Short Director's Statement

I first visited the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway about 10 years ago.  The boatyard was abuzz with activity — a symphony of planing, sawing, drilling and hammering.  The wooden boats in the shop, sitting in the cradle on the railway, and tied up in the harbor were graceful, robust, and inspiring; their wood topsides were stunning and down below the cabinetry was sumptuous, yet eminently practical.   The boatyard embodied a certain “American” ingenuity and a can-do spirit that immediately attracted me and I began to imagine making a film to provide a glimpse of what ingenuity, dedication, and workmanship can bring into the world.

After a couple of years of indecision and planning, I jumped into the fray and set out to make an observational film constructed in a cinéma vérité fashion, one that allowed the people, their work, the materials, the boats, and nature to “speak” for themselves.  Cinéma vérité invites the filmmaker to be honest, direct, practical and to avoid embellishment, all qualities that are reflected in work and ethos of the boatyard; it is also a form that allows a great attention to be paid to the physical, material dynamics of a situation, to show rather than tell, to demonstrate rather than explain.   The building of Charlotte, a 50 foot gaff rigged schooner, became the focus of the film.  Not only was the boat one of the larger vessels that the boatyard had set out to build, it was Nat Benjamin’s personal boat and based on his original design.  Charlotte was fullest expression of Nat’s practical and aesthetic sensibilities toward boatbuilding and thus a fitting focus for the film.

I have long admired the beautiful lines of wooden sailing boats, the richness of their bright work, their majesty as they glided across the water under sail.  In this film I set out to understand and convey what is behind this beauty.  When I look at Charlotte (the schooner, not the film) I think about all of the skilled artisans who worked on it, the trees that were felled and the thousands of pieces of wood that were carefully shaped and fitted together, the metal elements that were fabricated and forged, her elegant rigging and generous sails, the families of the boatwrights and the wider community of supporters and admirers who nourished and encouraged everybody involved.  This is all present in the boat, and necessarily so.  Though Charlotte followed from Nat’s design, it was equally dependent upon the bounty of the forest, the hands of artisans, the traditions of boat building, and so much more — it could not exist but these myriad contributions.  All of this is evoked when I see Charlotte, and my deepest desire is that some measure of this feeling is communicated to those that see the film.