Ben is a fisherman on Long Island, out one day trying to catch his prized large striped bass.
He’s staked out his favorite spot on the beach, but his idyllic day is interrupted by Jorge, who is out trying to catch “porgies,” a smaller, more abundant fish.
The two men immediately jostle for the spot, and what starts out as a beautiful, ideal day by the ocean turns into a conflict over territory — one that erupts in unexpectedly dark ways.
With skilled, emotionally truthful performances and clear, concise direction, this short drama explores tensions of both social and racial, taking an everyday situation and getting to the beliefs, ideologies and emotions undergirding these small skirmishes.
The film, though, never descends into simplistic sloganeering or flattens the characters into stereotypes. It offers a compassionate understanding of both sides of the conflict, and never loses sight of the complexity of these matters.
With its clarity and emotional intelligence, “Porgies and Bass” offers an opportunity for viewers to understand and approach social conflict — and a hint at how to expand and grow to move beyond them.
Q&A with Thomas Barnes
OMELETO: What made you want to tell this story or make this film? Why is it important to you?
THOMAS BARNES: As a person of mixed race and heritage, an immigrant myself, I am keenly interested in the dynamics and conflicts between cultures. And as someone who likes fishing on the beach I observed these social and personal dynamics up close, and felt like I could dramatize them in powerful and fresh way. And I wanted to show a messy truth rather than a cliché villain and victim situation.
OMELETO: What lessons did you learn while making this film (or any others) that had a positive effect on you or the project? How did that lesson happen?
THOMAS BARNES: Nature is a powerful antagonist for a film maker! Light, tides, waves, wind.. A lot of this can be anticipated but it’s always tricky. We had a total reversal of weather from calm to stormy for some key water and underwater sequences which necessitated some desperate last minute tactics. Ultimately rolling with the punches, we got a more exciting drowning sequence than was originally storyboarded.
OMELETO: How did you become interested in filmmaking? What drew you to film specifically?
THOMAS BARNES: Just being entranced by the movies I watched late into the night on TV as a kid in Hong Kong and on the vast old movie screens in the pre multiplex era. And I knew I did not want to spend my life in an office so the film making life was appealing.
OMELETO: What makes a film or story good or interesting to you?
THOMAS BARNES: Imaginative direction, a fresh perspective, raw performances. Take “Birdman.” That film goes to new heights cinematically as well as exploring a specific and fascinating world.
OMELETO: How do you find your inspiration — or keep inspired when the process of getting a film made gets difficult or your energy or creativity feel sapped?
THOMAS BARNES: I teach directing craft at a film School (New York Film Academy). Often my students inspire me- their energy, passion and purity. But mainly I make a film because the story nags at me and I feel compelled to tell it. Like Porgies & Bass. The story and characters start to live in my head and push me to overcome doubt, laziness, and any number of obstacles that get in the way!
OMELETO: What films or stories have been most inspiring or influential to you, and why?
THOMAS BARNES: Films like The Graduate, Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, much of it 60’s and 70’s era. These films are cinematic, personal, full of energy, grown up, but not overtly arty. I also have a soft spot for some Hong Kong films since I grew up there. Films like Chung King Express which made me realize that poetry was all around me if I opened my eyes to it.
OMELETO: What do you want audiences to take away from your body of work?
THOMAS BARNES: I never thought about that question so broadly especially as my work has been all over the place- narrative shorts, commercials and music videos before that. The narrative work is by far the first love and from the narrative pieces I hope an audience would come away feeling like they’d been exposed to a different voice and that they’d enjoyed the experience.