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Greg Blank

Bay House owner Brian Warasila will be featured in A World Within a World: Long Island's Bay Houses. Photo by Martha Cooper, 2015

By Tara Mae

We are all islanders here, whether by birth or by choice. Individual relationships with the water may vary, but for many it is a core component of cultural identity: a source of relaxation, recreation, sustenance, and survival. 

The Maritime Film Festival, presented by Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington in conjunction with Long Island Traditions in Port Washington and The Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center in Patchogue, explores the flow and ebb of people’s connections to the sea and the lifestyles it provides. 

The festival will feature three films that are anchored in an appreciation of welcoming and weathering the elements of island life. Each documentary will have its own screening and be followed by an audience Q&A session with the filmmakers and others involved in the projects. [See schedule below.]

The festival begins with The Bungalows of Rockaway on Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. Narrated by Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons, the film chronicles 100 years in the tragicomic tale of New York’s biggest summer bungalow colony. 

“The Bungalows of Rockaway illustrates, through the detailed, eloquent, diverse voices of historians, bungalow residents, and Rockawayans and the use of archival images, the long history, meaningful to residents past and present and the city as a whole,” said producer Elizabeth Logan Harris who will participate in the post-screening discussion.

A World Within a World: The Bay Houses of Long Island will be screened on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:30 p.m. This film explores from historical and contemporary perspectives the lives, histories, and experiences of bay house owners in the Town of North Hempstead. 

“The bay houses have a rich history going back to the 18th century and are a part of Long Island’s heritage that many, including myself, knew little about. Besides their aesthetic beauty — giving unparalleled access to the beauty of the marshlands on the south shore — they also offer a glimpse into a sub-culture of families who maintain and love the houses for many generations,” co-director Greg Blank said. 

Co-director Barbara Weber and folklorist Nancy Solomon, who helped put together the festival, will join Blank to talk about the documentary after the viewing.

The festival concludes with Maiden, on Tuesday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. The documentary is the story of the first all female crew, assembled by British sailor Tracey Edwards, to compete in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race, a 32,000 mile global circumnavigation competition.  

“We were just people racing around the world and trying to win. The social impact was not apparent to us until later and it is incredible how the story resonates 30 years later,” crew member Dawn Riley, now Executive Director of Oakcliff Sailing Center, said. 

She and Edwards will reunite to answer questions and reflect on their experiences. 

While Maiden has previously been shown at Cinema Arts Centre, this is the first time The Bungalows of Rockaway and A World Within a World: The Bay Houses of Long Island are being presented there.

“We are thrilled to have such a great range of films,” said Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the Cinema Arts Center.

Nancy Solomon, a folklorist who specializes in maritime culture and Executive Director of Long Island Traditions, a nonprofit that focuses on recording local architecture, organized the film festival as a way to promote and ideally preserve the ethnography of Long Island.

“Long Island is becoming overdeveloped, especially along its coastlines. So the traditions of boat builders, boatyards, fishermen, baymen, bay houses, are in danger. If we don’t start learning about people carrying out these traditions, we are going to lose them,” Solomon said.  “The purpose of this festival is to introduce [audiences] to a very rich heritage of people and places that are part of our cultural identity.” 

She pitched the idea to Skolnick, who hopped on board. 

“It is a true collaboration,” Skolnick said. “At the Cinema, we try to bring great movies from around the world and bring great stories from the local community. These movies fit perfectly with the sort of stories we want to tell.” 

A continuation of a film series that began at Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center in April, Solomon worked closely with both Plaza Cinema and Cinema Arts Centre to create a celebration of coastal culture through cinematic storytelling.

“I want the festival to help educate people about maritime culture of Long Island and how we can preserve it. The films we selected are all about different places in our region and topics relating to struggles of local people,” she said.

The festival was made possible through grants from the Suffolk County Office of Cultural Affairs, Robert L. Gardiner Foundation, and National Endowment of the Arts. 

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington. Tickets to the Maritime Film Festival are $17 for the general public and $12 for members of Cinema Arts Centre. For more information about the festival and films, please visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Film Schedule:

■ The festival kicks off with a screening of The Bungalows of Rockaway on June 14 at 7:30 p.m. Narrated by Academy-Award winner Estelle Parsons, The Bungalows of Rockaway tells 100 years of the tragicomic story of New York City’s largest summer bungalow colony, that of the Rockaways. With enticing vintage postcards, archival photography, Marx Brothers home movies, hilarious boardwalk tales, personal accounts recounted by bungalow residents and Rockawayans alike, all grounded by historians, the film brings viewers close to the highs and lows of a large, thriving, affordable, urban seaside resort. The film, directed by Jennifer Callahan and co-produced by Jennifer Callahan and Elizabeth Logan Harris, will be followed by a Q&A with Harris.

■ Up next is A World Within a World: Long Island’s Bay Houses on June 21 at 7:30 p.m. A World Within a World explores the lives, history, and experiences of bay house owners in the Town of Hempstead from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Based on fieldwork by folklorist and maritime ethnographer Nancy Solomon of Long Island Traditions, local filmmakers Barbara Weber and Greg Blank capture the essence of how bay house owners have persevered and endured through severe storms and hurricanes as well as eroding marshlands all while preserving traditions that began in the early 19th century. The film profiles Long Island families who have owned bay houses for over 100 years including the Muller, McNeece, Burchianti, Warasila, Jankoski families. The screening will be followed by a Q&A and discussion with directors Greg Blank and Barbara Weber and folklorist Nancy Solomon.

