Tag Archive | "Hamptons"

Sag Harbor Village to Target Illegal Rentals

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By Mara Certic

Like all municipalities on the South Fork, contending with overcrowding, parking and noise from share houses or illegal short-term rentals in the Sag Harbor is a challenge. But according to village attorney Denise Schoen it is not a challenge the village will take lightly this summer.

Rental-by-owner websites such as VRBO, AirBnB and HomeAway have hundreds of houses to rent in Sag Harbor Village; many of which offer rentals for very short periods of time and claim to offer sleeping arrangements for a worrying number of people, according to Ms. Schoen.

In the village, it is illegal to rent a home in short-term capacity, Ms. Schoen said this week. Although there is no specific provision defining the minimum length of stay allowed for a renter, the occupancy of houses in the village must be “permanent, or tantamount to permanent,” according to the village code.

“If we’re able to prove by presenting enough facts to a judge that they’re renting the house on a short-term basis, they are going to automatically fall outside the permitted use of the zone,” Ms. Schoen said.

Ms. Schoen said those who rent their houses for the full summer season do not have to worry that they are operating outside the law. “Obviously, Sag Harbor is a resort community,” she said. But short-term rentals, she added, can be very disruptive within a community.

“There’s no control over quality-of-life issues for neighbors, ” said Ms. Schoen, noting anonymous complaints have already been logged with the village about these kinds of rentals.

This week, of the 183 houses advertised on one rent-by-owner website, only 25 of them had a minimum rental period of 30 days or more— with many offering a two-night minimum stay during certain parts of the season.

East Hampton and Southampton Towns both have specific rental provisions in their codes. Southampton does not allow rentals for a period of less than 14 days. The law in East Hampton is slightly different, stating that a single-family residence may only be rented out for a period shorter than 14 days three times within a six-month period.

Ms. Schoen said that believes that adopting a specific rental law in Sag Harbor might be a way to buck the disturbing rental trend.

A provision in the village code allows for private homes to run bed-and-breakfasts within Sag Harbor’s residential zones if a permit is issued by the village planning board. In those cases there are many restrictions, such as a limit of four guests at one time, and a two-night maximum stay.

However, few of the two-or three-night rentals listed on rent-by owner websites fell under the B&B criteria. One house “two minutes from the center of town” charges more than $1,000 a night throughout the summer season and claims to sleep 13, despite stating that it has only three bedrooms.

Ms. Schoen said she is most concerned about overcrowding in the smaller houses within the central village area. Not only is this a matter of legality and quality-of-life, but there are also health and safety concerns.

A particularly worrying discovery on these rental websites is that quite a few of the houses are advertised as having cottages. “How many of those cottages are legal? And if they’re not legal, I’m even more concerned about the health and safety issues because that means they don’t have a C of O for sleeping,” she said.

The fear is that the detached structures might not have fire protection; the “cottages” are “built differently than other houses; they burn faster,” said Ms. Schoen, who has been a volunteer with the Sag Harbor Ambulance Corps for over a decade. The worry in a village as small as this one is that a fire on one property could quickly spread to another.

Although no official complaints have been logged with the village clerk in the last year, more than one anonymous grievance has been made to officials about rentals causing garbage, parking and noise problems.

“It was very hard for [these neighbors] to enjoy their backyards anymore because it was just constant parties because it was a different group of people every week,” Ms. Schoen said.

Building Inspector Tim Platt has had some success writing letters and stopping illegal “party rentals” in the summer season, when houses are rented out for one-night only for blowout celebrations, like prom. When a homeowner is cited by the village for an illegal rental, their only recourse to fight the charge is in Sag Harbor Village Justice Court.

The part-time code enforcement officer in the summer has focused more in the past on problems of overcrowdings in the business district. Ms. Schoen said that the lack of this resource might be why “the word isn’t out there that there’s a possibility you could be cited; there’s no fear on anyone’s part.”

Ms. Schoen urged residents to inform the building department if they are concerned that illegal, or dangerous, rentals are going in Sag Harbor. “We will take complaints very seriously,” she said. “So if a neighbor sees a situation where a short-term rental is taking place, especially in overcrowding situations, they should call down to village hall, to the building department, and we’ll check it out.


Paula Poundstone Opens Saturday Night Comedy This Weekend at Bay Street Theatre

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Comedian Paula Poundstone will open a series of special Saturday night comedy performances at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre on May 24 at 8 p.m.

Richard Lewis will take the stage June 21, and audiences can spend “A Divine Evening with Charles Busch,” accompanied by Tom Judson July 26.

