’” Sehlmeyer said. “We’ve done an awful lot in terms of upgrading the church to make it’s appearance nice.”

Downing is also incorporating what he calls “flashback services” into Sunday Worship. Working their way back to 1917, each Sunday the service will be based on what is was like 10 years prior. “We just did 1967 so we used the hymnal liturgy from that time with all the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and the older version of the scripture,” Downing said. Going along with the decade theme, there have been film screenings every few weeks in which a popular film is screened from that decade at the church. In August, they will end with a screening of “WALL-E.”

In September, they have a weekend planned to celebrate the past 100 years, in which all current and past members are invited. It will start with a wine and cheese reception on Friday, Sept. 22. On the Saturday, they will attend a dinner dance at the Polish Hall in Port Jefferson Station and will finish up the festivities with a special 100th anniversary worship service on the Sunday, with Bishop Robert Rimbo officiating. Rimbo is the bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “It’s a pretty action-packed weekend,” Reiersen said.

The longevity of the church can be accredited to the member’s dedication to it’s mission: Bringing the word of God to both the churched and the un-churched. “The thing you got to avoid is controversy, because in any organization there are troublemakers. You just kind of have to have a leadership that can recognize that, and remember what the mission is,” Reiersen said. “It’s a rule for any organization: Don’t sweat the small stuff and stick to going after the mission.”

A boy wears protective glasses during a partial solar eclipse in 2014. Photo from nasa.gov

By Jill Webb

It won’t be an average Monday, Aug. 21, this year as the moon will completely block the sun for two-and-a-half minutes.

The day marks the first total solar eclipse to happen in North America since 1979, and it’s the first one to stretch from coast to coast in 99 years. In a total solar eclipse the disk of the moon seems to entirely cover the disk of the sun. This will happen Monday on a path about 70 miles wide.

A solar eclipse. Stock photo

Unfortunately, Long Island isn’t on the eclipse’s path of totality, but you still will be able to see a partial eclipse. New York will have about 71 percent of the sun covered during the eclipse. At 1:24 p.m. the eclipse begins on Long Island, and will last till 4:01 p.m. The peak eclipse time is 2:46 p.m.

“I think it’s wonderful for families to experience this with their children,” NASA expert Laurie Cantillo said. “It could be an experience like this that will get a child to stop looking at a phone or tablet and look up to the sky and perhaps motivate them to want to learn more.”

Fredrick Walters, an astronomy professor at Stony Brook University, has put together a list of ways to maximize your viewing experience of the eclipse. Walters said to focus on looking at the stars emerging during the daytime, the shadow bands that will appear across the land and the changing colors as the light fades.

Most importantly, you need to have the proper viewing tool: eclipse glasses. Regular sunglasses won’t cut it, and it’s very dangerous to directly expose your eyes to the sun.

“We’ve all been taught ever since we were kids don’t ever look directly at the sun and that advice applies,” Cantillo said. “The only time it’s safe to remove eclipse glasses is if you’re in the path of totality, during those couple minutes of totality.”

Unprotected viewing may not cause immediate pain, but Walters said he has heard of cases of people waking up the next morning with blurry vision or blindness. Some people can recover in months to years, but it’s not worth the risk.

North Shore solar eclipse events

Middle Country Public Library

2017 Solar Eclipse: Celestial Event of the Century

At its Centereach building, the library will be hosting a solar eclipse viewing between 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Along with the viewing, activities and eclipse glasses will be provided for all ages. Register for the event by calling 631-585-9393.

Huntington Public Library

Astronomy Crafts

From noon to 2:00 p.m. Huntington Public Library will be offering an astronomy craft session at its main building as well as the Huntington Station branch. One of the space-themed crafts is an eclipse on a stick. There will also be a viewing event in the afternoon at both buildings where you will receive a free pair of eclipse glasses; no registration is required. For more information, visit www.thehuntingtonlibrary.org.

Long Island Science Center

Solar Eclipse Event

From 1 to 4 p.m. the Long Island Science Center will be hosting solar activities, live streaming and more. Planetarium presentations will happen at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Admission is $10 and free for children 2 and under. For more information, visit www.lisciencecenter.org.

