Photo Courtesy Dan Hendrick
Saving Jamaica Bay premieres at the Queens World Film Festival on March 17.
BY DOMENICK RAFTER
Editor in Chief
For most New Yorkers, Jamaica Bay is the weird blue-green marshy lagoon you see taking off from JFK Airport, or the expanse of water you go over on your way to the Rockaways.
But the body of water that juts into Queens is part of the borough’s lifeblood, and has a long, tortured history surrounding it.
That history will be told as part of the documentary “Saving Jamaica Bay,” which will premiere during the Queens World Film Festival on March 17 at Sumner Redstone Theater, 36-01 35th Ave. in Astoria.
“Saving Jamaica Bay,” is the brainchild of Dan Hendrick, who is the producer and co-director. Hendrick first came up with the idea of doing a film about the bay while attending a 2011 meeting in Broad Channel where residents blasted a Regional Plan Association report that suggested air traffic congestion could be eased by extending JFK Airport’s runways into the bays.
“The residents just blasted the RPA guys,” Hendrick recalled. “They were incredibly passionate about the bay. It’s where they live.”
That set off a four-year project, that took a few twists and turns, to profile the bay’s sordid history and the people who live on its shores and dedicate themselves to saving it from becoming the ecological disaster it very nearly became. Working with director David Sigel, producer Michael Tive and associate producer Brian Stuss, Hendrick spent the next few years interviewing people like Dan Mundy Sr. of Jamaica Bay Eco-Watchers and his son Dan Mundy, Jr., both of Broad Channel, and Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society, also of Broad Channel, about the bay’s history and the hard work to clean it up and bring it back to its natural beauty.
Jamaica Bay’s natural beauty as one of the few lagoons on the East Coast was torn apart at the end of the Industrial Revolution by polluting factories nearby, landfills and the construction of JFK Airport.
“It is where New Yorkers put things they didn’t want,” said Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon, who narrates the film, in the trailer.
Abandoned docks and boats add to the eyesore. The film documents the downturn of the bay to its reputation as an urban blight. The documentary also focuses on the movement to save it, including the creation of what may be the only wildlife refuge in the country accessible by subway.
One big twist that came up during the filming of the movie was one of the most devastating events to the communities surrounding Jamaica Bay – Hurricane Sandy.
“It certainly did change the film in some ways,” Hendrick said, though he admitted it’s only a small part of the documentary. He noted that the storm helped bring in national attention, and the bay became a global figure in the discussion of climate change.
Key programs, such as the installation of new marshlands, are also explored in the film, a well as the issue of the growing Hindu community in South Queens using the bay as a place to hold religious ceremonies. Those ceremonies often lead to non-natural items, like Styrofoam plates and aluminum foil, polluting the bay.
“These issues are talked about in the context of saving and protecting the bay,” Hendrick explained.
Getting Sarandon to narrate the documentary was a big coup, Hendrick admits.
“We just called her office and asked, and we got her,” he said, adding that she was “a total professional and joy to work with.”
After Astoria, the film is going across country. It will also be screened at the national Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C., on March 24 and in April at the Palm Beach International Film Festival in Florida.