Ms. Poundstone is a regular panelist on NPR’s rascal of a weekly news quiz show, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” and is known in her decades long career in stand-up for her ability to be spontaneous with a crowd.

“No two shows I do are the same,” said Ms. Poundstone. “It’s not that I don’t repeat material. I do. My shows, when they’re good, and I like to think they often are, are like a cocktail party. When you first get there, you talk about how badly you got lost and how hard it was to find parking. Then you tell a story about your kids or what you just saw on the news. You meet some new people and ask them about themselves.  Then, someone says, ‘Tell that story you used to tell,’ and then someone on the other side of the room spills a drink, and you mock them.  No one ever applauds me when I leave a party, though. I think they high five.”

For more information, or to reserve tickets, visit baystreet.org. 

A Whale of a Show Comes Back to Sag Harbor

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Edward Holland

“Sag Harbor Sleigh Ride”, Graphite, colored pencil, acrylic and collage on canvas by Edward Holland of New York City.


By Mara Certic

Sag Harbor residents Peter Marcelle and Dan Rizzie proposed a challenge to 17 local artists: Create a piece of art inspired by Sag Harbor’s favorite sea creature and mascot, the whale.

Returning for its second summer, A Whale of a Show, featuring paintings and sculptures, kicks off the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum’s “Salt Air Exhibition II” series with an opening on Friday evening.

Mr. Rizzie approached Mr. Marcelle about curating last year’s show in an effort to raise money for the museum, which was badly in need of restoration.

“I think I came up with the whale of a show and Dan came up with the title,” Mr. Marcelle said. The aim, he explained, was to both raise money to renovate the museum building and give local artists an opportunity to showcase their work.

Money earned through the proceeds from the art sales last year went toward repainting the old building.

“I get a huge smile on my face every time I drive by it and see it painted. I mean it got more than a facelift. It really looks magnificent,” said Mr. Rizzie.

The show returns this year with six new artists in an effort to fund further restoration at the museum.

The artists “all have something to do with the town: they either live here or have a home here—that’s sort of the basic requirement” said Mr. Rizzie, who, for this year’s show, created “North Haven Whale,” which he described as being something between a painting and a sculpture.

“We’re so lucky to be as rich as we are with artists in Sag Harbor; curating a show like this is such a thrill,” he said.

Returning artists Eric Fischl and Donald Sultan both coincidentally painted orcas on paper this year. “They both did killer whales, and they’re both killer artists,” said Mr. Rizzie. Mr. Sultan’s whale has also been made into a t-shirt which will be available for purchase at the museum.

Award-winning cartoonist Gahan Wilson has created a work on paper for the show, which Mr. Rizzie said is sure to feature his trademark humor.

Co-founder of Push Pin Studios, Reynold Ruffins will also offer his interpretation of a whale again this year.  Veteran artists Paul Davis and James McMullan—who has designed more than 40 posters for Lincoln Center—have also returned to support the whaling museum.

“What we really do is try and bring new people in; it’s really exciting when you get new blood,” said Mr. Rizzie of the six new artists participating this year.

Abstract artist Edward Holland said he jumped at the chance. “When Peter approached me and asked me to be involved I absolutely said yes,” he said.

The New York City-based artist, whose paintings all feature heavy collage elements, has been coming to the East End for over a decade. “I’ve always enjoyed Sag Harbor and the area,” he said.

Recognizing a whale in Mr. Holland’s work might be difficult: a collage on canvas with acrylic, colored pencil and graphite, “Sag Harbor Sleigh Ride” is a “very loose” deconstructed map of the town, according to the artist. “I was reading and doing research about Sag Harbor, and what kept coming up was community involvement and how linked the industry was to the town,” he said. “I thought about doing a whale, but I figured that territory would be mined by different people. I wanted to focus on the town and the geographical location a little bit more.”

Mr. Holland’s piece is steeped in historical details and accents. The artist chose media specifically to evoke ideas of whaling and the sea, including an entry on Herman Melville from a 1913 Encyclopedia Britannica. The dominant white and gray hues in the center of the painting are an allusion to the thrashing of water after a whale is harpooned.

The title of his work makes reference to this as well: Mr. Holland explained that whalers referred to the violent aftermath of freshly harpooned whale trying to break free of the whaling boat as a “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.”

“I repurposed it here for Sag Harbor,” Mr. Holland said. “No doubt whalers of this town experienced the same violent drag.”

The opening reception for A Whale of a Show will take place Friday, May 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition will be on view at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum until Wednesday, June 18. For more information visit sagharborwhalingmuseum.org. or call (631) 725-0770.

