It’s the last night of a summer in Ocean City, Maryland. Olivia, a local crab house waitress, has fallen for an Irish J-1 student and made plans to move to Dublin with him. On the eve of the couple’s departure, Olivia must decide between the intoxicating promise of a new life and the complicated ties that bind her to home.

Director’s Vision for ‘J-1’

When I was writing J-1, I was coming to terms with the kinds of truths that a lot of young adults get hit with at this age. One big truth for me was, “I am who I am because of where I am from.” I’m from Ocean City, and my experiences growing up there heavily shaped the kind of person I am and continue to influence the kinds of stories I tell. Ocean City is a beach town with a year-round population of just under 7,000 people. The local community feels even smaller than that somehow, but in the summers the place explodes with visitors from all over the East Coast and workers from all over the world. These international workers are students on J-1 Working Holiday Visas, hence my title. These students from countries like Ireland, Bulgaria, and Romania come in to staff local businesses and keep the town operating at its highest capacity during the busy months. Not to mention, they play a huge role in the summer dynamic of the town.

That summer dynamic is chaotic and fast. Like most Ocean City teenagers, I started working in a restaurant when I was fourteen years old. For better or for worse, I came of age in the truest sense of the phrase in that service industry environment. So when I chose to write J-1, it’s because I wanted to write what I knew. I wanted to write about the strangeness of my hometown, the specificity of those international summer dynamics, and the intense camaraderie of restaurant life. I also wanted to tell a story about love, and a few different kinds of love. There’s young love, that first intense love of your life. There’s the prideful love for your roots and your home. Finally, there’s the complicated, impactful love between two friends who have been through a lot together. Although at the end of the day, I really wanted to tell a story of a young woman who is struggling to find the answers to the biggest questions of her life so far.

Thank you for spending time with this film. I hope it resonates with you, and maybe even brings you back to being young and entirely unsure of yourself.