Synopsis: Set in a rural fishing community fighting to hold tight to its traditions as the world shifts around it, THE CATCH follows a troubled woman’s return to her estranged family in coastal Maine. With her lobsterman father fighting off an outside attempt to corporatize the local harbor, Beth and an ex-boyfriend make plans to hijack local drug runners and skip town. When the robbery at sea goes awry, Beth must decide between saving herself or taking responsibility for the chaos she has created. THE CATCH is based on true crime reporting and personal stories heard on lobster boats and in small towns across New England.
Bill Sage (Tom)
James McMenamin (Dicky)
Kyle Gallner (Bobby)
Emy Coligado (Lily)
Researched and filmed amongst working New England fishermen, THE CATCH is a portrait of a community facing the dismantling of its traditions, and struggling to survive. The film incorporates true crime reporting and personal stories heard on lobster boats and in small towns across New England.
I grew up in a small New England town, insular and tribal, and very much like the one in this story. I wrote the first version of this script based on a real life shooting between two lobstermen over a territorial dispute, and the arrest of a group of drug smugglers posing as lobstermen. Across the years between that first draft and the final cut, the film shifted focus from two men fighting over the same bit of sea to the delayed coming-of-age of a not so young woman, and her buried desire to find a sense of belonging with her father. I didn’t know how the story and my life would change in those intervening years. I didn’t know that like the main character of the film I would reconnect with my family after a mutually agreed upon silence, didn’t know that a few months after I held my father’s hand as he died, I would be filming a scene where the main character does the same with her own father. I didn’t know how this film would change my life, and vice versa.
I conceived of the film as a “Western on the water”, the fisherman as the last of the American frontiersmen, fiercely holding on to territory and a way of life in the face of sweeping economic change. This vision of Coastal Maine is stark and unforgiving; a once vibrant town is lined with empty shop fronts and clapboard homes fallen into disrepair. In contrast, the water remains as it always has, full of promise and freedom, a manifestation of the great American narrative of open space, the wide horizon of a limitless sea. With the help of the local community, we shot the film on location, mixing composed, still indoor frames, with a wide sweeping, moving camera out at sea, to provoke within the viewer contrasting notions of captivity and freedom.
We scouted up and down the New England seaboard. On a sunny day on a dock in Rockport, MA, I started a conversation with a man coiling rope into a plastic tub. Suspicious at first, the man began to open up as I convinced him that this wasn’t some Hollywood production, that I was a kid from a small town in Massachusetts, looking to tell an authentic story about the struggles of the local community. We talked for 20 minutes and he never broke eye contact, never looked down at the rope he was coiling and knotting in perfect measured loops. Didn’t have to. This old hand became an integral part of the production. He drove boats, taught the actors how to haul and set traps, rallied the local community onto our side, talked about the way he’d seen life change around him, even acted in the film. To make a film of this scope within our resources required the help of the local community, but more importantly, we made this film with their input, their stories and a mutual respect for a hard days work.
The crew came from as close as the next town over, and as far away as Hawaii. Though it wasn’t planned this way, we ended up with a lead Producer, DP, Production Designer and myself as Writer/Director all being of mixed Asian heritage. A strange coincidence for a film set in rural Maine. But each of us understood the experience of the main character in the film, of being at once an insider and an outsider, born into a family that you didn’t quite fit, searching for a place to belong. As a minority filmmaker, I believe it is important to support diversity both on and behind the screen, but it is equally vital that filmmakers from under-represented communities not be relegated to only making films about those communities, that they be allowed to tell any stories that resonate with them, as this film does with me. The onscreen complexion of this film was purposefully chosen to authentically reflect the community in which it is set, but beneath that surface there is an important and universal story in the mistakes of the film’s characters, in their search for purchase in a shifting world, and in their battles to reveal themselves fully to one another.
Two months before we went into pre-production, my father died. We had a difficult history but a week before he died, the end in sight, he told me he was ready to go, and had only two regrets: that he wasn’t able to live long enough to hold a grandchild of his own, and that he wasn’t able to see this film get made. He had watched me struggle, had watched me run into what seemed at times like insurmountable obstacles and continue soldiering on. I promised him then that I would get this film made, and that I would dedicate it to him. While working on the edit, my son was born, and I was forced to confront the same questions and feelings as the expectant mother at the heart of this film, the same gulf between the desire to do right, to be better, and the fear that I would never truly become that person. Echoes of these challenges live in this film, but more vitally, this is a film about reconciliation. THE CATCH is about having the desired destination in sight, but still needing to travel the road to get there.
MATTHEW YA-HSIUNG BALZER (Writer/Director) grew up outside Boston and learned to fish in the waters around Vinalhaven, Maine. He began writing screenplays while working at a bakery, and the pursuit of a hands-on filmmaking education took him to Los Angeles, where he took every job he could get on a film or TV set.
Matthew’s feature debut THE CATCH premiered at the Austin Film Festival and has garnered multiple jury awards at US and International film festivals including “Film of the Festival” at the Manchester International Film Festival and “Grand Jury Award – Best Feature” at Indy Film Fest. His script for THE CATCH was awarded “Faculty Honors” from the Columbia University graduate film program, where he received his MFA in Directing. Matthew lives in California with his girlfriend and their son.