North Shore Public Library

Catch the Eclipse!

At 1:30 p.m. Tom Madigan of Suffolk County Community College, who is a part of Astronomy for Change, will give a brief presentation on solar eclipses before leading the event outside to view the solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses will be provided. Register for the event by calling 631-929-4488.

South Huntington Public Library

See the Solar Eclipse

Bring some snacks and a blanket to lay out on the lawn behind the library from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. to witness the eclipse. The library will provide glasses (four per family) while supplies last. Inside, the eclipse will be live streamed from NASA in the library’s theater. Visit www.shpl.info for more information.

Maritime Explorium

Totality 2017 Solar Eclipse

Become a citizen scientist at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson by attending a viewing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and helping to crowd source data for researchers at NASA and EclipseMob. Eclipse glasses will be available while supplies last; no registration required. For more information, visit www.maritimeexplorium.org.

The professor said that these special glasses are basically pieces of Mylar foil shielding your eyes. The glasses should be from proper sources that are certified by testing organizations.

“If you have a pair of eclipse glasses and want to test them, put them on and look —not at the sun — but just look at bright lights and things.” Walters said. “If you can see anything, throw them away. You shouldn’t be able to see [anything] except the sun.”

If you can’t get a pair of eclipse glasses in time, you can DIY them by putting a small round hole in an index card and project the image of the sun onto a flat surface.

“One thing you will notice if you don’t look at the sun through your glasses is if you look at the shadows on the ground, you’ll see the shadows are crescent-shaped,” Walters said.

Leaves in the trees could act as projection tools too, casting multiple tiny crescent-shaped shadows on the ground.

During the partial phase, according to Walters, you won’t notice anything besides the sun getting dimmer.

“Unless, you look at the sun through your eclipse glasses, and you can see the sun is no longer circular — there’s a chunk taken out of it,” Walters said. “But, nothing much changes until you have the total phase of the eclipse because the sun just fades.”

Viewers along the path of totality will have a different viewing experience than Long Islanders.

“Inside the path of totality is completely different, it will be night for two and a half minutes.,” Walters said. “The sun gets completely blocked out, the corona of the sun is about as bright as the full moon, that will provide illumination.”

Walters also pointed out that in the path of totality, regular colors might appear different. Where sunrises and sunsets usually appear to have reddish tints, during the eclipse the tone will have a blue tinge. Another thing to notice is temperature; during the peak eclipse things will get colder.

Eclipses have provided researchers with data to uncover scientific discoveries. This time, the scientists are letting the public partake in their findings.

“One of the things that is being planned for next Monday is the National Solar Observatory and the National Science Foundation have handed out a number of telescopes [and] cameras to people along the eclipse line,” Walters said. “The idea is to have them take pictures and movies and stitch it all together to a 90-minute-long movie of how the sun’s corona is changing. This has never been done.”

If you miss this eclipse, don’t fret because another one is coming April 8, 2024, that will run from Texas through Maine — and upstate New York will be in the path of totality.

“It’s almost a mystical experience — you really have to experience this,” Walters said. “It’s good scientifically, but it’s really a great thing to observe on a human level.”

News 12 meteorologist Rich Hoffman said in an email that the weather forecast for Aug. 21 is good, even though things could change between press time and the eclipse. Hoffman said mostly sunny skies are expected for the day with temperature highs near 84.

Above, a portrait of Leonard A. Zierden, age 4, March 1900, with his Jack Russell Terrier (Star Studio, Johnsonburg, PA) will be on view at The LIM through Dec. 31.

By Jill Webb

As the dog days of summer are brought in with the August heat, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will also put dogs in the spotlight. Starting Aug. 11, the Art Museum on the hill will feature an exhibit titled Dog Days: Portraits of Man’s Best Friend. The exhibit’s collection will focus on works from the 1840s to the 1960s featuring dogs.

Ernest BJ Zierden, age 7, March 1900, with his Jack Russell Terrier (JYL Photo Studio, Johnsonburg, PA)

“This gallery tends to be devoted to changing exhibits drawn from our permanent collection,” Assistant Curator Jonathan Olly said of the room currently preparing for the Dog Days exhibit. The exhibit will open tomorrow, Aug. 11, and run through Dec. 31.