■ The festival closes with a screening of Maiden on July 12 at 7:30 p.m. In 1989, long dismissed and belittled as the only woman crewmember on the ships where she worked, British sailor Tracy Edwards set out to prove herself in the biggest way possible. She assembled the world’s first all-female international crew and entered the Whitbread Round the World Race, a 32,000 mile global circumnavigation competition that, until then, had been the exclusive domain of male seafarers. The screening will feature a Q&A with Maiden Captain Tracy Edwards and sailor Dawn Riley, Director of Oakcliff Sailing School.


Dr. Harold Fernandez is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons. Photo from CAC

By Kevin Redding

There is perhaps no one on Long Island whose story encapsulates the American Dream better than Huntington resident Harold Fernandez, who fled drug-and-murder-ridden Colombia when he was 13 years old; charted through the treacherous waters of the Bermuda Triangle; came into the U.S. not speaking a word of English; worked hard in school; gained admission to Princeton University; graduated from Harvard Medical School; got married and helped raise two children; and ultimately rose to the top of his profession as a cardiac surgeon, currently working at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

But his journey to the operating room was one of constant fear. As an undocumented immigrant, Fernandez had broken countless immigration laws by the time he arrived at Princeton. The secret he had harbored his whole life was about to be revealed and potentially undo everything he had achieved for himself and his family and send him back to Colombia.

Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Fernandez’s compelling and inspiring story is the focus of a new documentary titled “Undocumented.” Based on his memoir of the same name, the documentary will have its world premiere screening at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m. (sold out) and 8:15 p.m. The film will be followed by a Q-and-A with filmmakers Patricia Shih and Greg Blank, as well as Fernandez himself.

Shih, a professional local musician who had no prior experience in filmmaking, read the book cover to cover and knew right away that the story needed to be translated to film, not only because of its cinematic themes of danger, suspense and eventual triumph but because its message rang especially true today.

“Harold’s story … puts a human face on the abstract issue of immigration,” she said. “When the presidential election started, there was a lot of hateful rhetoric by one of the candidates about immigration, and specifically racial and religious discrimination. I’m hoping that [the film] will move people enough so that some hardened positions will soften. I can’t stress enough how amazing his story is.”

As an Asian woman whose own father was one of only 105 Chinese immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. in 1945 as a result of the Magnuson Act, Shih considers this an extremely personal topic. She hopes to combat the ever-increasing violence, racism and xenophobia that surrounds the issue of immigration with the film’s telling of Fernandez’s incredible life.

And incredible it is.

When he and his 11-year-old brother Byron left Medellín, Colombia, in 1978, Fernandez hadn’t seen his parents for years. They had already moved to the U.S. to escape poverty, working in embroidery and clothing factories and struggling to make ends meet in West New York, New Jersey, with the hopes that one day they would earn enough money to be reunited with their children. His parents arranged for the two of them to be smuggled in, and so began their dangerous voyage to freedom.

Fernandez, his brother and a dozen other immigrants huddled in a small boat that seemed to constantly be on the verge of splitting in half as the harsh sea raged on in the thick of hurricane season. When he finally arrived in New Jersey, Fernandez was at a complete disadvantage, needing to learn a new language and catch up with his classmates academically. However, he saw how much his parents struggled to put food on the table and understood that the only way he would get ahead in life would be through a good education, and so he buckled down and devoted himself to his studies.

Fernandez became valedictorian in his high school class and was accepted to Princeton with flying colors, determined to help people through medicine. However, this is when his undocumented status came back to haunt him. The documentary explores how Fernandez overcame the very real threat of being deported and wound up where he is today.

As Shih had never tackled a film before, let alone a feature-length film, she approached Push Pause video journalist Greg Blank to see if he would help make this dream project a reality. It didn’t take much to persuade him to get on board.

Much like Shih, Blank had become extremely immersed in Fernandez’s memoir and thought that a lot of people would relate to his story on different levels. The two launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to crowd fund the film in April, wound up exceeding their cost goal, and with a final budget of roughly $20,000, shot and edited the documentary in five months — all under the complete cooperation and encouragement of Fernandez, who even contributed large quantities of footage when he visited his old neighborhood, school and home in Colombia this year.

The film features interviews with Fernandez’s parents, a professor of his from Princeton, as well as two former patients who say they owe their lives to him as a result of emergency open-heart surgeries, among others. The bulk of it was shot in Huntington, said the filmmakers, with segments in New Jersey and Princeton.

“This is the quintessential American story,” said Blank. “I hope people can see that it’s not just the story of Harold and one person succeeding in this country, but an entire family coming [here] and making the most of it, and really contributing.”

For Fernandez, seeing his story make its way to the big screen is really exciting. He said it’s an opportunity to show people that most immigrant families in this country are regular people who have dreams and are looking for ways to contribute to the American way of life. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to make my dream come true,” said Fernandez. “but I think that most immigrants that come here are really looking for simple things — living with dignity, just being able to work — and I think that’s what my story really portrays. And the main thing that I remember coming here to America was not really the excitement of coming [here] as much as just the desire to be together as a family again.”

Fernandez continued, “I think it’s one of the tragedies of the whole immigration issue right now. You have all these families apart, so I think the idea of being together again as a family was the most important part at the time.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Admission is $16, $11 members. A premium admission of $22, $17 members, includes a wine and cheese reception. For more information, please call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.com.