Baltimore-born Barry Levinson is yet another established studio writer-director who is making his way in the strange new world of indie cinema. He’s in Toronto with Midnight Madness entry “The Bay” (Roadside, November 2) an horrific R-rated found-footage thriller about a deadly flesh-eating bacteria contaminating his beloved Chesapeake Bay. This kind of outbreak could actually happen, writes Levinson in this exclusive director’s statement:
There’s a flesh-eating bacteria residing in the Chesapeake Bay. It doesn’t attack everyone who goes in the water. Just some. But for those who get infected, it could mean the loss of a leg, an arm… or some other part of the body. And if you don’t act quickly enough, you’re dead in twenty-four hours. This bacteria becomes more and more prevalent each year.
Approximately 40% of the Bay consists of “marine dead zones”. Hundreds of thousands of fish are showing up dead on beaches, and no one knows exactly why. Even the sea gulls won’t eat those fish. In waters around the world, a creature is surfacing that was once confined to the Gulf of California called the tongue-eating isopod. It’s a parasite that enters a fish through the gills and then eats away until it replaces the fish’s tongue with its own body. One was recently discovered off the coast of England that was over two feet long; it was trying to burrow its way into a research submarine, mistaking it for a dead whale. And they are vicious. This tongue-eating isopod can now be found in over a third of certain fish populations.
All this serves as the basis for The Bay. Take the facts, let them reach a tipping point, and you have the perfect storm for an ecological disaster of the first order. One that is deadly, terrifying, and all-too-real. I stress the reality because in 2010 I was actually approached to do a documentary about the Chesapeake, which intrigued me, but Frontline did an excellent documentary on the subject and yet no actions were ever taken to clean up the toxic waste. In some ways we may be too overwhelmed with facts, and so I thought it would be better to blend the facts into a storytelling format and make a fictional film that feels like a documentary. Do it on a micro budget, use no famous actors, and shoot it with consumer cameras like iPhones and point and shoots to create an authentic visual language of found footage. In the end, we used 21 digital platforms. We took all kinds of steps like this to make a hyper-realistic found footage movie.
Hopefully people will walk away from the film not only entertained but somewhat disturbed. That’s the point of it. It’s not a ghost story where you only remain frightened while you are watching but then leave the theater and go on with your life. It’s a story that should scare you during and after it’s over. When you go home. Because it is about real things. Real things we should perhaps be paying more attention to. And as our characters grow increasingly aware of and troubled by the strange-but-true happenings, reacting to them in a variety of ways – emotional, psychological, and practical – we should seriously ask ourselves what we would do if we found ourselves in a similar situation. Maybe at the end of the day, The Bay is a cautionary tale. A tale that both entertains and disturbs.