Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
There is a new star of the Ocean City Film Festival (OCFF).
On Thursday, March 5th, the red carpet was rolled out at the Residence Inn, near the Route 90 bridge, off 61st Street. The hotel and the festival organizers welcomed many of the players, providing the four-day event with much of its content. The news media was present. There was also a bit of glitz and glamour to the affair. Prior to this opening reception, the Fox Gold Coast theater on the north side of town and the Flagship Premium Cinemas in West Ocean City had already begun screening films, including local ones like High Tide in Dorchester or the special selection from Worcester Prep alum, Emmi Shockley, but the big hit of the night was clearly this documentary by Dave Messick, the senior producer of Unscene Productions, the force behind the TV series, Hooked on OC.
Messick though wasn’t the star that shined, particularly during the Q&A session afterward. The person who got the most attention was the subject of this documentary, A. Reggie Mariner II. He’s the septuagenarian who owns Mariners Country Down, over 500 acres of land in between Ocean City and Berlin, in Worcester County, Maryland. Messick revealed that he has basically followed Mariner for the better part of ten years. Messick started as a nature photographer, trying to capture the diversity of animals, including birds that inhabit Mariner’s land. Eventually, Messick’s cameras turned to Mariner himself and the reason is obvious pretty much from the first second that one hears from Mariner.
Mariner is almost 80 years old and he might be a little hard of hearing, but the man is still sharp as a tack. He has the distinct, white hair that indicates his elderly stature, but he’s just as lively as a man less than half his age. He’s charming and sweet. He’s funny and has a way of telling stories, or rambling off details, that would make you think he was related to Larry David. He’s certainly not as sophisticated. He has a definite, country accent and is an old-fashioned kind of guy, but, for many who watch him, that’s what will make the widower just as lovable.
The documentary captures if nothing else, Mariner’s seemingly undying work ethic, as well as his seemingly unflappable appreciation for trees. That appreciation expresses itself with Mariner’s insistence on only using old or used lumber. Mariner doesn’t like cutting down new hardwood, not unless he has to do so. Instead, he prefers finding lumber that’s been discarded or tearing it from buildings that aren’t useful any longer. He’s an amateur architect but the wood and brick that he hammers or forges are rarely new, if ever. He’s a poster boy for recycling. He’s a self-proclaimed “old lumber junkie.”
Mariner has built up a lot of that old lumber junk on his property. His property used to be a great tourist attraction for its rustic nature. Permit issues with the county has interfered with that. However, last year, Mariner’s granddaughter wanted to have her wedding on the property, which prompted Mariner to clean the place up and get it ready for the big day. Messick focuses on Mariner’s efforts to give the nuptials a beautiful and idyllic backdrop, which means a lot of work. Yet, the cameras reveal that Mariner is more than up for the job.
There is no narration to this documentary. It’s all based on interviews with Mariner and his family, as well as people who know and who have encountered him. Mariner’s commentary though is the signature delight of this movie, as the audience in the Flagship Premium Cinemas during the premiere screening were laughing out loud. Even Mariner’s appearance in the Q&A that followed had people laughing and fully engaged with him. Audience members expressed an interest in flocking, perhaps in droves, to his property as a result, probably just to get more of him.
Messick’s movie did have important educational aspects. With the abundance of birds that get a lot of screen time, one could call this documentary a lesson in ornithology. Messick afterwards expressed that the frequency of our feathered friends was more for metaphor’s sake. However, there is a significant amount of time that is dedicated to the issue of climate change, as this film makes a serious push for environmentalism and forest conservation. Like with the big hit of last year’s festival, that of The Biggest Little Farm (2019), this film also makes the case for biodiversity and the refutation of mono-culture, especially in farming.
It has to be noted that the film does get a bit political in that regard, as it rightfully should. One could argue that it also makes the case against development and other capitalistic ventures, particularly in real estate. The way that it’s interpreted, one could forget Mariner being related to Larry David and instead say he’s perhaps more related to Bernie Sanders.
What’s undeniable though is Mariner’s personality. His presence alone makes this the must-see film of OCFF 2020. Messick’s amazing cinematography and the musical score, which also got a round of applause on Thursday night only add to what could win big on OCFF’s award night on Sunday.
Reggie’s Forest is playing again on Saturday and Sunday at the 4th Annual Ocean City Film Festival. For showtimes and tickets, go to http://www.ocmdfilmfestival.com/.