"The Lightkeepers" illuminates Cape Cinema screen

Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner delight

   Richard Dreyfuss as Seth Atkins in The Lighthouse Keepers.  Movie stills courtesy of the film's producers.

By Bill DeSousa-Mauk

Writer/Director Dan Adams’ wholesome new independent film, The Lightkeepers, premiered to a full house of fellow Cape Codders at Dennis’ Cape Cinema Christmas weekend. This is the second installment in a planned trilogy of turn-of-the-century Cape Cod stories based upon the writings of Joseph C. Lincoln. The Golden Boys was Adams’ first Cape-themed movie based on Lincoln’s Cap'n Eri. Filmed largely in Chatham, The Golden Boys was released nationally in April 2009.

Blythe Danner as Mrs. Bascom.

The nostalgic 98-minute Lightkeepers, based upon Lincoln’s short story The Woman-Haters : A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-Lights, presents Cape Cod itself as one of the movie’s stars along with a luminous cast of Hollywood greats and relative newcomers. The film spins a yarn of two avowed misogynist lighthouse keepers who tend Eastham Light in 1912 Cape Cod. Their protagonists, two unwelcome women summering in the cottage across the dunes, turn the keepers’ relatively uneventful world upside down.

The woman haters

Lightkeeper Seth Atkins (Richard Dreyfuss) is a crusty, reclusive, women-hating curmudgeonly old salt who recruits a polished young wash-ashore calling himself ‘John Brown’ (Tom Wisdom) as assistant lightkeeper if he swears off women as long as he stays on. ‘Brown’ has literally washed ashore near the lighthouse after admitting to jumping ship; his tale is short on details due to clearly feigned amnesia. After a series of awkward vignettes, the two befriend one another upon disclosing to each other the evolution of their respective women-hating. Subsequently the two spit into their hands and shake to seal their anti-women covenant. Their bargain is, however, obfuscated when two lovely, attractive Bostonian ladies — ingénue heiress Ruth Lowell, (Mamie Gummer), and her housekeeper, Mrs. Bascom (Blythe Danner)—arrive by carriage to summer in a cottage adjacent to the Light and Keeper’s House to despoil their female-free utopia. 

An about face?

Through a series of twists and turns, both contrived and fateful, Atkins discovers the housekeeper is really the wife he’d left eight years earlier while ‘Brown’ reveals his own provenance (as a disgruntled heir to his family’s fortune) to heiress Ruth during a series of clandestine swimming lessons and rendezvous. Both Atkins and ‘Brown’ quickly reverse their espousals of women-hating once both women insinuate themselves into the Light’s limited real estate. The romantic comedy’s plot unravels as both Atkins (whose true surname turns out to be none other than Bascom) and his assistant lightkeeper are similarly smitten and pair up with the summer cottage ladies.

Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) and Tom Wisdom as Ruth and John.

A celebration of Cape Cod

There is much joy in this picture, which is as much a celebration of the Cape’s majestic beauty as it is of the vagaries and vicissitudes of love itself. One is easily persuaded that the setting is truly turn-of-the-century Cape Cod. The costumes, accents, locations and artifacts are true-to-life and believable. Dreyfuss’ character is as cantankerous as one would expect a lonely, heartbroken and cynical old coot living a solitary life in the dunes of the Outer Cape to be. It is, at its end, a celebration of love and the metaphoric lighthouse is not lost on the audience as it becomes crystal clear that Seth Atkins Bascom has carried the torch for Emeline Bascom for eight lonely years. Both Seth and Emeline Bascom and the two young lovers pair off, predictably, much to the great satisfaction of the audience.

The director and his actors

The Hollywood Reporter declares that Cape director Dan Adams’ picture gives Richard Dreyfuss his “showiest lead performance since 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus. ” Sadly, the gifted Bruce Dern makes an all-too-short cameo appearance as Bennie, Atkins’ arch-enemy.

Director Adams, a Barnstable resident, feels the film hearkens back to old Hollywood said “I love the old films by Frank Capra and John Ford. I’m trying to recreate those types of films for an audience I think is out there.” In watching the movie, it was clear Adams had skillfully tapped into the tranquility of his own backyard. “It’s awesome that I get to work all day and then go home to my family,” Adams continued. Lightkeepers co-producer and star Richard Dreyfuss, who attended the screening at the Cape Cinema Sunday December 27th for a post-showing Q & A, observed “This guy [Adams] lives here, and shoots movies here, about here. That alone is totally impressive.” This was Dreyfuss’ first return to Cape Cod since starring as Matt Hooper in the blockbuster Jaws in 1975. Blythe Danner was completely captivated by Cape Cod. “I am so in love with Cape Cod, I just want to come back. This is going to be my ‘escape place’ for the rest of my life,” she said when asked about the setting for the film.

On location

The picture was filmed from May 4 to 26, 2009 at locations including Race Point Light and its Keeper’s House in Provincetown; Highland Light in North Truro; Dowses Beach in Osterville; and at West Barnstable train depot. The Lightkeepers, directed and co-written by Daniel Adams, stars Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, Bruce Dern, Tom Wisdom, Mamie Gummer and Ben Dreyfuss. The film will release nation-wide March 12, 2010 and was selected as January 2010’s Palm Springs International Film Festival’s closing-night film.

The Lightkeepers opened in Los Angeles in mid-December in order to qualify for Academy Awards competition. Distributor Nesim Hason of New Films International pledged to give it an expensive marketing campaign, having committed $450,000 to advertise the picture and send Lightkeepers DVDs to Golden Globe and Academy voters. He plans to spend several million more if the movie gets any awards-season traction.

Shooting in the Commonwealth

Under Massachusetts’ film tax credit law (signed by Governor Mitt Romney in 2005 and significantly upgraded by Governor Deval Patrick in 2007) studios, producers and filmmakers who shoot at least half of their movie or spend at least half of their production budget in Massachusetts are eligible for a tax credit equal to 25 cents for every new dollar of spending brought to Massachusetts. No caps, limits, pre-authorization, pre-certification or waiting.

Beginning with the start of pre-production and continuing for a period of 12 months, filmmakers will be eligible for 100% sales tax exemption on production-related items purchased. MA is the only state in the country allowing filmmakers to take credits either as a direct rebate at 90% of the face value (guaranteed), or to sell them at market rate—whichever is more favorable. With the spending threshold lowered to $50,000 and with “digital media projects” now eligible, Massachusetts has extended the benefits of the film tax credit to thousands of locally based, small independent and documentary filmmakers.

The Lighthouse Keepers is playing at the Cape Cinema off Route 6A in Dennis Village through January 7, 2010.

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