Ronkonkoma’s ‘Lady of the Lake’ Legend Heads to the Big Screen

“What I’m doing is a very localized thing. My father says, ‘wow, you have the potential to really put Ronkonkoma on the map!’ And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Having first conceptualized the project three years ago, it wasn’t until returning to her childhood home for the early days of the pandemic that Ronkonkoma-raised filmmaker Maria Capp really began diving into her “Lady of the Lake” adaptation.

The legend contends Princess Ronkonkoma had a forbidden romance with a rival tribe’s “Chieftain,” culminating in either “Romeo and Juliet” fashion, or with the “Princess” alone taking her own life. She’d then remain behind, a spirit responsible for the drowning of one male in the lake each year.

Ten months of the Connetquot graduate’s Ronkonkoma Historical Society-aided research would uphold only the back end of the legend’s lattermost component. Even so, the spiraling nature of what’s since become of it, combined with the lake’s propensity to enact fatal judgement (a reported 160 drowning deaths since the mid-1800s), were exactly what the now-Burbank, California resident needed to craft her story.

A conscientious pitching process accounted for the obligatory in this day and age, “why a white woman, telling this story?” concerns. Subsequently, a Native American consultant was brought on to help the final product eschew the stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous Peoples. With an equal end goal in mind: shattering a decidedly westernized, misconstrued myth – while confronting what amongst a culture lends credence to the spread of misinformation in the first place.

“By using the youth [employed on her film], young teams who are more with it, more educated, more empathetic, more understanding, I promise to accurately depict what social injustice means,” Capp vowed.

Nevertheless, Capp also assures the legend’s presence serves as the mere backdrop for a modern-day tale designed to resonate with any family grieving the loss of one of their own.

Capp’s coming-of-age/psychological thriller, titled “The Legend of Lake Ronkonkoma; The Lady of the Lake,” will follow Jamie Schultz as she celebrates her 18th birthday and graduation before heading off to college; certifiably good times that are swiftly overshadowed by the changing of tides. The one-year anniversary of her brother’s drowning in Lake Ronkonkoma, a crisis of fleeting mental health proportions, and unexplained supernatural occurrences all collide with the harrowed, so-called “curse” put under the large-scale spotlight, once and for all.

Personally, Capp has always sought to pay tribute to her Long Island formative years; a sacredly held time, her 1970s/1980s days spent navigating about town with siblings and friends, running barefoot around the woods that surrounded most of Lake Ronkonkoma’s perimeter before it would become heavily populated by houses.

Professionally, reviving a particular aesthetic synonymous with the locale of her upbringing in scripted form was just the beginning of a process that’s still very much unfolding.

Permits have been obtained for a collaboration in conjunction with the Towns of Islip and Smithtown, and the Suffolk County Parks Department. Capp’s former classmates have provided their lakeside homes for exterior shots. St. Mary’s Church will also feature. “Newsworthy, recognizable talent” have been cast. But shooting funds are still needed. Thus, Capp’s own Cappricielli Productions and their not-for-profit, New York Rep producing partners are inviting all interested investors to donate in any way they can to help them: (1) film in the spring of 2022 as planned, and (2) meet a “holiday rush” release by the same year’s end.

“[Filmmaking] is a huge risk; it takes years,” Capp reflected. Therefore, she encourages young storytellers and moviemaking hopefuls to find the opportunities they can – especially on her Ronkonkoma-bound project meant to offer access to overlooked groups who wouldn’t have it otherwise – while they work up the courage required to tell their personal stories that “no one else can tell.”

“This is mine,” Capp declared. “I’m telling stories now, and I could not tell the stories I’m telling now or want to tell, whether I write them or shape them, unless I lived all this life, and loved the people I’ve loved.”

Capp remembers frequenting the Ronkonkoma Pavilion for swimming lessons. The shouts from lifeguards to vacate at once because lightning was striking, or because someone was drowning. And the conversations about those who weren’t as lucky to be saved due to the indiscriminate, damn-near ironic fury of an optically beautiful lake. One she always knew had the capability to be as much a character as any other intimately depicted within a story set in, and about her hometown.

Now, she’s seizing the day, not waiting for anyone else to make that movie; Capp is coming back home and making it herself. And with a crew she’s proud to call inclusive.

These were her experiences. That’s why this white woman is telling this story.

Interested in donating to, or working on the production? Contact: Fundraising Intern Anna Giglio ([email protected]) or Maria Capp directly ([email protected]). Per the director herself: BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and woman STRONGLY encouraged to apply!

“Everything I do, I do to create with my family; for this movie, my family’s expanding to the community.” – Maria Capp, Director

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Mike Reistetter, former Editor in Chief, is now a guest contributor to The Messenger Papers. Mike's current career in film production allows for his unique outlook on entertainment writing. Mike has won second place in "Best Editorials" at the New York Press Association 2022 Better Newspaper Contest.