Beneath the gallery resides the vault storing the museum’s art collection. “It’s kind of a continuing challenge of coming up with new ways to look at the collection and put together themes,” Olly said.

Olly got the idea to draw together works highlighting dogs after gaining inspiration from a cat-centric exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. Realizing the fact that Long Islanders love their dogs led him to curate the Dog Days exhibit. “When most people were living on a farm, farms had dogs because they were pets but they’re also practical. They could catch pests, they could guard the homestead from intruders,” he said.

There are about 20 major works in the gallery, from watercolor and oil painting to photographs. There will also be a display case featuring smaller objects such as dog show tags, ribbons from the North Shore Kennel Club in St. James, postcards that have advertising containing dogs, ornaments that were pinned on horse wagons leather straps and even a pair of slippers with dog’s faces embroidered on them.

William Sidney Mount’s Esqimaux Dog, 1859

Famous artists William Sidney Mount and William Moore Davis have pieces on display. Mount was a 19th-century genre and portrait painter who lived in Setauket and Stony Brook. The museum has the largest collection of his works. Davis, a friend of Mount’s, resided in Port Jefferson and is known for his landscape paintings.

“They are the two artists that are most strongly represented in the show. That’s because they were local people and they both depicted scenes of regular people on Long Island at work, at play, at rest — and often dogs were part of the scene,” Olly said.

The interesting part of the gallery is that in most of the works the dogs are not the most prominent part of the piece. Often, they were just another component in the scene, which draws a comparison to how they were (and are) just another part of Long Islander’s lives.

“A lot of the things that we’re working with in here tend to be things that have come into the collection not because they’re dog-related, but the fact they have dogs is almost accidental,” Olly said.

This is the case in Alexander Kruse’s 1969 painting “Bicycle Parking Fire Island,” which is the most current piece in the exhibit. “He didn’t paint it because of the dog, but he just happened to include a dog,” Olly said.

One of the most interesting pieces featured, according to Olly, is a painting illustrating a scene of the Meadow Brook Hounds. Fox hunting was a popular sport for Long Island’s elite in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There were three main fox hunting organizations on Long Island during this time: The Meadow Brook Hounds (1881-1971), Suffolk Hounds (1902-1942) and Smithtown Hunt (1900-present).

The painting of the Meadow Brook Hounds is particularly interesting because it’s one of the few where the dogs are a major part of the scene. The painting is accompanied by a label that not only names important figures portrayed in the piece, like Theodore Roosevelt, but also credits the dog’s names. “The dogs are actually getting equal billing with the people,” Olly said.

In conjunction with the Dog Days exhibition, The Long Island Museum will present its third Summer Thursday event on Aug. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. with a concert by the Cuomo Family Band. Visitors are encouraged to pack a picnic dinner and bring chairs or blankets. Admission to the grounds and exhibit is free.

Shelter dogs from Last Chance Animal Rescue will be available for adoption and The Middle Country Public Library’s Mutt Club, which partners with animal rescue organizations, will be collecting donations for shelter pets including pet food, toys, treats, collars, cat litter, toys, cleaning supplies and peanut butter.

Dog Days: Portraits of Man’s Best Friend is a chance for North Shore residents to see the beloved pets in an artistic light. Stop by the gallery to see just how man’s best friend has been captured over the past centuries on Long Island.

The Long Island Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

By Jill Webb

Fourteen years ago Melissa Stasi-Thomas was a Girl Scout troop leader who would teach her scouts how to sew. Now, she’s putting on weekly fashion shows as the owner of Little Miss Sew It All.

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes. Photo by Jill Webb

Little Miss Sew It All is a sewing studio located in The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River. The studio focuses on teaching sewing to children and young adults, with no experience necessary, and offers assistance to those within a range of skill levels.

Erin DeBianco who was searching for a creative outlet for her daughter Skylar, 5 at the time, stumbled across Little Miss Sew It All and had no idea how it would effect her daughter’s life.