Finney Comes Forward as $20 Million Lotto Winner

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Southampton Hospital orderly Cameron Finney, 48, of Mastic, came forward last Thursday, May 16 at the New York Lottery’s Plainview Center as the winner of a $20 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Mr. Finney, who won the jackpot in a March 25 drawing, claimed his winnings Thursday, which amounts to $7.4 million after state and tax withholdings.

According to a release issued by the New York Lottery, Mr. Finney had been out for a chicken dinner at Popeye’s the evening of the drawing when he made a last-minute decision to go next door for a lottery ticket, spending just $4. The next day, while buying breakfast, Mr. Finney swiped his ticket and saw the “Big Winner” message. The ticket was sold at a gas station in Coram.

Mr. Finney collected his winnings with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Christina.

Former East Hampton Town Judge Forced to Pay $1 Million

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By Mara Certic

In an April 21 decision, New York State Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Baisley Jr. ordered former East Hampton Town Justice Catherine Cahill to pay back over $1 million of funds her late husband, Marvin Hyman, an attorney, had deposited into their personal joint account from a land sale shortly before his death in December 2005.

Under the decision, Ms. Cahill, the first woman to serve on the town’s justice court, must pay $1,045,400 plus interest to Nelson Gerard, her late husband’s former partner in Buckskill Farm, LLC.

In June 2003, Mr. Hyman and Mr. Gerard created the limited liability corporation and purchased a 9.6-acre parcel of vacant land in East Hampton. According to court records, Mr. Gerard contributed $2 million and Mr. Hyman $350,000 toward the purchase.

According to a civil suit brought by Mr. Gerard, the agreement between Mr. Hyman and Mr. Gerard required Mr. Hyman to “take all steps necessary or desirable at his own cost and expense” to get a subdivision of the parcel into as many as eight lots, including a required agricultural preserve, approved by the East Hampton Town Planning Board.

In the agreement, several different distribution scenarios were offered depending on how many lots the town permitted in the subdivision. If only four or five lots and a reserve area were allowed, all the lots were to be owned by Mr. Gerard, with Mr. Hyman receiving only the reserve area. In February 2004, Mr. Hyman wrote to Mr. Gerard stating that a proposed eight-lot subdivision plan had been submitted for approval and also mentioning that the town had shown interest in buying four of the lots as well as the agricultural reserve area—leaving Buckskill Farm, LLC with just four smaller lots.

In his letter, Mr. Hyman wrote, “if we continue to pursue the town purchase we should discuss the financial implications on the members that such a purchase would have. As we did not consider this possibility in the original agreement, we should address the same as soon as possible.”

According to Mr. Gerard’s suit, he offered his partner the option of receiving either $850,000 or one of the remaining four lots in exchange for his share of the LLC. Mr. Hyman presented Mr. Gerard with a proposed contract that would leave Buckskill Farm, LLC with the southern four lots of the property. For $1.9 million, the town would buy the remaining 6.8-acre area through a Community Preservation Fund purchase—all of which eventually became known as the agricultural reserved area – to lease to an organic farmer.

During the time of the town purchase, Ms. Cahill was serving as a town justice. She served on the bench for 20 years before retiring from the position last year.

In September 2005, Mr. Hyman closed the sale with the town, without his partner’s knowledge, according to Mr. Gerard’s suit. He deposited the money into the LLC’s bank account and then “drew a check on the Buckskill Farm account for virtually the entire amount of the sale proceeds, payable to himself, which he alone signed, and then deposited into a joint account he maintained with his wife, Catherine Cahill,” the suit states.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Hyman testified that he had thought, based on the operating agreement, that he was to receive all of the proceeds “because the operating agreement provided for him to receive the reserve area in a five or four-lot subdivision.”

The court ruled, however, that Mr. Hyman had adopted a “self-serving interpretation of the agreement.”

When Mr. Hyman died in 2005, Ms. Cahill inherited the case along with her husband’s estate. During a sworn deposition she invoked spousal privilege when asked questions about her husband’s business agreements, later waiving that right in trial. The court agreed with Mr. Gerard that “it is improper for a party to obstruct discovery by the assertion of a privilege at a deposition only to waive it and subject the opponent to surprise testimony at trial.”

The court found both Ms. Cahill’s deposition and trial testimonies “as a whole to be not credible,” in particular, her stated ignorance regarding certain matters “fully within the comprehension of any lawyer or judge.”

Ms. Cahill has been ordered pay Mr. Gerard 9 percent interest on the $1,045,400. Her attorney, Stephen Angel, of Riverhead, could not be reached for comment by this paper’s deadline.


