By Kitty Merrill
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The Garbers didn't get the fishing gene, filmmaker Tom Garber admitted sheepishly. But that did nothing to diminish the Hampton Bays resident's love of the sea. He's lensed 10 acclaimed documentaries with maritime themes.
His latest, Salt of the Sea, was shown recently at the Montauk Movie Theater and will be screened at 12:15 PM at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on December 1 during the Hamptons Take 2 Film Festival.
Shot over the course of 18 months on a handful of independently owned and operated commercial fishing boats, including vessels out of Montauk, Shinnecock and Greenport; Salt of the Sea tells the harrowing and tragic story of a vanishing breed of Americans.
Using a waterproof camera attached to a long pole for some shots, Garber captured the excitement, the danger, but most of all, the beauty of life on the water. Stunning images are interspersed with footage of bureaucrats with the power to determine fishermen's fates.
Garber reports that of all the jobs in America, commercial fishermen suffer five times the death rate of any other profession. But it's not the danger that's killing the industry. Footage of the New England Fishery Management Council and congressional hearings on abuses of power juxtapose with magnificent sea scenes.
Some staggering stats: Thanks to catch limits imposed by the feds, 80 percent of seafood consumed in America is imported from other countries, where regulations regarding testing for toxic chemicals are much less stringent. According to an Inspector General's report, $5.5 million in fines were assessed in the Northeast between 2004 and 2009. That's two times higher than any other region. Some $96 million in proceeds over five years were used for travel, and the purchase of cars and luxury boats. There were $4.8 million in undocumented transactions and the chief of law enforcement supposedly had "shredding parties" to destroy documents when an investigation commenced.
And, as lawmakers began to investigate the lack of controls over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's enforcement fund, NOAA bureaucrats continued to enact limits fishermen feel are arbitrary and based on flawed science.
Salt of the Sea lays out a damning case against federal officials, while still depicting the lush lure of the sea and the fishermen's love of a lifestyle that, at present, seems doomed by government interference.
"They live on the water," Garber pointed out. "This force that comes from the ocean, it's always there. I wanted to punctuate that against these guys sitting in board rooms and meetings."
Captain Julie Brumm arranged the showing in Montauk earlier this month. "When I saw this film I knew more people, and not just other fishermen, needed to see it to truly understand the pressure today's commercial fishing industry is under. The public is not getting the whole story. Montauk is the biggest commercial port in New York State. It has the most boats and is an important commercial entity. We cannot afford to lose the people or the money they produce due to unfair or illegal government practices. Funny how things happen. I arranged the showing of Salt of the Sea, and it could be the last film shown in Montauk if our local movie theatre closes for good," she said.
"It is fitting if it works out that way," Brumm continued. "Although losing either the movie theatre or the fishing industry would not be good for Montauk in so many ways." To the notion of the last movie at the theater having a sea faring subject, theater owner David Rutkowski said simply, "I think that's the way it should be."
Garber, who's seen most of his documentaries aired on PBS and the Discovery Channel, focuses on "ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances," according to a press release heralding next month's Sag Harbor showing. First Light, his film about the Montauk Lighthouse was nominated for an Emmy and Salt of the Sea won an award at Indie Fest.
The fifth annual Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival -- "all docs all day" -- will be held November 30 through December 2 at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Visit HT2FF.com to learn more.