“It really opens their minds for creativity purposes, but it also really is teaching a skill that they can carry with them,” DeBianco said of what the studio has done for Skylar, now 9. “She developed a love for sewing, and even had a mini sewing studio installed in her bedroom.”

Skylar takes the lessons she’s learned at Little Miss Sew It All into the classroom, too.

“She had an old skirt that didn’t fit her anymore, and she had a recycling project to do for school, and she made the skirt into a pocketbook,” DeBianco said. “She added the straps, and sewed the bottom shut so it would hold something. Her mind is working like that now because she goes to Little Miss Sew It All. They teach them how to repurpose things and change what doesn’t fit you into something else.”

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

Stasi-Thomas has come a long way with sewing. After another troop leader asked if she could teach her girls, she went troop to troop teaching the scouts how to sew pajama bottoms. Then, one girl raised her hand and asked her “what else can I make?”

That question inspired her to start a sewing class on her dining room table. At first, it was just six fifth-graders.

“I stayed on my dining room table for eight years,” Stasi-Thomas said. She opened up the shop, originally located in East Moriches, eight years ago. In October 2016, she closed her East Moriches studio to dedicate her time to her new location in Wading River.

The youth classes, called SEW U, operate in four-week sessions for an hour and a half. Beginner’s classes are broken into instruction basics on machine and hand sewing procedures, along with project construction. Experienced students will introduce design and skill drill instruction into their class. There is also an adult program, All Sewn Up, which offers basic instruction on sewing to adults.

Stasi-Thomas also added open sewing hours to her studio, called Stop-N-Sew, allowing participants to stop in and do projects ranging from $15 to $20. They are available everyday over the summer from 12 to 6 p.m. excluding Fridays.

Fridays are when she and the girls have a little fun. Project Funway, for children ages 6 to 16, offers a chance for participants to not only design and sew their own outfits, but model them in their own fashion shows.

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

“We were sewing for so many years and the kids were making such fantastic things and the only people who ever really saw it was [when] they went home and brought it to their parents,” Stasi-Thomas said.

This is her eighth year of Project Funway, and the theme is Bohemian RapSewDy.

The camp starts with an introduction to the theme and explanation of what to create.

“This year, I told them that they are going down the runway barefoot with flower headbands,” she said. “They get that image in their head.”

The students are given choices of which ensemble they will construct: a romper, dress or halter-top with harem pants. Experienced students have more leeway to alter the ensemble choices. On the second day, Stasi-Thomas runs through machine safety and operation. The next three days are dedicated to garment construction, and leads to a photo shoot and fashion show.

“It’s much like you see on Project Runway, sometimes there’s just fabric flying,” Stasi-Thomas said comparing her classes to the popular Bravo and Lifetime reality show competition.

Everything at Little Miss Sew It All revolves around the student’s vision.

“They make suggestions on whether things should be longer or shorter or tighter. … Pick the blue instead of the pink,” she said. “It’s great to just sit and watch what they’re doing.”

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

At the July 28 fashion show, best friends Katherine McCann, 12, of Moriches and Gwen Posanti, 12, of Shirley, walked down the runway in their newly-created ensembles. Gwen, who is in her sixth year at the studio, said she loves the program.

“It’s a great way to express yourself, because you get to make your own outfit and then you get to show it to a crowd,” she said. “It just feels so nice to have everybody cheering for you.”

Lorraine Mathes, of Holbrook, has been sending her daughter to Little Miss Sew It All for two years.

“Miss Melissa makes the whole program,” she said. “She’s amazing with the kids.”

One of the best parts of the studio, according to Stasi-Thomas, is watching the growth of her students over the years, providing them with a skill that can last a lifetime.

“It’s the working with your hands — I just feel is important for everybody,” she said. “Even if you’re going to go into the computer field, you have to kind of grasp your ability to create something.”

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

By Jill Webb

This summer, the Middle Country Public Library is giving the community a chance to not only admire the beauty of nature but to create something new and exciting within it.

Artist Carol Hummel brought yarn-bombing to the Middle Country Public Library with her Crochet It! project, making circles that will be part of an installation on display in September. Photo from The Long Island Museum

Crochet It! is being hosted by the library as a community-driven art collective in which trees will be wrapped with thousands of colorful crocheted circles. This project will be creating two separate art installations to be displayed at the library for the public to enjoy.

