Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By JAY LINDSAY The Associated Press
BOSTON - His knowledge of the fishing life once amounted to little more than what he learned emptying the lobster traps occasionally hauled up on his brother's tiny Boston Whaler. That was before Jay Burke was inspired to try and capture the drama of one the country's oldest industries on film.
Filmmaker Jay Burke sits for a portrait in his New Bedford, Mass., studio. Burke’s fictional feature film, “Whaling City,” shot around New Bedford, is nearly done. Making the film, he spent days at sea and talked with dozens of people from every corner of the the fishing trade.
The Associated Press
The coming years included days at sea, cold calls to New England industry insiders and conversations with people from every corner of the trade -- from fisheries scientists to fishing wives. He even sat through the excruciatingly dull meetings of regional fishing regulators.
A decade later, his fictional feature film, "Whaling City," is nearly finished.
The independent movie was shot last fall in New Bedford, the storied fishing port south of Boston whose nickname is the film's title. Today, Burke is living on credit cards and working to finish the film this spring.
"We're just trying to tell a compelling story about one person trying to sustain himself in a really rough trade," Burke said. "I think on a broader sense, a lot of people, especially in America (during a tough economy), can relate to that."
The movie was made during a rancorous period for local fishermen, who have worked since May under new rules with low catch limits that some say are unjustified, but others believe are critical to the industry's revival.
Burke is emphatic that he just wants to tell a story, not make a political statement.
But fisherman Justin Tonnessen, 33, who advised Burke, thinks the movie's depiction of the rigors and conflicts in the industry could win it more allies. The reality series "The Deadliest Catch" highlights fishing's dangers, but industry-centered movies are rare, with 2000's "The Perfect Storm" perhaps the best-known.
"We need the public support from places other than our own," said Tonnessen, a scalloper.
New Bedford is known as an early whaling capital, from where Herman Melville sailed before writing the novel "Moby-Dick." More recently, its scalloping industry has rebounded from near ruin to make New Bedford the nation's top-revenue fishing port for 10 years running.
But the protagonist in "Whaling City" works in the shrinking groundfishing fleet, which has contracted amid toughening rules aimed at stopping overfishing and rebuilding stocks such as flounder and cod.
Burke, 39, grew up the son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher in neighboring Dartmouth, with no direct link to the fishing industry. He was always drawn to film, though. "Honestly, when I was 10 years old, I had a film story-boarded in my head," Burke said.
He won't say how much the movie cost. It's under the Screen Actor Guild's contract for "ultra-low budget" films, which requires production costs of less than $200,000.
Burke is planning a local screening by spring's end, and he'll apply to show "Whaling City" at major film festivals, including Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto.
He'd love to see it go national, but just completing a feature film was his original dream.
"I'm going to make sure this film gets made," Burke said. "After that, who knows?"