BNB Announces First Quarter Gains

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Bridge Bancorp, Inc., the parent company of Bridgehampton National Bank (BNB; bridgenb.com) announced last week its first quarter results for 2014, reporting core net income and core earnings per share of $4 million and $0.35 per share. The core net income excludes $3.6 million or $0.31 per share of charges and net tax associated with the February 2014 acquisition of FNBNY Bancorp and the First National Bank of New York, branch restructuring costs and net losses on sales of securities. Inclusive of these charges, Bridge Bancorp reported net income of $0.4 million in the first quarter of 2014 and $0.04 per share.

According to a press release issued late last week, before the cost of the acquisition, the net income of $4 million and $0.35 per share for the quarter represents a 39-percent increase compared to last year. Net interest income also increased $3.6 million to $15.5 million for March 2014, with a net interest margin of 3.46-percent. Total assets of $2.1 billion are also reported as of March 2014, 34-percent higher than 2013. Loan growth also grew in the first quarter, to $274 million or 32-percent higher than in March 2013, and deposits increased 22-percent in the first quarter over last year with $1.67 billion made.

“The first quarter of 2014 featured several noteworthy accomplishments for the company,” said Kevin M. O’Connor, President and CEO of Bridge Bancorp, Inc. “We completed the acquisition of FNBNY and converted their core systems in mid February 2014. This adds three branches in new markets: Melville, in Suffolk County and Massapequa and Merrick, our first two branches in Nassau County, along with a loan production office in Manhattan. Our 26 branch locations, along with two loan production offices, combined with our expanded network of nearly 600 surcharge-free ATMs in select Rite Aid pharmacies across Long Island, New York City, and throughout New York State, offer our customers more convenient access to our community banking services,”

“In addition to the FNBNY acquisition, we experienced strong organic growth in loans and deposits during the quarter,” added Mr. O’Connor. “This growth contributed to record core net interest income and core net income.  Our strong, well-capitalized balance sheet, funded by core branch deposits, positions us to successfully fulfill our mission to be the community bank of choice for the communities we serve.”

Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel’s Menorah Restored

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Peter Lipman-Wulf’s copper and brass Menorah, which for 35 years has adorned the façade of Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel, has been restored and reinstalled by his daughter, Ghilia Lipman-Wulf, also an artist.

Conceived during a period of rebirth for both the building and its evolving congregation, the menorah was commissioned by Mrs. Alvin H. Rossuck, in memory of her late husband. Originally exhibited at Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s one-man-show of Sacred Art at the John Jermain Memorial Library in 1978, the piece was mounted on the temple’s exterior above Romana Kramoris’ stained glass windows in March 1979.

The restoration project was welcomed by Rabbi Leon Morris. Ghilia was assisted by husband Bruce Marienfeld, who—against expectation—found one of the flames missing for over a decade in the yew bushes below the site, and artist and jewelry maker Breahna Arnold, also of Sag Harbor. Sculptor Jameson Ellis re-soldered the junctures in need of repair.

With its seven flames, the menorah is considered a traditional symbol of Judaism, rather than the more commonly rendered Hanukkah menorah—or Hanukiah—which has nine branches. In accordance with Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s original vision, no lacquer was used on the polished piece, thus it will again become tarnished over time.

Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s installations can be seen in numerous public and private institutions, including the ceramic wall relief gracing Pierson High School’s main entrance.

Corcoran First Quarter Shows Significant Increase in Demand

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Corcoran Group Real Estate (corcoran.com) released its First Quarter report last Thursday, showing a significant increase in East End sales activity.

The number of closed sales increased 38-percent and sales volume rose by 27-percent,” reads the report. “While sales volume and number of sales increased, market-wide median price rose a minor 1-percent and average sales price decreased 8-percent. This reflects an increase in sales occurring at the lower end of the market as first-time homebuyers and investors were active in the Hamptons market this quarter, especially in communities west of Shinnecock Canal. Luxury properties traded at lower price points vs. a year ago, which contributed to market-wide sales being more diversified across all price categories this quarter.”

According to the report, in Sag Harbor/North Haven, the average sales price in the first quarter of 2014 was $1.65 million, a 30-percent increase over the same period in 2013. The median home price also increased by 59-percent, from $740,000 in 2013 to $1.180 million in the first quarter of 2014. Sales were up 81-percent, from 48 in 2013 to 87 in 2014 with a total volume of $143.118 million compared to $60.952 million in 2013.

Town & Country Real Estate: Hamptons Real Estate Enjoying New Wave

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In its First Quarter 2014 Home Sales Report, Town & Country Real Estate (1townandcountry.com) reports strong numbers on the South Fork.