Tracy LaStella, the library’s assistant director for youth services, beamed recalling the nearly 100 people who showed up for the June kick-off, where the library went through its first four boxes of macramé for the trees. Since then, she’s seen people of all ages and backgrounds become participants.

“This is our third drop-in, and they just keep on getting bigger and bigger,” LaStella said.

Carol Hummel, an artist well known for her large-scale installations and global projects, attended the Middle Country Public Library’s kick-off to offer two instructional workshops and will return in September to start the decorations she refers to as “artwork by the people, for the people.”

Since 2004, Hummel has been traveling to do community crocheting projects, also known as yarn-bombing. This is Hummel’s third time doing an installation on Long Island — her first was in Oyster Bay, and the  second was at Stony Brook’s Long Island Museum after being noticed at a gallery showing in the area.

After the installation at The Long Island Museum, Hummel said the staff told her that they still get 10 people a day, at least, that stop and come to The Long Island Museum to look at the trees. “And then they get exposed to the place,” Hummel said.

Participants not only get pleasure from creating the pieces but also get to enjoy them  after they are installed.

“It exposes people to a kind of art — contemporary art — that is different than going into a museum and looking at a painting on a wall,” Hummel said.

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

Hummel’s role in Crochet It! is planning, designing and figuring out logistics, like how much of each yarn color is needed. Then, the project is turned over to the library’s volunteers to produce pieces, which Hummel and her team will put together in September.

The artist said she enjoys working with Long Islanders, saying that they get many people involved.

Participants have the choice to work individually or attend the drop-in crochet sessions hosted at the library. The Crochet Socials Drop-in Sessions will have instructors present and will be taking place until September.

Instructor Corin LaCicero, 38, walked around the July 12 session, offering assistance to anyone who needed help.

“It’s fun to see them learn, and when they get it they get really excited,” LaCicero said of the participants. She explained that after a few weeks they’re learning how to create things like chains and circles.

LaCicero was taught to crochet by her mother and grandmother at 8 years old. Having the hobby passed down leads her to emphasize the benefits of group sessions.

“Some people might have different techniques than others,” she said. “You might have someone come who’s left-handed and it’s hard to teach, and someone else can help with that.”

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

The trees will be adorned with orange, blue, yellow and purple yarn in the Nature Explorium at the library’s Centereach building, where the drop-in sessions are held. “We must have over a thousand circles done already, and we need thousands because we’re doing two large trees on the property here,” LaStella said. “My office is just filled with the circles.”

Marianne Ramos-Cody, of Selden, sat in on a drop-in session July 12 for the first time with her two young children nearby.

“I’ve crocheted before, but nothing like this,” Ramos-Cody said as she demonstrates the circular pattern of the crocheting with her son by her side. “He wants to learn, but I gotta learn first to show him.

The library is offering Crochet It! kits to be picked up for any participants to start their work. The kit includes all of the materials necessary for making the circles.

The Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, has given the necessary funds for the project to take off. The Huntington Arts Council administers the project, which will integrate nature and art into the community.

Community involvement is one of the beneficial aspects of the project, and drop-in crochet sessions will be Aug. 9 and 22 and Sept. 6 and 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Centereach location at 101 Eastwood Blvd.

“It’s always nice to experience something that’s so inspirational to everybody who’s working on it,” Hummel said.

She’s excited to be one of the first artists to go viral with yarn-bombing.

“People always say ‘aren’t you afraid people are going to copy you?’ I want them to copy me — I think it’s great,” Hummel said. “Spread joy and art around the world — that’s the best thing you can expect.”

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo courtesy of Staller Center
Presents mix of independent features, documentaries and shorts

By Jill Webb

Drop your beach towels and grab some popcorn because the Stony Brook Film Festival kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. and will run for 10 nights. The festival’s director, Alan Inkles, who has been curating the event since its inception, said in a recent interview that the idea to showcase great films annually came to him because “film is the art of this century.”

Festivalgoers view these films in the main 1,000-seat auditorium of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, which features a 40-foot-wide screen for maximum viewing pleasure.

