It’s the first time we’ve received funding for an independent documentary, so it’s a huge vote of confidence. We look forward to working with LEF on developing the project into a feature-length film, tentatively slated for release by next summer.
Here’s the film synopsis:
A Cape Cod fisher family struggles with shifting environmental and economic conditions in their third-generation weir fishery. Will this ancient tradition survive, or has it become a trap for the next generation?
THE WEIR is a verité exploration of sustainability and identity as a fishing tradition is passed to the next generation at a time of environmental and social change.
Since 1953, the Eldredge family has operated a fishing weir in Chatham, MA. Now one of the only active weirs on the United States East Coast, this ancient fishing method is essentially an underwater trap that attracts all manner of fish into a nearly million square-foot area. The fish can escape the same way they entered, but rarely do so—living in schools in the weir until the fishermen scoop them up in nets.
Using a minimum of fossil fuels, the fishermen only take what they can sell each day, avoiding bycatch of unwanted or undersized fish and making use of underutilized species like scup and dogfish. The Eldredges sell their catch dockside, but due to a lack of local demand for lesser-known species, some of the fish winds up as far away as New York’s Fulton Market.
Through the eyes of Shannon Eldredge, her father Ernie Eldredge and her partner Russell Kingman, viewers experience the extremely hard work of setting up and fishing the weir. From the rawness of an April dawn to a pleasant sunny day in June, viewers share the fishermen’s emotions of hope and pride, disappointment and satisfaction, regret and frustration as the weirs are placed, the nets are set, and the catch comes in—or doesn’t.
Working with biologist Owen Nichols, director of marine research at the Center for Coastal Studies, the family faces the facts of climate change and ecosystem dynamics, while asserting their right to a place on the food chain. Through this lens, we explore “sustainability” in the larger sense of the word, examining identity and community as part of the human ecosystem. How does the Eldredge family’s drive to maintain their way of life measure against the seals’ natural instincts? How much business sense does it make to fish with a labor-intensive weir? How sustainable are weir-caught fish when most of the catch is trucked to New York, 300 miles away? And as water temperatures and sea levels rise, how much longer can the family hold onto its traditions?
Not only is the weir a link to ancient fishing methods, it’s symbolic of the Eldredge family’s future—and by extension, the fate of Cape Cod’s fishing heritage. The Eldredge family’s struggle to maintain the weir is contextualized by living in a community that has traded most of its fishing/maritime heritage for seasonal tourism and luxury homebuilding. Against this backdrop, our goal is for viewers to gain greater understanding of the complex ecosystem that supports their fantasy vacation, and how families like the Eldredges find a way to survive despite financial pressures.
Through one family’s experience, we explore society’s emphasis on security over identity, rootlessness over community, and individual freedoms over family responsibility. Our goal is for the subjects’ deep-rooted commitment to fishing to serve as inspiration to viewers, who may come away questioning their own life choices.