According to Judi Desiderio, president and a broker at Town & Country Real Estate, the big kahuna is Southampton Village where total home sales volume exploded nearly 1,000-percent. In the first quarter of 2013, Southampton Village posted $6.935 million for its total home sales volume and in 2014 posted $76 million. Southampton Village also took the crown for the highest increase in the number of home sales, from four in the first quarter of 2013 to 17 in the first quarter of 2014. The median home sales price was $1.625 million in 2013 and is up to $4.2 million in the first quarter of 2014, a 158.5-percent leap.

While Southampton Village posted the largest gains, according to Ms. Desiderio’s report, the hamlet of Amagansett realized a 530.8-percent increase in total sales volume from $11.55 million to $72.859 million year to year. The median home sales price in Amagansett was $2.725 million, the second highest on the South Fork and an impressive 123-percent increase from last year’s median home sales price.

According to the report, nine of the 12 markets monitored by Town & Country saw an increase in the number of home sales, two were uncharged and only one market saw a decline of 17-percent. Montauk posted 20 home sales in the first quarter of 2014 versus 24 sales in the first quarter of 2013. Ms. Desiderio noted this should not be interpreted as a pull back in demand but simply a lack of inventory.

“In MTK, as we affectionately refer to it, any listed priced correctly and positioned properly sells,” writes Ms. Desiderio.

Overall, sales on the South Fork boomed with a 29-percent increase in the number of home sales and a 32.3 percent rise in the median home sales price, both resulting in a doubling in the total home sales volume of $641 million in the first three months of 2014.

TFF: The Treasure Found in “Garnet’s Gold”

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By Danny Peary

Ed Perkins and Garnet Frost

Ed Perkins and Garnet Frost

Our heroes in movies, particularly documentaries, are of often ordinary people who do extraordinary things, people who rise to the occasion under dire circumstances. Garnet Frost could be seen by himself and others as an extraordinary man who has never done anything that exceeded the ordinary. Unmarried, childless, living in London with his ninety-year-old mother, he believes that his best chance to make his mark in history is to find a fortune in gold that was hidden three hundred years ago in Scotland’s Loch Arkaig, where he almost died twenty years before while hiking alone.  This dynamic personality has no idea that his brush with fame will be not as an explorer, but as the subject of director/writer/editor Ed Perkins’ fascinating, beautifully-shot documentary, Garnet’s Gold, which just played to large, enthusiastic crowds at the Tribeca Film Festival.  For his first feature, Perkins (who made a series of TV documentaries for the National Geographic Channel) tells us what he learned, which is that Garnet underestimates himself as much as George Bailey does in It’s a Wonderful Life, and that it is neither wealth nor celebrity that makes someone exceptional, but what he graciously offers to others.  As the film’s press notes state, “[A]s Garnet embarks on his journey, the pursuit for riches is soon eclipsed by a more melancholy search for meaning and inspiration by a wonderfully exuberant man with grand aspirations.”  Garnet (whose newest dream project is a play with huge magic tricks about Houdini) was one of the most welcome guests at the festival.  I was fortunate to speak to him and the London-based Perkins last week.

Danny Peary: So, Garnet, on your first visit to New York, are you saying, “It’s nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.”?

Garnet Frost: I don’t know, I haven’t had time to come to that conclusion.  I do think it is a very nice place to visit.  I’ve been doing a lot of press so I’ve just been out and about briefly, but so far I love what I’ve seen.

DP: You have the name, Garnet Frost, of a renaissance man.  Has having that name influenced you, do you think?

GF: Possibly, it’s a bit like “A Boy Named Sue.” It’s a curious name, so I had to live up to it by being curious. It’s unusual, but not unique, although I’ve never met another one.

Ed Perkins: There’s a few Garnets over here, aren’t there?

DP: There was a singer from the 1960s named Garnet Mimms who had a hit “Cry Baby.” That’s the only one I know.  Of course, he shares a fairly common last name with the poet Robert Frost.

GF: Well, that’s beyond my control. As for the name Garnet, I blame my mother for that –it’s an expression of her romantic nature.  In fact my first Christian name is Edward, which was my father’s choice. My mum rather preferred Garnet, because when she first realized she was pregnant with me, she stood on a beach somewhere on the east coast of England, where garnets were everywhere. My dad preferred Edward, so it was Edward Garnet, but then my parents split up when I was a baby in the cradle, so she took to calling me Garnet, and that’s what I’ve been called ever since.

DP: So oddly, you two have the same first name!

EP (laughing): I didn’t know about this!