Inkles’ biggest challenge as festival director is finding the films that are going to “draw 800 people on a Thursday night — in the summer on Long Island — to a film they’ve never heard of.”

Last year, the director started using www.filmfreeway.com as a way for filmmakers to submit their films, saying the service is “the most fair to both filmmakers and film festivals” due to its piracy protection. Inkles and his team received over 1,000 submissions from the website, along with about 700 from sales agents internationally — all of which are viewed between January and May.

Diversity on the big screen

The vast number of submissions have led to greater diversity. This year’s lineup includes films from Italy, Armenia, France, Sweden and the Netherlands among others and puts a spotlight on a variety of relevant topics including the LGBTQ+ community and immigration.

The big draw this year, Inkles said, is an abundance of women directors — a demographic that often gets overlooked in the film industry. “Almost 50 percent of our films are directed by women — features and shorts,” Inkles said, adding that three of them write, direct and star in their films.

The opening and closing night films both have one thing in common: Germany. Each of these German films will be making its U.S. premiere at SBFF on its respective night. Opening the festival is “Welcome to Germany” (“Willkommen bei den Hartmanns”), written and directed by Simon Verhoeven, a ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy about a refugee from Nigeria who, while awaiting the ruling on his asylum request, is taken in by a wealthy but severely dysfunctional family from Munich.

A scene from ‘Text for You’. Photo courtesy of Staller Center

The closer, titled “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), is a romantic comedy that explores coping with grief and loss. Karoline Herfurth is a triple threat in the movie’s production as director/writer/actress. The film’s main character, Clara, is struggling to get over the death of her true love and begins to send text messages to his old number. The new owner of the phone is compelled to answer these messages, creating a dialogue between the two strangers. Inkles describes the film as a “German [version of] ‘When Harry Met Sally.’”

Long Island: In front and behind the camera

While Inkles stresses that he selects films solely on being the best of the bunch, he admits he loves getting a Long Island angle in. This year’s Long Island connections includes “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy,” a documentary chronicling Rockville Centre native Elliott Murphy’s journey to rock star status, starting in mid-1970s America and eventually traveling to Europe where his career takes off.

While the film is set in Maine, a great deal of “The Sounding” — which follows a woman who has chosen to remain silent until a traumatic experience leads her to speak in only Shakespearean words — was shot here on Long Island.

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo from Staller Center

Academy Award winners and Ward Melville graduates, Todd and Jedd Wider, have been making films together for 19 years. Their documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” focuses on mothers trying to get FDA approval for a drug to save their sons affected by the fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Jedd Wider got the idea for the film at an event listening to a Harvard-educated doctor talk about his son’s experience with DMD and the extents his family was going through to save his life.

“I was mesmerized by what he had to say,” Wider said. After the event, a Google search on the doctor, Benjy Seckler, lead Wider to his first meet-up with a family challenging DMD. The film watches the mothers transform into “very serious political activists as they attempt to rally the FDA,” Wider said. “It’s really a window into the FDA system, but it’s also a very serious look and window into the troubles, the issues, the challenges, the tragic circumstances surrounding these families as they attempt to find a cure and secure that cure for their children.”

The short “Brothers” will be screened before the Wider brother’s film and is directed by another Ward Melville graduate, Zachary Fuhrer. “Brothers” tells a story of a 9-year-old boy who deals with experiencing guilt after accidentally hurting his little brother while playing baseball. Fuhrer looked back on the way he dealt with confrontation as a child as inspiration for the film. The take-away Fuhrer hopes the audience gets is “what it truly means to say I’m sorry, and what it truly means to show compassion for another person and understand wrong-doing.”

Exploring your options

Presented by Island Federal Credit Union, the festival will run through July 29. For $85 you can purchase a Festival Pass to see all of the films, along with promotions for local restaurants through labor day, seating guaranteed up to 15 minutes prior to the showing, first entry for preferred seating options and some merchandise freebies: a film pass, lanyard and tote bag.

