Most of us working at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) are suckers for any article, book, or movie about the Bay, however wonky or obscure. I wish I had a quarter for all the times I’ve suggested to friends, “Hey, you gotta watch this!” only to hear, “Hey, let’s grab a beer!”
But here’s a genuine tip: When your local public television station airs "The Last Boat Out" this spring, watch it. I guarantee it won’t bore or drive anyone to drink. I hope instead it drives viewers to take action to help Save the Bay.
The "Last Boat Out," a 26-minute documentary about the plight of Chesapeake Bay watermen, tells the compelling story of two families of Newport News, Va., watermen who are being driven out of business by changing times and a changing Bay.
“The film is really a labor of love,” says writer/director/producer Laura Seltzer, a Newport News native who grew up just around the corner from the recently condemned pier off the James River that for decades was home base for the watermen.
“I used to hang out there,” Seltzer told the hometown Daily Press newspaper. “I was intrigued by the watermen, and when I started talking to people, I found that they were really eager to talk about losing the pier. The project grew from there.”
The film reveals the tough but fiercely independent nature of the watermen, and the difficult future they face as the Bay’s once bountiful seafood harvests dwindle and blue-collar, working waterfronts are displaced by pleasure-boat marinas and upscale condos.
“It’s right on target,” says Tommy Leggett, CBF oyster restoration and fisheries scientist and for years a working waterman himself. “Every emotion the watermen in the film feel, I have felt. Every decision they struggle with, I have struggled with. They’re in a tough, tough spot.”
Ultimately "The Last Boat Out" is about the plight of the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure now so polluted that its fish, crabs, and oysters are threatened and its very future in doubt. The film shows how watermen and Bay conservationists, in the past often at odds over Bay issues, have now come together to fight for the Bay, suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failure to enforce the Clean Water Act.
“Crabbers and oystermen in my hometown of Newport News have supported their families working the Chesapeake Bay for generations,” Seltzer says. “But the Bay can no longer sustain viable fisheries. The first sign of a dying bay is a dying industry. I hope my film will help serve notice that we must act now to save the Bay, because what we choose to do over 64,000 miles of the Chesapeake Bay watershed can really make a difference.”
Seltzer gave hometown friends and family a sneak peek at the film earlier this month at a special preview at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News. The event drew a packed house and loud applause, even though the film technically was not yet finished. Since then, she has engaged national television star Sam Waterston to narrate the film.
"The Last Boat Out" will debut next month at a special screening for members of Congress and will air on selected Virginia and Maryland PBS stations beginning April 21. In the meantime, you can watch a trailer of the film at www.seltzerfilmvideo.com/watermen. Give it a look. I think you’ll come back for more.
By Chuck Epes