CAPE MAY – “A Bad Day for Fishing,” a short film shot across Cape May County, explores the silence that hangs heavy in the air when the fish just won’t bite.
Desirée Tolchin, the director, grew up in Cape May. She told the Herald that a TV media class she took at Lower Cape May Regional (LCMR) High School gave her the confidence necessary to pursue a professional filmmaking career. She now lives in Brooklyn and works as a development and production coordinator for Honor Society Films.
“I have always wanted to make a film about Cape May County,” she said. “It holds a really special place in my heart. I just had to figure out the logistics. Bringing the crew and equipment down from four hours away was very difficult.”
The film is broken up into four distinct stories, none of them longer than two minutes. The first depicts a father-and-daughter duo hoping for a catch in the marshes behind Tranquility, a quiet neighborhood in the Cold Spring section of Lower Township.
The father casts his line without an issue. His daughter fidgets and mangles her toss. It’s a bonding moment overcast with midsummer malaise.
The second vignette depicts a young red-headed man in a kayak, stuck in the muck at the end of Week’s Landing Road in Rio Grande. Bugs batter him as he tries to free himself with his plastic oar. Free at last, he casts a strong line into the wetlands. His reward is a smack of seaweed tangled on his hook.
The third story stars LCMR teacher T.J. Belasco as an elder fisherman perched on a Higbee Beach jetty, where the ferry departs for Lewes, Delaware. On-screen text tells the viewer: “He’s a quiet guy, but you can talk to him about fishing.”
The fourth and final story is set in the dead of night, lit with a bright blue glow from an old lantern. An older man, played by local Parker Smith, whose wife owns Cape May Gymnastics, sits on an Igloo cooler. He sips vodka from a clear bottle, arms crossed as he waits for a bite. He passes the bottle to a younger woman, possibly his daughter, clad in warm sweatpants and rain boots. As far as the viewer is concerned, they never make a catch. But the two share long hours, sipping ever more vodka.
The camera pans in on the man’s face, somber and battered by age. He delivers the film’s only dialogue: “It’s a bad day for fishing.” The woman lights a cigarette in response and stares into the bay, shot on Town Bank Road in North Cape May.
Tolchin said that these locations are all important spots for her and her friends. “I wanted to choose places that weren’t so out in the open that everyone knows,” she said. “It isn’t narrative-driven. It’s a simple story of each person struggling to live in the present moment.”
Fishing requires a lot of patience, and each story shows how locals try to find peace when the road ahead seems long.
Tolchin moved away from Cape May County when she went to Ithaca, New York, for college. She said that her parents grew up vacationing in North Cape May. They bought property there when she was very young to give her a seaside upbringing.
She said that her parents bought their house long before prices exploded. “So many people are getting pushed out because of how expensive it is here now,” she said. “Many people I went to school with had to move away because they just can’t afford it here anymore.”
If all goes to plan, “A Bad Day for Fishing” will be shown at film festivals before it is given an online release. Tolchin said that the film will be released for free on her website – desireetolchin.com – once the festival circuit is over.
“But at the end of the day, I made this film not just so it wins stuff, but because I felt like I had to,” she said.