In new film, Ivy Meeropol casts a wide net

Ivy Meeropol, a documentary film director and producer who lives in Cold Spring, says she likes to embark on each new project with an open mind. She aims to explore while shooting, avoiding plugging people into what she expects from them.

vy Meeropol directs filming. Photos provided
Ivy Meeropol directs filming. (Photos provided)

She found that mindset to be particularly helpful while shooting After the Bite two summers ago in and around Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in what is known as the Outer Cape. In 2018, a swimmer was killed by a great white shark, the first such fatality there in 82 years. The sharks are likely drawn toward shore by an increase in seals, which, in turn, are probably thriving because of federal protections.

On an exploratory shoot, Meeropol visited Muskeget Island, the southernmost breeding place of grey seals. “I always had the seals in mind,” she says. “I knew in my gut there was a bigger story, which was how what was thought of as a conservation success story with the seals was causing so many problems.”

Starting with the swimmer’s death and its emotional, scientific and civic ramifications on the beach community, Meeropol expands outward, casting her net to include fishermen of Portuguese descent who’ve earned their livelihood in the waters for decades, New England pragmatists and eccentrics, and scientists, many of them women, who are exploring the effects of climate change.

“This is happening with this one community, which is figuring out how to handle these rapid changes, and consider others, like smoke from the [Canadian] forest fires,” Meeropol says. “This story captures major changes, some good, some bad, looking at how we handle them. I think the Cape community is doing well, without vilifying anyone.”

"Know your risk when entering the water."
“Know your risk when entering the water.”

It was important to Meeropol not only to get the science right, but to get the people right, and, perhaps most of all, the community, to which she has a personal connection.

The filmmaker grew up in western Massachusetts and spent a lot of time at the Outer Cape as a child and after she graduated from college, when she moved into a house her parents had bought. She spent a winter “regrouping, writing. I met my husband there, along with a whole slew of friends. I love the life out there, merging Old World fishing community, artists, gay people. It felt like another home, and I returned every year.”

Later, after working in politics in Washington, D.C., she found herself “needing a retreat and finding it there, again. It led me to start writing again, and gave me that loneliness you need to generate productivity. Being by myself there helped me figure out the path I’m on now.”

Much more recently, struck with the idea for the film, Meeropol “spent the entire pandemic meeting people [from the community] and filming them from my phone.”

More Meeropol

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn (2019)
This film looks at the life of the Joe McCarthy ally and Donald Trump mentor who died of AIDS in 1986. In the early 1950s, he established his reputation prosecuting Meeropol’s grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as spies.

Indian Point (2015)
This film examines the risks and rewards of the nuclear power plant, located 45 miles from midtown Manhattan. (It was closed in 2021.)

The Hill (2006)
This six-part series, which appeared on the Sundance Channel, goes behind the scenes on Capitol Hill with Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat.

Heir to an Execution (2004)
In her debut film, Meeropol explores the lives of her grandparents, who were executed in 1953.

A couple of years later it has all come together as After the Bite, which premiered in June at the Provincetown Film Festival, near where it was largely set. It will be released on HBO at 10 p.m. on Wednesday (July 26), with streaming the same day on Max. The film, says Meeropol, is what she envisioned from the start, “in terms of where the story goes. I knew the general shape, but not how it would come together.

Stills from "After the Bite"

Stills from "After the Bite"
Stills from “After the Bite”

“It was a complicated edit. I met so many people who were a story by themselves. I had to pick and choose what characters we’d focus on, who was essential to telling the story. When I go into a story I have naiveté which I try to maintain while doing the film. If I think I’m an expert, the film will lack that discovery and excitement.

“Exploring while shooting, I go into projects with open mind, and try not to plug people into what I expect. In this, I didn’t predict I would focus on fishermen so much. Turns out they have as deep a knowledge as the scientists — it’s just a different knowledge.

“I kept searching for people who would talk about the sea. I was looking for someone who would talk about the mystery of the ocean with awe. To me, I love that this little slice of protected seashore is a small window into what it could be: let the ocean recover, let it find its own balance again. Sometimes you can’t see what you have until you step away.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Rooney has been writing for The Current since its founding in 2010. A playwright, she has lived in Cold Spring since 1999. She is a graduate of Binghamton University, where she majored in history. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: Arts