Fishing Movie to Be Shot in New Bedford

By Don Cuddy
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — The city’s fishing industry will be in the spotlight this summer when an independent film company comes to shoot a feature film with the working title, “Whaling City.”
With a script written by Jay Burke, who grew up in Dartmouth, the film will detail the struggles of a third-generation groundfisherman, an Irish-American named Sean, whose way of life is threatened by rising costs, declining catches and increasingly restrictive government regulations. While trying to hold onto his boat and his livelihood, he becomes romantically entangled with a fisheries scientist.
Burke, who graduated from Dartmouth High School in 1989, developed the screenplay while an MFA film student at Columbia University. He said he is excited at the prospect of directing it here.
“New Bedford is loaded with character,” he said. “It has some very unique stories to tell. As I made the rounds with the screenplay, I was amazed that so many people from so many different walks of life responded to it. People want to hear this story.”
In the film’s opening sequence, fishermen will be depicted discarding valuable groundfish overboard because their catch exceeds the daily quota imposed on them by federal regulators.
“Right now, I’m trying to attach cast, solidify financing and determine shooting dates, which also influences casting. That’s the dance I do,” said movie producer Chip Hourihan, Burke’s partner, speaking from Los Angeles, where he will attend the Academy Awards on Sunday.
Hourihan’s most recent film, “Frozen River,” an independently produced dramatic feature, was nominated this year for two Oscars: Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Melissa Leo).
“Frozen River” was also nominated for seven Independent Spirit Awards, including a Best Feature nomination for Hourihan.
The Independent Spirit Awards are the independent film world’s version of the Oscars and are being held on the beach in Santa Monica today.
“Frozen River” also won the Grand Jury prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The award was presented by Quentin Tarantino, who said the film “took my breath away.”
“Frozen River” depicts the lives of two single mothers, desperate for money, who get involved in smuggling illegal immigrants into the U.S. from Canada over the frozen St. Lawrence. There will be a free screening of the film at the Whaling Museum on Friday, March 6, at 7 p.m.
“The Whaling Museum is thrilled to add ‘Frozen River’ to movies being offered as part of the Community Film Series,” said Karen Allen, the museum’s director of corporate and community development. Hourihan plans to attend the showing and will take questions from the audience afterward.
“I believe there is an audience out there hungry for alternative viewpoints. The real struggles of working men and women rarely find a voice in Hollywood. Independent films like ‘Whaling City’ and ‘Frozen River’ can bring attention to these untold stories,” said Hourihan, who grew up in Massachusetts and has family in Plymouth. “The economic crisis in the commercial fishing industry right now is a story that effects the lives of working people in New Bedford every day.”
Burke and Hourihan said they are working to ensure that the script will pass scrutiny for its authenticity. “We gave it to fishermen, boat captains and people on the waterfront to read. We asked them to tell us if anything in it did not ring true,” Hourihan said.
Burke stressed that the film is not intended as a commentary on the fishing industry per se. “This is a story about a guy who is a fisherman,” Burke said. “It highlights the challenges facing fishermen by telling his story. There were three big movies made about family farmers, but the fishermen’s story has yet to be told. But we are very cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility to make a fair portrayal of this world.”
To this end, one of the key crew members will be a Cape Verdean, and there will be a number of Portuguese characters in the film.
The filmmakers are confident funding will become available to complete the project. Burke recently received a grant of $100,000 from the Sloan Foundation. “I will be looking at all the private equity sources while I’m in California,” Hourihan said.
City Tourism Director Anne Marie Lopes said, “This is good news for New Bedford at a time we could use some good news. I am glad that Jay and Chip want to make a movie that deals with issues that are important to us here.”
Lopes said that the film should also provide a boost to the local economy. If all goes according to plan, the filmmakers say, shooting will be scheduled for late summer into early fall, and should require 25 to 30 days to complete.
Contact Don Cuddy at
February 21, 2009
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