Losing Starboard Light: Filmmaker Explores Role of Family Summer Home
By: Elise Hugus, April 30, 2012
Courtesy REDFITZ.COM - The livingroom at Starboard Light, a 19th century Chatham sea captain's house owned by the Fitzhugh family for five generations.
What does it take for a house to become a home? Does the structure create mere shelter—or does it provide a family's very foundation?
Filmmaker Nick Fitzhugh explores these questions in depth with a documentary-in-progress centered on his family’s summer home in Chatham, a rambling old sea captain’s house they called Starboard Light.
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Nick Fitzhugh is funding his first documentary feature, STARBOARD LIGHT, with Kickstarter.
Help him reach his goal of $50,000 by Friday, May 4!
If all the money is not raised by this time, no commitments will be recognized and any funds received will be returned.
Donations of any size are accepted and will be rewarded with various thank-you gifts. The money will pay for a film editor, color correction, archival footage, insurance and festival submissions.
As a child growing up in Montpelier, Vermont, Fitzhugh’s earliest memories of his extended family are of summertime escapades on Stage Harbor and twilights on the porch of Starboard Light. The 160 year-old property had been in Fitzhugh’s family for five generations, until his grandparents died and the family made the difficult decision to sell it in 2010.
Now an emerging documentary filmmaker based in Washinton, D.C., Fitzhugh picked up his camera and began interviewing family members about the central dilemma of that decision: what will become of the family without a common meeting place?
“There [is] so much history wrapped up in a house: your own history and [that of] the family you’re with. The central theme [of the film] is the value of homes like this, the role they play, and what happens when they’re gone,” says Fitzhugh.
Although Fitzhugh and his aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins only spent summers in Chatham, their experiences provided them with a powerful connection to the place, he says.
The Cape “always seemed founded on simplicity and the opposite of pretension. That’s why people always come here from the city—to be completely unplugged, to spend time exclusively with family and without distractions.”
There goes the neighborhood
But even before the house was sold, the neighborhood had changed. What was originally a remote end-of-the-Earth location, with just a few mariner’s houses and fisherman’s shacks dotting the shoreline, had slowly built up into the exclusive area it is today.
“This is a traditional Cape-style home, by far the smallest and simplest, but it sits within a sea of McMansions, tons of them. There are tons of boats in the harbor, and they just get bigger all the time,” remembers Fitzhugh.
Though Starboard Light was invaluable on a sentimental level, there were real expenses that made it difficult for the family to keep it going. But for others in the neighborhood, the house was more valuable without them in it. Even before they had placed it on the market, a neighbor made the family an offer.
For the last two years, the home has sat vacant, but the neighbor has a scenic easement on the property and a pending demolition permit.
Though wary of navel-gazing (and putting his family members in an uncomfortable spotlight), Fitzhugh says the film extends beyond his own experiences. In a day and age of far-flung families and go-it-alone attitudes, he points out that this situation echoes across America—and people he has spoken to about the film always respond with their own stories and emotion.
“I think it’s sort of a tragedy that this house doesn’t exist in our family anymore, yet we were the ones that made the decision to let it go,” Fitzhugh says.
“Making this film has been a catharsis for how to say goodbye and let go, particularly for me. I’m hoping to get people to relive their own memories through us, their own parents and kids, and put themselves in our shoes.”