DP: Let me ask you, Ed, if Garnet is a quick study. Did you pretty much know him after one meeting?

EP: No, the reason I kept coming back is that he’s so enigmatic and evocative that I became addicted and obsessed with trying to dig deeper get to know Garnet more and more.  At the same time, I was trying to work out for myself what was going on in our film story. I started doing a lot of research into kind of archetypal narrative structures.  If I was going to dramatize a story like this, how would I tell it?. It took four years to make Garnet’s Gold, and for a long period of that, I had no idea as a filmmaker what the film was really about. I found a structure in something called The Hero’s Journey, kind of based on Holy Grail mythology. In my house, I put up a big sheet, and marked it Act I, Act II, and put notes on Post-Its all over it. It was a little scary but very exciting–I kept going because I wanted to know what was at the end of this rainbow.  There may not be a literal pot of gold, but I sensed we could find something  more interesting.

DP: What kind of odds did you think there were that you’d find the gold?

GF: Well, that’s impossible to assess. Obviously on paper the odds were low that we’d find it, but at the same time there were so many tantalizing clues suggesting that it could be there.

EP: I didn’t try to guess the odds, and I didn’t really care. I was swept into Garnet’s world, into Garnet’s plans to build flying machines, and into his coffee-stained maps and all the rest of it.  I went along with his idea to search for the gold, and certainly when we got in the stream where he thought it was hidden, my heart was beating very fast, because I thought it might be there and I wanted it to be there for Garnet’s sake.  But in actuality, I didn’t think it was essential for my film that Garnet find the missing gold. I thought if we found it, it would have be a hell of a story, but it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the true story of Garnet.

DP: Was finding the gold your Plan A for your film?  And if that didn’t work, did you have Plan B in place?

EP: There wasn’t a back-up plan. From the moment I met Garnet I wanted to tell a more introspective, emotional, and human story than a story of Garnet searching for gold.  Garnet’s Gold is about how people need a purpose in life. The reason I wanted to do that story was because Garnet’s journey itself threw up big themes that we can all relate to in our own lives. Who hasn’t looked back on their lives and asked themselves if they’d reached their potential?  Garnet’s willingness to ask himself such a tricky question was very powerful.

DP: At the end of the day, when you were getting to know each other, would you leave Garnet behind and come home and tell your girlfriend, “You won’t believe what happened today!”?

EP: Yeah, I was constantly surprised. Every time I’d come home from a day of filming with Garnet, I thought, “This is kind of amazing!” It wasn’t perfect but it was close enough for me to think, “This is going somewhere. I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s worth taking a risk.” I knew it was worth my spending time with Garnet, a man I came to really care about. I fell in love with the guy and I became completely obsessed with trying to tell his story.

DP: Garnet, you’re a humble guy and suddenly somebody’s making a movie about you. At the end of the each day did you ask yourself if you were a good enough subject?  Or were you confident to just let Ed do what he does?

GF: Well, we had sort of a division of labor from the outset. This was going to be my expedition and it was his film. From the start, he was reluctant to show me any footage, saying it was best if I didn’t see it because it would make me feel a bit self-conscious. I’m sure he was right. So I just kind of let him get on with it. We had this build-up as we prepared for the expedition, the boat was nearly ready, we were making sure we had enough money, so each day had its own  momentum and its own fulfillment, without us really having to review what anything we filmed meant.

DP: So you didn’t worry that you weren’t giving Ed enough.

GF: I did in a sense, not having seen the rushes. I wasn’t sure what he was getting, but I was sensing what it was.  I didn’t care about a camera being pointed at me, he could do that when he wanted to, but when he’d have it almost touching my chest, it made feel kind of awkward and self-conscious; and when he’d then ask me questions, I’d feel I was a bit flat and not up to par–but I thought we’d make up for it later.

DP: Did you ever tell him to turn off the camera, because what he wanted was too private, including conversations with your sick mother?

GF: He might ask, “Oh, can I tape this?” and I’d say, “No, you can’t.” But he usually was sympathetic and sensed when I didn’t really want to talk.

DP: Ed, you didn’t show him the rushes, so were there moments when you wondered how he was going to feel about something?

EP: When he finally watched the film, it was very nerve-wracking. This was my first feature film, and I was sure I made lots of mistakes along the way. The approach I took was that Garnet is quite an introspective guy who thinks a lot of about the world and himself, and I didn’t want him to become too self-conscious about the process of being filmed. I didn’t want him to think he had to give me something because I knew that would have been the way to not make this film. I wanted as much as possible to build a trusting relationship between us and then get him to feel comfortable in front of cameras. It took a long time.  We’d go out without a camera and have a beer at the pub, and I spent a lot of time sitting with his mom without the camera, just talking about her life and Garnet’s life.  I also met his friends.  I was drawn into this amazing world, full of very rich characters, so it was always a treat. I wanted Garnet to focus on just being there in the moment.

