Old skipjack film to air on MPT
WENONA — A documentary film shot in the 1960s that chronicles the life and work of the Daniels family — and rarely seen in the past 40 years — will resurface next week on Maryland Public Television in time for the station’s Chesapeake Bay Week.
“It’s a snapshot in time,” said MPT executive producer Michael English. “It was shot back when the skipjack fleet was 40-strong and before the (oyster) industry crashed.”
English learned of the film when he went looking for footage of the bay for upcoming Chesapeake Bay Week programs.
His search led him to filmmaker Holly Fisher, who shot the film “Watermen” with then-partner Romas Slezas when they were both fresh out of college and working for WGBH, a public television station in Boston.
Fisher — whose father was a Massachusetts boat designer — said she first heard about the Deal Island skipjack races through someone who came into her father’s shop.
After a few phone calls to Maryland tourism officials, Fisher and Slezas found themselves onboard Capt. Art Daniels’ skipjack and filmed him winning that year’s skipjack race.
Intrigued by the people, the boats and the way of life in Wenona, the pair made several more trips to Maryland to shoot other members of the Daniels family as well as island women and children.
The community was particularly interesting to Slezas, who is from Lithuania.
“For him, this was very exotic,” Fisher said.
The film took about five years to make, mostly because the young filmmakers had little funding for the project.
Eventually, they got a grant from the National Geographic Society to finish the film, which was shown to an invitation-only crowd in Washington.
“I remember we went to Constitution Hall,” Fisher said. “It was very, very exciting.”
The film also was shown at the Atlanta Film Festival, where it won a bronze medal.
After that, the film remained in storage until Fisher got a call from English. With renewed interest in the film, she plans to make it available soon on DVD.
Art Daniels, who is now 87, said he remembers Fisher and Slezas well, although he hasn’t seen either since they left Wenona and he can’t recall if he ever saw their film.
“They stayed down here the best part of the spring and summer,” he said. “They camped over on Little Island.”
Daniels, who has been working on the water since the age of 12, still sails his skipjack, City of Crisfield, and continues to take first place in the annual race.
“He’s one of those larger-than-life characters,” said English, who spoke to Daniels last week and promised to send him a DVD of “Watermen.”
Nearly 40 years after Fisher and Slezas finished their film, Daniels also was featured in a 2005 documentary by MPT called “Chesapeake Crossroads.” The two films will air back-to-back April 23.
English said the 1960s film is particularly appealing because it shows a way of life that has all but vanished.
“Anybody who appreciates Chesapeake watermen will be awed by it,” he said. “It’s a great find for the people of Maryland.” Capt. Art Daniels of Wenona stands in front of his skipjack, the City of Crisfield, with a photo of himself in the 1950s.