By Shep Abbott
As a filmmaker, one is always blessed if one’s subject allows one to literally roll out of bed, grab one’s camera and make a beautiful sequence literally from one’s deck, or at worst, from the dock adjacent to one’s domicile.
I now reside in a large multi-room studio at the venerable Beacon Marine Basin (c. 1865) with a stupendous view of the inner harbor. As it happens, on my walk across the wharf last night as the sun was firing on all cylinders across the harbor, bathing the waters in an incandescent glow, a school of mackerel hatchlings were, as my landlord Jack Alexander says, “conducting a circus”, gleefully smashing around in one ring, disappearing, then hitting another on a distant stage—all within that setting sun’s brilliant circus lighting. I “ran” (at age 74, the quotation marks are advised) up a flight to grab my camera and down to capture this exuberant sunlit display for my documentary “Gloucester Speaks”.
Later, I met friends at another venerable Gloucester institution, The Rhumb Line eatery and stellar music venue, to catch Willie Alexander on keyboards with Sag on bass and full band. As I thrilled to Willie’s remarkable fingerplay on the keys, I was reminded of the mackerel circus of that afternoon and I knew what part Willie’s frolicsome fingering and the infant mackerel circus would play together in my film. That’s called “Blessed!”
Since I returned to Gloucester from New York City in 1990, I’ve delighted to ply my trade here as opportunities presented themselves to my camera. With Joe Palmisano, I produced a documentary on the Fiesta of St. Peter in 1997, a lasting tribute to our Sicilian Community. The following year, I was fortunate to document the dismantling on Pavilion Beach of the last wooden fishing vessel (St. Rosalie) built in Essex—a sad and poignant affair made all the more poignant when I discovered a fine film had been produced in the late 1940’s of the very same vessel being built—rib and plank by keel and rudder.
Later, I was fortunate to be awarded national grants to complete “More Precious Than Gold,” a one-hour documentary covering the discovery, founding and first 200 years of this City, which won an award from the Gloucester Historical Commission. That film is available at the Cape Ann Museum and Maritime Gloucester.
Today, and for the past two years, I’ve been at work on “Gloucester Speaks,” a documentary whose theme is change, covering the past, present and unknown future of America’s first, iconic seaport. With our 400th Anniversary fast approaching, it seems appropriate that we both celebrate and question where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.
To this end, I’ve conducted over 60 interviews with some of Gloucester’s most opinionated and eloquent talkers, as well as delighted in capturing fish, fishing, fish processing, fish fertilizer making, building demolition, hotel building, festivals, concerts, City Council debates, Mayoral debates, expert appearances by scientists, artists, poets, historians and more. The film, literally, is speaking for itself with no “all knowing” narrator guiding us to a typically sensible and safe conclusion. In the end, it is the “baby” we are presenting here, but without neglecting the bath water.
For me, “Gloucester Speaks” is a love song to the City that I spent my developing years working and playing in, and the one I returned to, finally, to find a home.
“Gloucester Speaks” is being financed by myself with additional local donations through our non-profit fiscal agent, The Center for Independent Documentary at 1300 Soldiers Field Road, #4, Boston, MA 02135. Donations are certainly welcome, and if you so choose, you may visit the film’s information and donation page at https://www.documentaries.org/gloucester-speaks. But it is Gloucester, herself, I must thank for her innumerable private and public expressions of trust and camaraderie in welcoming my camera.
Shep Abbott has been an award-winning filmmaker since 1970 and served as principal cameraman on the Academy Award Winning documentary “Broken Rainbow.” Shep spent his formative years working and playing on the Gloucester waterfront. Returning from New York City in 1990, he formed and ran Fishtown Artspace for youth and adults, while continuing to produce documentaries.