As tension simmers between the two main characters in Thomas Barnes’ short film “Porgies and Bass,” the bluffs of a Baiting Hollow beach loom in the background. Mr. Barnes angled some of the shots to show a series of wooden stairs leading down to the sand that were damaged in Superstorm Sandy and never repaired.
It’s a subtle hint to the viewer of the discord about to take place, he said in an interview this week.
“For the filmmaker, for me, it’s the presence of stuff that’s broken down, that’s not getting fixed,” Mr. Barnes said.
“Porgies and Bass,” a 15-minute short film about a culture clash between white and Hispanic fishermen at a Long Island Beach on a summer day, has begun its run at regional film festivals. It recently picked up acclaim, winning Best Short at the Coney Island Film Festival.
And playing as much of a starring role as the actors is a stretch of Baiting Hollow’s Long Island Sound beach. Mr. Barnes, a New York City resident, is a fisherman himself and has a cottage not far from that beach, off Oakleigh Avenue. For him, no other locations could compare.
“It looks wonderful on the big screen,” he said. “You really get the epic sense of the landscape.”
Mr. Barnes was born in Hong Kong and spent years building up the MTV Asia network before turning his attention to writing and directing short films. He said his Anglo-Chinese heritage helped him flesh out the central conflict between the two main characters, played by actors Jeffrey Scott and Johnny Sanchez.
“With my background I tend to be somewhat of a chameleon,” he said. “It’s not like I had a particular tribe I belong to.”
Mr. Barnes drew upon his own experiences fishing on the beach. He’s also observed conflicts between Hispanic fishermen and local anglers.
“What if that tension played out in a more extreme way?” he asked. That hypothetical forms the basis of his film.
In an interview this week, he said he didn’t want to play off stereotypes. In the short film, both characters show glimpses of compassion but have flaws.
Mr. Barnes said it was important not to take strong sides in the film and let the audience decide.
“There are reasons why there are tensions between people,” he said. “If you get inside other people’s shoes, they think they’re doing the right thing.”
His own love of fishing was key to guiding the film’s narrative, in which a “primal quest for fish” quickly gets out of hand.
“When you get a fish on the line, you can lose any sense of objectivity and responsibility,” he explained. “It becomes all-consuming, that kind of lust for the big catch.”
“Porgies and Bass” was filmed over three days by a small crew on the beach about 3/4 of a mile from the public access point in Mr. Barnes’ neighborhood. The production had to be isolated, he explained.
“They were cursing me having to lug this equipment up and down the beach,” Mr. Barnes said.
While the picturesque landscape made for beautiful shots, the director said the crew did struggle with continuity problems, as the sky changed and the tides shifted over the three days.
The finished project screened last weekend at the Woodstock Film Festival last weekend and will be shown Nov. 4 at the Big Apple Film Festival in New York City.
Photo caption: Crew members of the short film ‘Porgies and Bass’ set up filming in Long Island Sound last month at a Baiting Hollow beach. The film, about a conflict between two fishermen, has been making the rounds at regional film festivals. (Credit: Robyn Ludvigsen courtesy photo)