Tribeca Film Festival: Rider and the Storm
Directors David Darg and Bryn Mooser tell us about their new documentary, which follows Breezy Point resident Timmy Brennan in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
After Hurricane Sandy hit the city last November, aid worker David Darg showed up with Operation Blessing to help relief efforts in Breezy Point and the Rockaways. While there, he met ironworker Timmy Brennan, who lost his home and belongings (including a beloved surfboard) in the Breezy Point fires. Darg called Bryn Mooser, his filmmaking partner and fellow aid worker, to shoot a short film about Brennan as he braves the aftermath and bands together with his neighbors. The resulting film, Rider and the Storm, will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Darg and Mooser spoke to FrontDoor about the short.
How did you first meet Timmy?
David: I spent quite a bit of time in the neighborhood collecting some media for [Operation Blessing] to show the donors what had happened. As a filmmaker I knew that the story had to be told about that community. So I was talking to various family members as they would come back [to Breezy Point]. Some were willing to talk, some were just in shock in the first week. As soon as I met Timmy, he and I really connected straightaway. I asked him about himself and he told me the thing he cherished the most was the surfboard he’d lost — and I’m a surfer. I actually got in and started helping him dig around in the ruins of his home to help him out a little bit. That act really helped him open up to me that first day that I met him.
How long after Sandy did you meet him?
David: Probably five days. I explained to him that day that I felt that his story was strong and if he wouldn’t mind I would love to start filming it with the hope of turning it into a little film that might help everyone understand what that community had gone through.
What was your reaction when you first visited the devastation?
Bryn: David and I work in post-disaster zones all over the world but this is really our first domestic disaster where we got to know the victims. It was a really powerful experience for us because Timmy is just like us. This was the first time where we really went wow, this is somebody who was terribly affected by the disaster who could be exactly like us. As opposed to in Haiti, where we’ve been living for the last three years, where there is always this kind of slight disconnect because we’re people from a different culture.
David: It was pretty shocking. Not in its scale, because as Bryn said we’ve seen some crazy stuff around the world. I was in Japan right after the tsunami. For sure that was the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen in terms of just the scale of destruction. But I think Bryn’s point is really important here in that it was the first time I’ve seen my own culture affected like that, my own country. It was so close to home.
Had you been to that area of Brooklyn?
Bryn: I grew up in New York, but that was my first time in the Rockaways and Breezy Point. We both wish we had gotten to know them before the storm.
David: I always remember looking down at the Rockaways and Breezy Point when you take off from JFK or you’re landing, and I always remember before thinking wow, those people must be insanely wealthy to live there. I always just associated it with wealth, so it was kind of shocking the first couple of weeks we were there. We were in the Rockaways at some really low-income communities, so it was a real eye-opener for me to see a lot of the poverty that’s out there.
How would you describe the Breezy Point community?
Bryn: One of the things that was great about the community was how resilient and tough it was. This is something you see post-disaster often — it’s certainly something we witnessed in Haiti and Japan. People say, “Oh man, it must be devastating.” And you go, “It’s devastating, but it’s inspiring to see a community rally together and brush the dirt off their shoulders and say this is tough, but we’re gonna rebuild.” That’s a common theme in disasters that I’ve seen and Breezy Point was just a great example of that.
David: The laughter is definitely a good thing to mention, the sense of humor that comes out in all this to where we would be in residents’ homes where they had lost everything and they would still be making jokes and saying I feel like it’s time for a beer. Not for everyone, of course. There were people that were just completely devastated, but overall the sense of camaraderie at Breezy Point was really impressive.
I was amazed to see what objects and mementos actually survived the fire. Timmy’s mom’s ring was just sitting there in the rubble.
David: Anything that was in the basement was under six feet of water, so when the fire burned down to the water everything below that point could survive if it was in Tupperware. The fire was so intense that whole two-story homes were reduced to three feet of just charcoal. But if you could get to that couple of feet, which was difficult, underneath it was this sort of perfectly preserved world of whatever was in the basement. The ring was a miracle, truly, because the ring wasn’t in the basement. The ring survived that fire, I think, because of the metal box and because somebody was looking out for Timmy’s mom. That ring became a real rally point for the whole community. It gave everybody in that community hope and that story spread so quickly.
What is Timmy doing now? Does he want to eventually move back to Breezy Point?
David: Absolutely. Most of the residents wanna stay, but it’s a couple of years away before he thinks he can get an actual new home built. But he’s talking about living there in the summer in a tent regardless. [Laughs.] He was born and raised in Breezy Point and I think a lot of the people in that community feel that way and never want to leave.
How can people help Timmy?
David: With our organization RYOT.org, we’ve been trying to raise money to fund a surf school for Timmy, because the ironwork is tough now and it’s not regular work. So we just wanted to help him find something to supplement his income, and he actually came with the suggestion that he might start a little surf school there at Breezy Point. It’s not only a project to help Timmy but we’re also talking with Timmy about it being a project to help kids in the Rockaways, in maybe some of those underprivileged neighborhoods. Timmy would do surf camps for them. So that’s part of the direction we’re moving, to get him a mobile surf school that would be a van with learner surf boards and some wet suits.