Save the Bay: Filmmaker Jayme Gershen

Jayme Gershen is one of the eminently talented Miami creatives who contributed to Oolite Arts’ Save the Bay campaign. Their PSA is one of the several shorts from the initiative highlighting how locals can do their part to preserve the water quality of Biscayne Bay.

Now through Wednesday, August 11, you can rewatch their short and others (just scroll to the bottom of 👉 this page) and vote for your favorite. The winner will be announced on Friday, August 13, when they’ll receive an honorary People’s Choice Award along with a $1,000 prize.

Read on for our full Q&A with Gershen. More info on Oolite Arts’ Save the Bay campaign and a roundup of The New Tropic’s interviews with participating filmmakers can be found right here.

Name and pronouns:

Jayme Gershen (She/her)

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your creative practices, and your ties to Miami-Dade?

I’m originally from Massachusetts, was once a competitive snowboarder, and have been based in Miami since 2007. I am a photographer and filmmaker; I alternate between genres like documentary, fine art, narrative, and sometimes fuse various genres into a hybrid style. I often use humor in my work and explore issues of identity and connection to place. 

As a filmmaker, my first short film Six Degrees of Immigration — which details how U.S. immigration policy divided my marriage — won a regional Emmy in 2019 and now lives on The New York Times’ Op-Docs channel. My first feature documentary, Birthright, explores what it means to be a hyphenated American through the eyes of Miami’s own electro-pop duo Afrobeta; it premiered as the closing film of the Miami Film Festival’s 2021 edition

As a photographer, I am working on a series of self-portraits called Quarantine Characters, which explore a collective anxiety that has become more and more prevalent since the pandemic began.

What’s your personal connection to Biscayne Bay? Do you have any personal formative memories that took place there?

I have spent many an early morning paddleboarding on the bay. I think one of the most inspiring experiences was getting stuck in a rainstorm. At first it seemed like we were really screwed being out on the water with no shelter, but once I settled into the moment, feeling the rain on my face and watching nature do her thing, I was in awe by the grace of it all.

What can you share with us about your PSA? What were the driving concepts or ideas that informed it?

For my PSA, Captain BayWatch, I wanted to make a PSA that was as inclusive as possible. The bay’s issues ultimately affect all of us, and I wanted the short to reach tourists and locals alike. Captain BayWatch, played by Jeano Michel, is such an excellent character for that purpose (in my humble opinion). He’s charming and fun, speaks English, Spanish, and Creole, and gives our audience clear, actionable steps that they can do. 

I was inspired by American Airlines’ in-flight safety video where the flight attendant walks through a warehouse with mirrors, crew members, flight props, etc. It’s really creative and engaging. I wanted to make a PSA that was playful and memorable in that way while also letting its seams show. We made props out of recycled materials, showing the hands that brought the props into frame, the c-stands holding up the giant photo of the mangroves, etc. I mixed that idea with a Don LaFontaine-style voiceover (“In a world…”), in order to keep the PSA engaging and fast-paced while still incorporating a bunch of information.

How do you think art can help inspire folks and shape conversations around pressing issues like climate change?

Art can help inspire folks and shape conversations by helping all of us to see and relate to issues in unique ways that might ultimately surprise us. Art is like a portal for helping us shift out of our bubbles and see the world anew. We often need to learn about pressing issues like climate change in many different ways before we feel connected to them. So I think art is an important tool for helping us evolve and relate to those issues.

What do you hope viewers take away from your PSA or how they might be inspired by it?

I hope people laugh and that Captain BayWatch sticks with them. I hope they hear “Ya tu sabes” every time they dump trash in the trash can at the beach or the bay or at home. I hope that through humor, Captain BayWatch raises some awareness about how we affect the land and water around us. And in turn, as that new mindset reaches more people, it will eventually affect how we decide to protect our environment on a local, state, and national level.

Whether in the short or long-term, what are the most immediate steps people can take to help Save the Bay?

The most immediate steps that an individual can take to Save the Bay are to pick up dog poo, stop using fertilizer (you don’t need it… try some compost, bro), don’t mess with the animals, and pick up your trash.