‘The Oyster Farmers’ Filmmakers Reflect on Project’s Message

DVD Now Available for Purchase at Jetty Flagship Store
By Juliet Kaszas-Hoch | Jul 24, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Little Egg Harbor, NJ — Six years ago, a crew of locals set out to tell a story about the bay. The result – “The Oyster Farmers” documentary – is a visually stunning, award-winning film that makes a statement about history, community and ecology. The Oak Leaf Media project, directed by Corinne G. Ruff and produced by Angela C. Andersen, and sponsored in large part by Jetty and the Jetty Rock Foundation, delves into aquaculture, and the heritage and present of our area’s bay-based farmers, helping to foster an oyster resurgence.

“From conception back in 2013,” said Ruff, “the main message of the project serves to inspire bay stewardship, first with the film and second with the call to action part of the documentary – the ‘Follow the Shell’ oyster shell recycling program,” through which empty shells from participating  area restaurants are used to grow more oysters in the bay.

“As the creator, director, narrator and writer for the film, I’ve watched in awe the ripple effects of that message continue to spread out in all directions,” she added. “It’s the personalities and perseverance of our featured oyster farmers who carry that message, not just for an hour-long documentary, but for decades to come.”

Bridgitte Bliss, one of the six generations of the baymen and baywomen of Maxwell Shellfish, explained, “Since the premiere of the film we have been given opportunities to share our family's legacy, which has been great for our shop but, most importantly, educational for the public. There is so much rich history here in our bays.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to Corinne and Angela for shining a light on not only what once was, but also all the people working hard to keep that legacy going. We’ve been able to have some great conversations with our customers, which has been great for business – but again, more importantly, people now feel invested in our towns’ heritage. Which is the point, isn’t it?”

“The variety of oysters coming out of our bays today is astounding,” Andersen, the film’s environmental consultant as well as producer, pointed out, naming Barnegat Bay, Little Egg Harbor Bay and Great Bay. “When we started filming, there were only a couple varieties. The bays are healthy enough to support this growing industry, and the restorative nature of the oyster only fosters that healthy trend.

“The clams and oysters coming from our collective backyard are incredible, and #followtheshell restores those shells directly back into the system to promote new growth.”

Brendan Walsh, an Oak Leaf Media partner, stated, “We were so lucky that Corinne and Angela brought the opportunity and story to us, and that Jetty had the foresight to support the project. The film was shot down the street from where we grew up and where we work, and I was connected to it on a very deep level.

“Corinne, Angela and Jetty worked tirelessly to get the film out there, and ended up getting us our two distribution deals through Virgil Films and Green Planet Films. This was a huge milestone for me as a person who has dedicated his life to this craft, and I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who participated in the film, watched the film and spread the word.”

“The ‘Oyster Farmers’ film has been an amazing project,” said Jetty CEO/Partner/Co-founder Jeremy DeFilippis. “I stood in the water with Brendan Walsh while executing a Jetty photo shoot and remember saying, ‘We need to do this one.’ Years later it has spawned a massive regional campaign to spread awareness with regard to oysters and their effect on our environment.

“We're slurping them, putting them back and will even be recycling them into our Jetty brand clothing in 2020 – all so exciting!”

As Walsh remarked, “The biggest takeaway for me is that the natural resources here have always been engines for the economy and culture, and over a short period of time (historically speaking) those resources have been fundamentally changed for the worse. The good news is that there is hope in restoration, and some of that hope and knowledge rest in the characters of this film and the people who made the film possible.”

While there are not currently any upcoming screenings planned, Andersen said, “We always appreciate anyone wanting to host a screening and Q&A with the farmers, filmmakers and researchers/educators. It only gets better as time goes on as we reflect on the changes since the time of filming.”

She added, “Corinne’s curiosity and my life’s work mixed together with Brendan’s passionate eye and ear really created a masterpiece, (detailing) the tipping point of change in the local sustainable seafood industry.”

“I’m thrilled to have followed my intuition when I picked up an oyster shell in 2013 on the beach in Surf City, filled with curiosity and wonder, and knew that I needed to tell its story,” said Ruff. “The film captured an important timeframe, the resurgence of our local oyster industry. The film’s ecosystem has galvanized and cultivated a new generation of bay stewards. The most beautiful part of this ‘oyster story’ is that it has just begun.

To learn more about “The Oyster Farmers,” visit jettylife.com/pages/the-oyster-farmers-film. The DVD can be purchased via the website, as well as at the Jetty flagship store, at 509 North Main St. in Manahawkin.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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