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This California film director is putting some local folklore on the big screen.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maria Capp stayed at her parents’ home in Ronkonkoma where she grew up in the 1970s and 80s.
A combination of boredom, time, and being in the element inspired her to start penning a script.
“I always wanted to write a story about growing up by [Lake Ronkonkoma] and what it was like for me,” she said. During her stay on Long Island, she added, “I noticed the symbolisms, tributes, and markings throughout the town that pay tribute to ‘The Princess.’”
That’s when Capp decided to do some digging.
She visited the local historical society to investigate the legend of “The Lady on the Lake.”
For those not familiar, the story goes that “Princess Ronkonkoma” (the daughter of the Setauket Sachem Tribe’s “chief”) fell in love with a rival tribe’s “chieftain.” But the “chief” forbade his daughter from being with her new lover.
Some stories say the couple committed a Romeo and Juliet-style suicide, while others say the heartbroken daughter took her own life and since then, her sorrowful spirit kills one man every year.
There have been over 160 drowning deaths reported at Lake Ronkonkoma since the mid-1800s.
In Capp’s opinion, these tales are a misconstrued western version of the many stereotypical ideas associated with indigenous people.
For example, Capp said she found in her research that calling a chief’s daughter, “princess,” is a racist term and in actuality, there were no “princesses” and tribal leaders weren’t really called “chiefs,” these titles were given by Europeans.
Her findings, experiences with growing up on Lake Ronkonkoma, her interest in telling stories of identity formation, and looking at her own personal experience with grief’s effect on a family inspired her to write the coming-of-age, psychological thriller titled “The Legend of Lake Ronkonkoma: The Lady of the Lake.”
The contemporary story follows a young teen girl, Jamie Schultz, who wants to celebrate her graduation and 18th birthday, but her milestones are overshadowed by the one-year anniversary of her brother’s accidental drowning, her mother’s subsequent mental health issues, and unexplained, supernatural circumstances that haunt the once happy family.
A key aspect of the story is the Schultz family happens to have a lineage that is traceable to the original people of the lake.
Capp hopes the film draws awareness and sparks conversations surrounding social injustices toward indigenous people.
“Because I am touching upon Native American folklore and I am speaking in a climate where the world is very socially aware of injustice and systematic racism, what I ended up really identifying was combining the supernatural component with a family suffering from a tragic loss, while being haunted by a so-called legend,” she said. “What I’m really doing is challenging racial injustices that exist in the town, in my own backyard.”
Capp is currently in the process of applying notes to the script, raising funds in partnership with New York Rep to shoot the film, and casting actors.
In addition to this project, Capp is releasing a new feature film this holiday season called “Four Cousins and A Christmas” which is set to be released in November (streaming availability TBA).
This is Capp’s feature film directorial debut. The script is co-written by first-time screenwriters Elliot Estrada and Raffaela Capp, her daughter.
Click here to watch the trailer.
“Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, I’m ringing the phone and creating the path,” Capp said. “And in doing so, I’ve created a path for others, I’ve given a lot of first-timers, women, and specifically people that may not be given the opportunity to work in their desired vocation in the film — I’m all about giving an opportunity to inclusivity.”
Continue to follow greaterronk.com for updates on the film.