Documentary examines sea rise and Sandy

A Shore building devastated by Hurricane Sandy, shown in the documentary. Ben Kalina and his cameraman rushed in for the strong images soon after the storm.
A Shore building devastated by Hurricane Sandy, shown in the documentary. Ben Kalina and his cameraman rushed in for the strong images soon after the storm.
Posted: April 12, 2014

Ben Kalina had to get through.

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy destroyed large swaths of the Jersey Shore on Oct. 29, 2012, the Philadelphia filmmaker was in his car, trying to talk his way past emergency roadblocks on Long Beach Island.

He needed to shoot the aftermath. Officials finally were allowing residents back in - but to assess damage, collect belongings, and get out again.

It took three attempts before Kalina and his cameraman made it in and started capturing the devastation in Holgate, on the barrier island's southern, and hardest-hit, end.

"That was one of my prouder moments in filmmaking," Kalina says with a smile. "I had been driving around thinking, if we don't get this, I'm going to hate myself forever."

Shored Up, his documentary about coastal development and sea-level rise, begins with the footage on Holgate, where residents returned to find houses blown away. Much of his film - featuring interviews with scientists, developers, politicians, community leaders, merchants, surfers, tourism execs - was shot before the so-called Frankenstorm made landfall. But Kalina's apocalyptic images make real what some continue to challenge and discount: warnings from climatologists and geologists that sea levels are rising, that coast lines are receding, that severe-weather events could reduce barrier communities to rubble.

Sandy, though, was impossible to ignore.

"The role that Sandy played in the film was really to help pull together a lot of these issues and concerns," Kalina says. "It was the ultimate illustration of what the film was suggesting, that there was going to be this big storm. And the sooner we start grappling with what that means, and start thinking more broadly about how we painted ourselves - or built ourselves - into a corner, the better."

Shored Up, which cost just over $100,000 to produce, plays this weekend at the ACME Screening Room in Lambertville, N.J. It won the $25,000 Hilton LightStay Sustainability Award from the Sundance Institute in January, and has been screened at film festivals in Dallas and San Francisco, at colleges, in theaters, on TV. It will play the giant Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee in June, and the Patagonia clothing chain will run the film in retail locations along the East Coast.

Controversy sparked in November when the director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences balked at showing Shored Up. Kalina's film's focuses on coastal development and beach replenishment projects in New Jersey and North Carolina. The Raleigh institute is umbrellaed by a state agency, and in 2012, the state passed a bill barring its coastal commission from even defining rates of sea-level rise for regulation before 2016. In Shored Up, Kalina shows a clip of Stephen Colbert from The Colbert Report - and soon to succeed David Letterman on CBS - mocking North Carolina lawmakers' act of denial.

For Kalina, 37, an alumnus of Vassar College and the graduate film program at Temple University, deep concerns about climate change began on the mountains of Vermont, where his parents ran a ski lodge.

"I grew up skiing," he explains. "That was my life, it was my parents' life. And I remember reading this article about global warming when I was 10 years old, and how it could change Earth's temperature by five degrees Fahrenheit, and I remember thinking about how a lot of holidays are made, or broken, by a couple of degrees. Either you get a ton of rain, or a ton of snow... .

"Not only does it kill the skiing, but it kills the whole industry built up around it."

Shored Up represents the convergence of Kalina's keen interests in science, the environment, and, of course, film (he even deploys playful animated sequences in his documentary). He worked on the eco-documentaries Two Square Miles and A Sea Change, and is planning to start shooting another nonfiction feature that grapples with climate change and geo-engineering this summer in British Columbia.

"I feel like I know most of the really scary monsters in the closet of climate change by now," says Kalina, who lives in South Philadelphia with his wife, an intellectual property lawyer, and their two young children. "And it did paralyze me for a long time, honestly, until I decided that I was going to make it my work.

"But there's a fine line between just freaking people out and having them throw their hands up and say, 'Oh, it's too big, there's nothing I can do about it,' and actually trying to bring it back down to a local issue, or a policy. . . .

"People have to understand how it is affecting them and how it is going to continue to affect them, otherwise you just get lost."


Shored Up screens Friday at 7 and 8:30 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. at the ACME Screening Room, 25 S. Union St., Lambertville, N.J. Q&A with Kalina after Saturday's presentation. Information: 609-397-0275609-397-0275  , or acmescreeningroom.org.

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