When Concerned Citizens Of Montauk Environmental Advocate Kate Rossi-Snook first saw the 1976 documentary Baymen — Our Waters Are Dying several years ago, she realized how pertinent the film is to modern society.
The film tells the story — in gritty detail — of the difficult livelihood Long Island’s baymen made along the water and how, at the time it was filmed 42 years ago, their numbers were dwindling.
Throughout the picture, the baymen opined how increased development affected water quality, spurring the decline of clam and oyster populations, which threatened their traditional livelihoods.
Remsenburg filmmaker Anne Bell’s portrait not only poignantly depicts the baymen’s struggle to keep afloat in their dying industry, but also foreshadows the future.
The film itself served as a warning of things to come, and it’s a message that Rossi-Snook hopes to bring to the public this Saturday, May 19, during a screening at the Montauk Library.
“What I find so significant is that this documentary was made just a handful of years before the major brown tide events of the 1980s that completely disrupted the marine ecosystems of the East End,” said Rossi-Snook. “As harmful algal blooms and beach and shellfish closures become more prevalent, we must heed our baymen’s warning and reduce pollutants entering our bays to save our waters and the cultural traditions that define Montauk.”
The event, which includes a discussion, will run from 11 AM to 12:30 PM.
She has her sister, Elena Rossi-Snook to thank for turning her onto the documentary. Elena is the collection manager for the New York Public Library and spearheaded the film’s restoration. The film fit nicely with the organization’s mission in advocating for coastal conservation and protecting water quality, so when Kate learned that it could be brought out of the archives — fully restored to its original 16mm format — she thought it would be a perfect partnership to join with the New York Public Library in showing it to the public.
“We wanted it to be open to everybody,” she said.
The screening also is in keeping with the library’s mission to preserve films and bring them back to the community for discussion.
The documentary has been a part of the film collection at New York Public Library since it was purchased from Anne Bell in the 1970s. And, later on, when the library first began a film preservation program, the librarians all made recommendations of works they thought were important institutionally, culturally, socially, and artistically. Baymen made the list.
The film suffered from mildew damage, according to Elena Rossi-Snook, who will serve as the projectionist at the screening.
“It had faded pretty bad,” she added.
In 2006, the film was preserved by a laboratory that used photochemical skills to regrade its color and clean it. The cost of the restoration was funded by $4530 in grant money from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The library does not encourage the removal of any aspects of the film — film grain, dirt, contrast — so they remain intact and true to the original production, she said.
Elena said that the library could have had digital versions made of the movie so people could view it at home, but the restoration will now allow them to view it as part of a larger community event that will promote discussion.
Like the screening, the restoration achieves two goals: getting the movie itself out there and also promoting discussion with community members.
“It’s one of those things, if we had someone digitize it — oh great, but you would have missed out on the community event aspect,” said Elena.
Over the past 12 years, it has been shown about two-to-three times, but never on the East End.
The film itself foreshadows a lot that has happened over the years, and it’s something that the sisters hope community members will learn from for the future.
“It’s this great reminder that the people who know the most are often your neighbors,” said Elena.
For more information about the screening, visit www.preservemontauk.org/events.