DP: Was Garnet a different person when you were in Scotland?

EP: Yeah, Garnet became much quieter and much more introspective.  The place was having a really profound impact on him.  He was returning to the place where he nearly lost his life years before and it was difficult for him to confront what had happened there. I certainly realized that.  I didn’t pry but I could see it in his face, and I wanted to give him the respect that he deserved.  In one of our most poignant interviews, I just lit the side of his face, and I kept most of the front of his face almost in darkness. It was a very conscious decision. It come across as very intimate because we were very close, but the real reason I did it that was because I wanted to let him hide a little bit.  Even though he was very emotive, I was respecting him and his journey.

DP: When you were doing all that gorgeous cinematography of spectacular wildnerness in Scotland, did you have a spiritual experience?

EP: I’m not a religious person, so no, but I wanted to make Scotland feel slightly dream-like. The color correction and sound design made it slightly hyper-real.  The scenes in England were very claustrophobic, and consciously so; in Scotland, Garnet becomes a very small man in a very big landscape. The colors are saturated and he’s surrounded by light.  In London there are millions of people but there’s sort of a loneliness there. Soon, in Scotland, he’s alone, yet he’s surrounded by midges, and running water and little creepy crawlies, and spiders, and wildlife. I wanted to bring that to life. I wanted all of Scotland to feel a bit ethereal so we got this sense that it wasn’t just a literal, physical journey we were going on with Garnet, but there was something a bit more introspective about this journey.


DP: As a filmmaker, where could you have gone wrong in telling the story?

EP: Well, it’s up to you to judge, but the biggest mistake I could have made as a filmmaker was to fall into the natural documentary track. When Garnet waded into the stream at the end of his journey, and he didn’t find gold where he thought it would be, he stands there and looks up and down the stream.  The natural reaction for me would have been to ask, “Garnet, how are you feeling?” What I was trying to do as much as possible was resist that temptation to ask that and just hold the shot and let viewers make up their minds as to what was going on in Garnet’s mind; and have them embrace the ambiguity. I think the ambiguity is important, I think it’s interesting in filmmaking. All the films that I love are those that ask questions and leave us trying to figure out where it’s going.

DP: Garnet, Ed wants us to decide for ourselves what you were feeling when you realized there was no gold.  But I think at that moment you were thinking many things and maybe your whole life was flashing before your eyes.

GF: I think the pair of us were really caught up in the adventure of the whole thing, really right up to that point. What I was actually feeling when I got into the stream was nothing. I wasn’t feeling anything.  I was somehow just physically absorbed in the business of being there.

DP: But you gave up your search at some point. You’re no longer at that stream in Scotland searching for the gold.

GF: That’s it, we were as thorough as we could be and I felt that we took it as far as we could.  It was at this point we needed to ask, “What has this adventure been about–it has something to do with the search for gold, right?  Okay, so where are we now? It’s now the story of a man who goes in search of gold and doesn’t find it.” At that point I’m getting a little bit worried because I’ve been leading the way on the search for gold and Ed has been following along, but after not finding the gold, is there still a film in it? And Ed’s coming back to me, going, “Tell the camera how you feel about it?  Has this changed your life or your perspective on things?”  And I’m going, “Uh, well, maybe it has or maybe it will, I’m not really aware of that.” In fact at the moment here, more than anything else, I was just feeling really depressed. And he’s going, “Okay, so you feel depressed, let’s talk about depression a little bit.”  Oh, for Christ’s sake, he could have been phased by it, but he was saying, “Let’s talk, something will come out of it. Trust me, we’ve got enough here, we’ll make it work somehow.” I think had we found the gold, it would have been exciting, but it probably would have been a lesser film than the way it turned out.


EP: It has been the biggest privilege of my life to work with Garnet, and one of the challenges of working with someone who’s so self-aware and so introspective is that he’s quite knowing of his own journey.  I felt like I was trying to get him not to think about whether he was providing me with a film. That would have been the wrong way for him to approach it, because he didn’t owe me anything, he never did. I was there documenting a story. So when we returned from our expedition in Scotland, I came back to London and tried to figure out in my mind what the bigger themes were. I don’t think Garnet knew exactly what the deeper message was. So we sat down in his bedroom for what must have been three, four, or five hours and we just talked. I didn’t know where our conversation was going. We talked and talked and talked, and eventually we started talking about the idea of whether he and I had made something of our own lives.  The idea of an apology by Garnet [for not accomplishing enough in his life and meeting other people's expectations] started to come to life. And I think that was the moment Garnet reached–that we both reached–and found what we feel is the heart of the story.

