New Film Reels in Montauk’s Fishing Culture

The film has a clever title—Montauk Rocks—referencing the “undisputed surfcasting capital of the world” and also alluding to the original “surround sound audio track.” Producer and director Richard Siberry, notes that the film is particularly timely—late fall is when die-hard fishing enthusiasts “disappear into the night, and into the rocks, in pursuit of a trophy fish,” and adventure is everywhere in Montauk. The timing, however, resonates even more. A directorial debut, Montauk Rocks (Oscail Films) was “five years in the making, at a cost of one drowned camera, one almost-drowned cameraman, one blown transmission and two broken ribs,” and so at least one reason the film has come out now, the director confesses with knowing humor, is that he didn’t realize how much was involved, especially in lining up interviews and getting archival material, not to mention dealing with complications of post-production, particularly the music. (The score is by Jay Lifton, with music from Ireland’s The Hot Sprockets and blues legends Bob Corritore and Henry Gray.)

The extra time was well worth it, however, says Siberry. He believes he has made a film that pays homage to this “very special place”—one he hadn’t even heard of back in Ireland, his native country. Stripers? What were they? Indeed, a friend suggested that when Siberry, a still photographer, moved to the states he should go to California. A stop off in New York City changed all that. How could he leave! That was 12 years ago. For a few months he lived in Southampton and started fishing in Montauk, fascinated by the physical and cultural scene. Its reputation held: the fish were bigger and in larger numbers than anywhere else.

He had heard that Montauk locals were kind of “competitive, aggressive, edgy.” One of the “stars” of his film, Paul (“skishing”) Melnyk says that Montauk is a magnet for “pure eccentrics.” But as Siberry saw, it’s also a place undergoing change. He thinks his film has caught Montauk at a critical moment in its cultural evolution. This change, of course, dismays some older fishermen, who preferred not talking to him, wanting no more publicity for their place. Too late. As Siberry says, Montauk’s already attracting “hipsters” from the city who come out now in the off-season to surf. Still, for fishermen, the third week in October is “pilgrimage time,” a time to surf-cast at night, then hang out with other fishermen or be alone in a remote area on the sand in the dark.

Sometimes unusual camaraderie can develop. Siberry traces his decision to use the music he put in the film, opening with the rock and roll “Everybody’s Fishin’” to a particular but not untypical night when after an enervating session on the beach, with everyone tired but still in “high spirits” a heavy metal song came on the radio and “this one big-wheel insurance executive from New York, started dancing.” Montauk prompts that—groups of diverse individuals who wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances coalesce, but do in Montauk. As for the local fishermen, their voices—joyous and challenging—open the film, even before we see them. They’re out there in  the darkness, in boats and swimming off the rocks, full of what Melnyk calls “testicular fortitude” and wearing T-shirts that say “Fish or Die.”

Who is the target audience for Montauk Rocks—hard-core fishermen, the younger hipsters, those who don’t fish but love the village? He aimed for “a middle ground,” Siberry says, feeling that the culture of the place itself, unique on the East End, made it worthy of celebration. He is hardly alone. Dan’s Papers favorably reviewed Melnyk’s book Montauk Confidential some months ago.

Siberry may well be on his way back to Ireland for a stretch but plans on being in New York again in the spring and no doubt fishing “at the end of the world.” And no doubt promoting his film to some extent. At 45 he still loves to turn hobbies into jobs and he’s “hooked” on filmmaking. No accidental metaphor, that.

www.MontaukRocks.com

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