Film Fest for CAST: Nature at the Vanishing Point

Pictured Above: A still from the film “Bluepoint” shot at SPAT in Southold.

This summer on the East End is filled with drive-in movies that are a throwback to the late 20th Century, when the world seemed to make just a tad more sense.

But on Aug. 6, the two young filmmakers behind Wild Jelly Live are partnering with Community Action Southold Town (CAST) for a program that will re-envision the drive-in movie experience for this new and more uncertain millennium, while raising money for a food pantry hit hard by the pandemic.

The centerpiece of the South Side Film Festival, which will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. at Peconic Bay Winery on the Main Road in Cutchogue, is the world premiere of Wild Jelly Live’s short film, “Bluepoint,” shot on the North Fork, about an oyster farmer struggling to protect her family business and her marriage from a disastrous algae bloom.

Filmmaker Alley Leinweber grew up visiting her grandparents’ cottage near the bay in East Marion in the summer, where she watched them paint watercolors and learned about the North Fork’s beauty. She met Zoe Fleer, a lover of ecology and biology, in a cinema aesthetics class at CUNY Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate Schoolof Cinema. They’ve been the creative collaborators behind Wild Jelly Live ever since.

They shot the film over two weekends in 2019, with much of the footage taken at Southold Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT), a community shellfish garden at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s marine education center at Cedar Beach in Southold, and at Ms. Leinweber’s grandmother’s house, still much as it was in the 1970s, where she has been waiting out the pandemic.

Then, as they got down to editing the short film and turning their project into a television program, the world turned on its head.

“Bluepoint goes deep into the exploration of our environment, and how that shifts our behavior,” said Ms. Leinweber. “What do you do in a world that is forever altered? We’re exploring a marriage and a community changed by the world around them, but we’re facing questions we’re all facing in the pandemic. We’re excited to continue developing that as we come to terms with what the post-pandemic world looks like.”

Ms. Leinweber was out location scouting early last year, musing about how it was “going to be really hard to pull off having an oyster farm without an oyster farm,” when she learned about SPAT, whose mission is to educate the public about the intersection of ecology, entrepreneurship and stewardship of the natural world. She dogged SPAT director Kim Tetrault until he agreed to take her around and show her the facilities.

“We thought the research center was a perfect fit,” said Ms. Leinweber. “Its core is discovery, volunteers do research that improves the bays, and it was a perfect place for our characters because it’s absolutely stunning and the facilities are amazing.”

Ms. Fleer began her education studying ecology and biology. Before she became a filmmaker, she says, “the first lens I fell in love with was a microscope. The entire world was opened up to me, beyond what you could see with the naked eye.” 

This foundation explains the hypnotic microscopic shots of the destructive algae behind the menacing bloom, up close and personal, throughout the film.

“As filmmakers, we’re helping people see things from a fresh perspective,” said Ms. Fleer. “We’re always bringing people into new worlds. It’s so exciting and important to us to bring this world to people.”

“I love playing with scale in that way,” says Ms. Leinweber. “It takes us into the microcosm we’re in, which is more evident in the pandemic. Our immediate surroundings become our entire world.”

A still from the film “Bluepoint” of a microalgae villain.

The short film has been nominated for an National Board of Review of Motion Pictures award and was set to premier at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when the pandemic shut down arts venues across the northeast this spring. The television series has won the Tribeca Sloan Student Discovery Award.

Another way the micro and the macro worlds are coming together for this project is the collaboration with CAST, an organization that has long worked to provide all sorts of community services, but has focused on feeding families and kids since the pandemic began. 

CAST’s operating expenses have shot up to nearly seven times their pre-pandemic levels during the crisis, said Executive Director Cathy Demeroto.

“We are continuing to see unprecedented numbers of community members seeking food relief and emergency assistance (rent, utilities, medical bills) despite the gradual reopening on the North Fork,” she says. “Our food pantry costs are still about $8,000 per week – up from $1,200 per week pre-pandemic. And our Feed-A-Kid Program (provides breakfast, lunch and snacks during school closures/vacation) and our mobile food pantry are seeing a significant increase in demand at this time. Many of our families are struggling to make ends meet after losing three months of wages and with local businesses only open at partial capacity.”

Ms. Leinweber’s family had gone to several events organized by CAST, and when she heard the organization was in need of help and was organizing the drive-in movie series, she and Ms. Fleer offered to set up a night of short independent films.

“They don’t have other opportunities to fundraise this summer, so they created this pretty creative drive-in series,” said Ms. Leinweber. “We thought it could be so special to have independent films from emerging filmmakers. We’ll be curating a night of new experiences for people, where they can see this film, shot on the North Fork, and the breadth of what’s happening in short film and get a taste of the diversity of film available. It will be a fun night of seeing the world through new eyes.”

Other films in the program include “The History of Light,” the never-before-seen debut by secret filmmaker Grau, and “Kitchen Sink, Alison Maclean’s Cannes Palme” d’Or Best Short Film nominee. 

CAST is also working with local food vendors and oyster farmers to complement the artistic programming.

Ms. Leinweber said the films will be shown on multiple screens, with music coordinated with attendees’ car radios, and there will also be an automated ‘confessional booth,’ where they’re “hoping to collect some pandemic emotions.”

“We believe it’s very different to watch a film alone, as opposed to with a group of people,” said Ms. Fleer. “Hearing someone laugh or react to the film changes your experience. The only way we’re going to get through this is together.”

Tickets to the Sound Side Film Festival are $50 per car, and are available online at 4cast.givesmart.com. CAST is also seeking sponsors for the event at that web address.    

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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