DP: Well, it’s at the heart of his life.

EP: Yes. At a Q&A, we were asked if  Garnet was thinking about the apology when he was standing there in the stream where he thought the gold was hidden. I didn’t know, it was not for me to say. But I don’t think that’s important in terms of the storytelling. What’s important is focusing on the overall truth, finding themes that are true to his own life that relate to other people’s lives. And it felt like his apology was at the center of his story.

DP: But of course we in the audience are thinking, “Why is he apologizing for anything?” Garnet, you feel responsible for letting people down, and we’re thinking why?  I won’t say if you found the gold or not, but I doubt if it would have made a difference in regard to your feeling the need to apologize. I guess the answer is that is just who you are, right?

GF: I’m not like that the whole time, but I have a depressive streak to me. I find myself thinking, why? I don’t know why myself.

DP: Maybe you’re a “people-pleaser,” in that you don’t like to let anybody down.

GF: Yeah, and I suppose I’m quite a driven person in a way.  I set myself quite a high standard, so I never quite feel that I’ve done enough.

DP: You got a standing ovation at the sold-out screening I attended, so there!

GF: Perhaps I don’t take enough credit for what I do.

DP: Talk about your age difference. Was that important in your personal journeys?

EP: I think I recognized Garnet, and the story he’d undertaken, as kind of a mirror in which we can see our own hopes and dreams, and maybe our own fears. I think if you’re slightly older, closer to Garnet’s age, you can relate closely to things that are actually happening in your own lives. I think people like me who are a bit younger relate but not so closely–we see ourselves later in life. That happened with me, and without a doubt that had an impact on the themes I chose to portray more strongly in the film.  In the last few years, I have certainly asked myself questions about meaning in my life. Did this have an impact on the stories Garnet and I talked about and the conversations we had?  Possibly. I think often these really personal films say a lot about the filmmaker as well as the subject,

GF: The disparity in age between us is similar to that of a father and son, in a way. I identify with Ed and feel protective of him enough to feel that he could be a son of mine. At moments, he has looked to me as almost a father figure. There’s respect and protectiveness, if you like, between us.


DP (joking): So when are you going back to search for gold in Scotland?

GF: I would love to go back! I think it would be worthwhile going back and having another look around there. The historical story of the gold is to my mind another story that could be worth pursuing.  I think the back story of how the gold came to be there in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden is fascinating in its own right.  We only alluded to it briefly so maybe there’s another movie in there.  I would love to go back because when we went I had this sense almost of going home. I identify with that place in ways I don’t quite understand.

EP: Would I like to go back? I would love to go back with Garnet. I’d never been up to that part of the world before.  It is an amazing.  It’s a dream for a filmmaker. I personally like the idea that the gold is still there, but I have to admit that I don’t know if I want it to be found.  There’s something romantic about the idea of there being a billion dollars worth of gold just sitting there. If it is found, I want it to be found by Garnet, not anyone else.

DP: If it were in America, then everybody would be out there.

GF: Yes, it is bizarre that there has never been a systematic search for the gold. There was a man before us but he looked entirely the wrong place. As time goes by, the more I am convinced we did go to the right location, but by the same token I’m also pretty much convinced that after the gold was hidden there, it was lifted and redistributed, probably within a year. That was the intention when hiding the gold in the first place, so the chances of finding the gold is extremely remote. Nevertheless I think there probably is some archeology there worth investigating.  For a proper search you need a team and all sorts of equipment because it’s a very difficult, tricky landscape.  It’s quite dangerous to get across, let alone to investigate with a metal detector. It’s full of mystery.


DP: Tell me about being at the Tribeca Film Festival.

GF: I was thrilled and scared for months before coming here to New York first time. You can see what I’m like in the film, so being a worrier I worried about having a heart attack or something like that.

DP: You’re a performer, once you get up in front of everyone you feel comfortable.

GF: I was having the heebie-jeebies!

EP: I know we’ve finished filming but I don’t think Garnet’s journey has come to an end. Actually being at the Tribeca Film Festival is part of his whole journey. We got a standing ovation from two hundred people in New York City, it was amazing.  I feel so pleased that Garnet’s getting the respect and the attention that I believe he deserves and hasn’t had for too long.  It’s a real privilege for me to be able to see Garnet in the limelight.