If you’re looking for something a bit more lavish, try the Gold Pass: For $225 you get all the perks of the Festival Pass but also entry into the Opening and Closing Night parties along with access to the VIP seating with the filmmakers. Individual tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors and $5 with a student ID. Free parking is available in the Visitors Parking Garage during the festival.

For more information on the program, tickets and trailers check out www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com or call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Film Festival Schedule

Thursday, July 20

Opening Night

8 p.m. “Welcome to Germany”

Friday, July 21

7 p.m. “Walking David”

Short: “Game”

9:30 p.m. “Let Yourself Go”

Short: “Rated”

Saturday, July 22

4 p.m. “Ethel & Ernest” (animated)

Short: “Snowgirl”

7 p.m.“The Sounding”

Short: “Icarus” 9:30 p.m.

“Love Is Thicker Than Water”

Short: “Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens”

Sunday, July 23

4 p.m. “To the Edge of the Sky”

Short: “Brothers”

7 p.m. “Fanny’s Journey”

Short: “Who Sank Your Ships?”

9:15 p.m. “Tonio”

Short: “Oma”

Monday, July 24

7 p.m. “Apricot Groves”

Short: “The Simon’s Way”

9:15 p.m. “Strawberry Days”

Short: “The Dog and the Elephant”

Tuesday, July 25

7 p.m. “Little Wing”

Short: “Real Artists”

9:15 p.m. “From the Land of the Moon”

Short: “Interrogation”

Wednesday, July 26

7 p.m. “Laura Gets a Cat”

Short: “Speak”

9:15 p.m. “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”

Short: “Just, go!”

Thursday, July 27

7 p.m. “Purple Dreams”

Short: “Across the Line”

9:15 p.m. “Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs”

Short: “AmeriKa”

Friday, July 28

7 p.m. “The King’s Choice”

9:30 p.m. “The Midwife”

Saturday, July 29

Closing Night

8 p.m. “Text for You”

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Jill Webb

Ryan Bloom and Leo Chen have been announced as Newfield High School Class of 2017 respective valedictorian and salutatorian.

Bloom has managed to handle a full plate of academics, extracurricular clubs and a top student government position while amassing a 101.9 GPA to be named valedictorian.

Ryan Bloom

The senior graduates with 42 college credits and was fully engaged outside of the classroom with his extracurricular activities. Not only was he the president of his senior class, but also held positions as  secretary of the Thespian Honor Society,  co-president and editor of the newspaper club, and  PSTA council delegate. He was also a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and World Language Honor Society.

Community service efforts Bloom has been a part of include serving as a religion education catechist at St. Gerard’s Majella Church in Port Jefferson Station for five years, and volunteering for a special needs bowling program during the summer.

He believes his personal goals along with his family’s support has driven him to attaining top-of-the-class status.

“The combination of those two has really pushed me towards success and has made me want to always go one step further than I already have,” he said.

Theresa Bloom, the valedictorian’s mother, recalls the perseverance he demonstrated from as early as 3 years old.

“He was always a child that was very organized and very detail-oriented in the way he actually did anything,” she said.

Bloom credits his time as class president as having a huge influence on learning useful skills for his future.

“You’re working with over 350 students and trying to have those communication skills and also leadership skills,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot [about] the virtue of patience”

Leo Chen

He notes his leadership positions and involvement with clubs during high school have led him to  explore career options in law or government. He will be majoring in political science at Northeastern University.

Like Bloom, Leo Chen has cultivated an impressive resume, which includes a GPA of 100.2 with 45 college credits.

The senior has been recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction due to his performance on multiple AP exams. Outside of academics, Chen was a very active member at Newfield, as a member of the book club, Tri-M Music Honor Society, National Honor Society, select jazz band and  chamber orchestra.

Chen also is a promising athlete, and captained  the varsity track and field and cross-country teams.

One of his proudest accomplishments was achieving a personal best in the mile, with a time of 4 minutes, 32 seconds. Chen grew up with asthma, saying it was a “good achievement to feel like I overcame that.”

He said for students looking to be at the top of their class in the future, they shouldn’t think about it too hard.

“I don’t think your goal should be to achieve the ranking,” he said. “You should just find yourself — do what you like to do.”

In the fall, Chen will be a computer science major at Yale University.