Local Legend Becomes Film: Director Gives a Peak Below the Surface


Delaney Hallahan, Contributing Writer

Photo Credits: Marianna Kowalski

The Legend of Lake Ronkonkoma, a tale of forbidden love and grief, turned sinister. Quarantine due to the covid-19 pandemic brought a Long Island (LI) native back to her roots while visiting the town she grew up in; this legend piqued her interest as she explored the symbolism found around her stomping grounds in Ronkonkoma. This LI local is writer, director, and producer Maria Capp.

Capp caught inspiration to make a film about the haunting legend of The Lady of Lake Ronkonkoma after returning to her childhood home in Ronkonkoma for the 2020 quarantine.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Maria Capp for an inside look at her upcoming project, “The Legend of Princess Ronkonkoma,” a young adult thriller exploring the fear and grief brought on by losing a family member a haunting connection to the legend itself.

The tale of the Lady of Lake has found itself being told through many different iterations over the years. For those unfamiliar, the telling says: When a Ronkonkoma native woman (also called the “Princess”) is caught in a forbidden love that her father (commonly referred to as the Chief) disapproves of, her fate is written to be a gruesome death. Some stories say it was a murder at the hand of men sent by her father, and others claim it was suicide. All that stays the same is the curse of the princess who haunts the Lake. In an attempt to find her long-lost love, she pulls one young man under the Lake every summer.

Seeking more information about this Long Island tale and its truth, Capp explored the background of the local legend after she noticed the many pieces of imagery of the princess surrounding the Lake.

For context, a very talented man resides in Ronkonkoma who has created a large sculpture of the Lady of the Lake herself that watches over the Lake. She continues, “That planted the seed to tell a story.–This is a story that should be told about the situation, this urban legend.”

“I just noticed all of the symbolism: the graffiti art-painting, murals. I did a boat ride, and then I really looked and noticed, ‘Wow! Look at this art, even on the ruins around the Lake. I contacted the gentleman who sculpted the wood and had a conversation with him.”

The story that the film will tell is about Jamie Schultz and her family. Jamie is a Ronkonkoma teen trying to navigate her last summer before graduating, heading off to college, and her 18th birthday. Her festivities are quieted as the first anniversary of her brother’s death brings back the grief and anguish her family was once familiar with. On top of this, Jamie’s mother is found in a dark depressive state, suffering through unexplained supernatural occurrences. Combining the tale of the Lady of the Lake and the grief of losing a family member, this young adult psychological thriller brings much for the viewers to uncover.

The inspiration Capp had for the plot, and overall idea for this film came from all angles. She used her personal experiences of growing up in Ronkonkoma and the successful projects she had worked on in the past, including the 2018 film Reach, a coming of age story, and the 2020 film Divos! “I combined all those elements. So growing up in Ronkonkoma, a teen coming of age, telling stories about contemporary people coming of age, the idea of this legend.

Capp also implemented her own experience with grief, “-and then the big thing of incorporating a story that correlated with when people are most vulnerable. And to me, it’s surrounding when they are getting over a loss or death, so suffering from grief.” She continues, “I have some experience with grief, and I have first-hand experience seeing how grief and loss in a family affect everybody, especially when a parent loses a child and how that’s very crippling.”

Capp has tackled many topics throughout her career, to what some would call “controversial,” such as alcoholism, suicide awareness, social injustice, and now the accurate portrayal of the indigenous community and culture in media and film. Though many tend to avoid such subjects, the media and film industry must recognize them, and we continue to talk about them. Inside the legend itself, we find most, if not all, tellings are a stereotypical portrayal of the native woman and her culture. Capp is making an effort to do what she can to provide an accurate and respectful representation of the native culture and people:

“I’m not native, but I did do research and my due diligence to make sure that I was honoring the opportunity and answering the questions of–
What happened to the original people of this area?
Who owns the land?’
Who took the land away from the people that were indigenous in here?
What was the significance of the Lake?
“I researched the folklore and the legend, and what I discovered is that there is about 200 years of absent conversation–documentation of the Native Americans. What I did to avoid criticism of why I, as no native American lineage, is telling a story of a teenage girl and a family who happen to have lineage to the original people of the community. In doing so, this folklore, this legend is being incorporated and I’m actually taking the opportunity to call out and correct and bring awareness to the stereotypical ways in which we view Native americans.”

While Capp’s team starts the filming process, they need community support and outreach to make this the best production on-screen and on set. Capp is seeking volunteers, donations, and sponsors from local small businesses (especially those in Ronkonkoma) and anyone who would like to support them.

If you’re interested in being a featured background actor, whether you’re an experienced actor or want some experience to add to your resume, send your headshot and resume to [email protected]. You can also send your resumes to the above email address for those with production experience and the skill-set, especially those in the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC community.

There will also be opportunities for production internships! “I hope to gainfully employ people, giving people an opportunity to work and livelihood- it will be very local.” The film also has a fiscal sponsor providing enormous opportunities for this film, NewYorkRep! For more information on sponsorships, donations, and in-kind sponsors, visit www.newyorkrep.org.

Next time you find yourself in Ronkonkoma, check out the local history and think of the missing pieces of this legend we’ve heard for years. Make sure you remember the name, The Legend of Lake Ronkonkoma: The Lady of the Lake, and keep an eye out for updates on the film. We look forward to seeing what this film offers and wish the cast and crew the best of luck! Thank you, Maria, for talking with us, and we hope local Long Islanders earn new respect for the history of our island and the work behind the films we know and love. “My hope is really to put Ronkonkoma on the map and set things straight and bring a little Indigenous awareness to some of the nonsense that occurs surrounding the Indegenous people.”