Documentary examines Montauk Light

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“First Light,” which was completed in August, will air Dec. 16 on WNET, PBS Channel 13 in New York

“First Light,” which was completed in August, will air Dec. 16 on WNET, PBS Channel 13 in New York

The camera fades up on an old wooden door. With a creak the door is opened and feet are seen plodding up wooden stairs. A pair of hands grabs a rope suspended from a hole in the ceiling and pulls. A bell rings.

“John & Lucy 1668.” “Mary 1701.” “Herbert 1710.” For each successive ring the name and date of a shipwreck appears over an image of an old nautical chart of the waters around Montauk Point, on the eastern tip of Long Island, N.Y.

Documentary filmmaker Tom Garber finished his latest film, “First Light,” last August. The film chronicles the history of Montauk Point Lighthouse — the first lighthouse built in New York — and tells the stories of its many keepers and the people of the surrounding town.

“I have a deep affection for historic maritime subjects,” says Garber, who is 49 and works from his studio, Third Wave Films, in Hampton Bays, N.Y. “In the lighthouse I found an edifice that portrays the positive human spirit and ideals, a message I inject to all my films.”

Construction of Montauk Point Lighthouse was authorized in 1792, under the authority of President George Washington, and construction began in 1796. The lighthouse was completed five months later and is the fourth-oldest active light in the country.

“The film goes beyond telling the story of the lighthouse as an important structure,” Garber says. “It tells of the humanity surrounding the lighthouse, the courage of it’s keepers, the humanity of local citizens in times of crisis and how it became a symbol for people to care about their past.”

One of those important stories told in the film is about local resident Giorgina Reid. “At a time when no one seemed to care about Montauk Lighthouse falling into the water, Giorgina Reid, like the Biblical David against Goliath, took it upon herself to start planting the massive eroding bluff,” says Garber. “Her efforts soon drew the public’s attention and soon everybody wanted to save the lighthouse.”

Garber has been making documentaries since he was a teenager and founded Third Wave Films in 1991. Some of the other films he has produced include, “Of Boats and Brothers: The Yacht Building Herreshoffs,” “Dream of Wooden Boats,” and “Storm Warriors,” which tells the stories of shipwrecks and rescues during the early years of the Coast Guard (then known as the U.S. Life-Saving Service).

It took Garber 15 months to research, write, film and edit “First Light,” he says. The film was officially released Aug. 19 at the Montauk Movie Theater and is scheduled to air Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m. on WNET PBS channel 13 in New York.

“First Light” can be purchased for $29.95 by calling (631) 728-3084 or online at www.thirdwavefilms.com .