Emily Anderson knows the Montauk winter well.
“It’s too cold to be outside, too lonely to be inside,” she said during a recent interview.
An experienced director of commercials and branded content for Ogilvy Entertainment, Ms. Anderson has now tried her hand at writing and directing a narrative short film with “Only the Wind Is Listening,” which was filmed in Montauk and will debut at the Hamptons International Film Festival with two screenings over the course of Columbus Day weekend.
“I just wanted to make something totally different for my first narrative film,” Ms. Anderson said during an interview last month.
The story centers on how the lives of a fisherman and a writer intertwine during a lonely, brutal winter.
Ms. Anderson is from England and is now based in New York City, but when she is not traveling the world to direct, she spends as much time as she can at her 1950s beach bungalow in Montauk. (“When life and work allows, I’m in Montauk.”) She is also the co-founder of The Usual, a Montauk-based interview magazine.
She said that what she loves about Montauk is that it is home to both a fishing community and a creative community of writers and artists.
“If you have the means to leave, you do,” she said of winter. “So I’m just kind of interested in investigating the people that stay. … Sometimes when I’m out there in the winters by myself, I get so lonely I’ll, like, get in my car and drive around and around town until I see people to wave to, because I’m so desperate for human interaction. And that’s kind of what the film’s about—how your mental state is such a product of your environment, really.”
In fact, she says that the environment, itself, becomes a third character in the film.
In the lead roles, Ms. Anderson cast Jennifer Ferrin of Springs—an actress whose television credits include “Rise,” “Sneaky Pete,” “Time After Time” and “The Knick,” among many others—and Thomas Marmorowski, a real-life Montauk fisherman “who’s never been in front of a camera in his whole life.”
“I spent a lot of time with him talking about life—his experience of life in Montauk in the winters,” Ms. Anderson said of Mr. Marmorowski. He inspired the name of the film when he told her, “It got to the point that you find yourself talking to the wind.”
The short was filmed this February over five days—four with the actors and one to take “windy shots” around Montauk.
Ms. Anderson said the crew was half local and half New Yorkers, and she tried to explain to the city people who have never been there just how cold it would be in Montauk in February. Hot food and drinks were served the whole time they filmed, to stave off the chill.
Though filmed in Montauk, the identity of the town is never explicitly mentioned or made clear.
“I never show the Montauk sites,” Ms. Anderson said. “When I think of Montauk, I think of the classic—it’s a shot when you come over the hill and dive down and see the ocean for the first time. That’s still my favorite view. I think of the lighthouse, I think of Ditch Plains. None of that makes it into the film, because I wasn’t really interested in making a film about Montauk. I was really interested in making a film about a super-remote extreme environment, so everyone can kind of relate to it.”
In fact, during the credits—rather than stating that it was filmed in Montauk—the location is only given by the GPS coordinates: 41.0359° N, 71.9545° W.
“I didn’t want to make it about Montauk, the place,” Ms. Anderson explained. “I wanted to make it about a place.”
Directing her own work—self-funded with her colleague, producer Jon Gaynes—was a new experience.
“It was really satisfying because I got to control everything,” she said. “I got to write the story, choose my crew, shoot where I wanted, when I wanted, with the actors that I wanted. So, obviously, everybody understands that there is something so satisfying about being on control.”
But her feelings were more complicated than that.
“I felt very vulnerable. I felt more vulnerable than I felt satisfied, because Montauk is, like, my favorite place on the planet. And I had never shot a film in my hometown. I felt very conscious of being respectful of the place. And I used a lot of local folks that really live in Montauk and they are doing their jobs in the film that they’re doing in real life.”
Ms. Anderson’s ambition now is to direct television and feature films, though she did not start out as a film student. She graduated from Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, where she studied sculpture, and later attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She worked her way through the art world and into the commercial space. “I kind of came up as a storyteller and then I ended up being a director,” she said.
She said she hopes that those who spend their winters in Montauk will recognize the essence of what she was hoping to capture, and those who have not will see what they have been missing.
“Only the Wind Is Listening” will screen before “The Last Race” on Saturday, October 6, at 3 p.m. at East Hampton United Artists cinema and on Sunday, October 7, at 3:45 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
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