A Passyunk Square director is garnering great feedback for his environmentally-conscious piece 'Shored Up.'
A devotee of authentic, craft-infused storytelling, Ben Kalina last year felt his next project would meditatively and poetically look at barrier islands and the contention-causing discussion of beach replenishment along the New Jersey Shore.
Shortly before its supposed conclusion, though, Hurricane Sandy devastated huge portions of the country, with the East Coast bearing the brunt. With sea level rise going from a hinted-at to overt issue, the resident of the 1200 block of Dickinson Street adjusted the scope of “Shored Up,” his spring-released, fall-momentum-gaining brainchild that reflects his enthusiasm for environmental matters.
“I believe it would have been a good and relevant film, but I think it lacked intensity,” the documentary’s 36-year-old director and producer said of the initial idea. “In many ways, the work was always about Sandy and the need to look at the dynamics of nature, namely how we should build with it and not impose our will on it.”
Having become acquainted with The Garden State during the first phase of filming, the Passyunk Square dweller returned last October to capture materials for his suddenly altered investigation into humanity’s complex relationship with aquatic affairs. With Sandy, the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane and the nation’s second-costliest tropical cyclone, exposing vulnerabilities in preparedness, Kalina contends no matter the rare quality of the storm, it still must give everyone pause and encourage talks on all elements regarding the climate and other pressing topics.
“States are having various talks on what to do to limit climate change and on how feasible certain practices, including beach replenishment, will prove in helping us to understand the larger picture of the evolving earth,” Kalina, whose travels have taken him to places such as North Carolina, another “Shored Up”-examined location, said. “There’s so much to take in and understand, and with regards to sea level rise, it’s becoming increasingly obvious we have to address what and where we’re putting stuff. At what point, if ever, will logic return to the equation?”
Having begun to tackle that inquiry earnestly four years ago, Kalina meshed his musings over the winter, with April’s Filmfest DC and May’s New Jersey-based Montclair Film Festival giving audiences evocative images and insights into the precarious state of resources and the demand to understand one’s contribution to or means to combat climate change. Believing a three-foot sea level rise could occur by the year 2100, which would far outdo the 20th century’s 15-inch increase, Kalina, whose publicity campaign for “Shored Up” includes today’s Pennsylvania Convention Center screening, knows he has created an examination of a dense set of subjects but also is cognizant that his overall quest contains much simplicity.
“Telling a good story is a tried-and-true aspect of making documentaries,” he said. “We’re all characters in this tale because whether we’re informed or not, change is coming.”
Kalina, whose handiwork received a national broadcast on DIRECTV Oct. 24 and will soon be available via iTunes and Netflix, has found himself immersed in such discourse for most of his life. With his family’s overseeing a Vermont ski resort, he learned early on about global warming’s potential for engineering widespread and environmental misfortune. Also finding himself drawn to movies, he experienced an epiphany at age 15 when watching the 1992 piece “Incident at Oglala.”
“Many documentaries often lack a narrative arc, and this was the farthest thing from a dry documentary,” Kalina said of the look at the ’75 murder of two FBI agents in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “I loved the cinematography usage and came to feel it would, in the plainest terms possible, be fun to make similarly powerful documentaries.”
As an American culture major at New York’s Vassar College, he pursued Native-American studies, English, history and filmmaking, the last component helping him to land a post-collegiate position providing video production instruction to children in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Gaining more verve for covering core concerns, he soon aligned with the Empire State-based Niijii Films, a partnership that has yielded associate producer duties for 2006’s “Two Square Miles,” which deals with Hudson, N.Y. residents’ reactions to a proposed cement plant, and ’09’s award-winning “A Sea Change,” which addresses ocean acidification.
“They were extremely wonderful chances to take on pressing matters,” Kalina, whose work on the latter coincided with his enrollment in Temple University’s Film and Media Arts Masters program, said. “I wanted to dive in heavily and be involved with similar projects.”
Having done so with “Shored Up,” the auteur is plotting his next synapse-firing work, which will analyze geoengineering, the large-scale effort to reduce global warming he says many have deemed the ultimate way of trying to play God. Calling Passyunk Square home since ’08 following a three-year stint in Queen Village, he runs Mangrove Media from his abode, producing videos for environmental organizations, nonprofits and schools.
“That further embodies my philosophy on producing engaging material that honors my commitment to authenticity,” Kalina, who has two children with Corinne Militello, his wife of eight years, said.
Reflecting on “Shored Up” and its reaching the masses, the director hopes people become more curious about the larger context of environmental decisions and press authorities for more answers.
“It’s important to get a handle on these issues,” Kalina said. “It shouldn’t take calamitous events like Sandy to yield action.”
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