SEA BRIGHT, NJ—On January 23, high winds and heavy rains led to flooding in the Monmouth County town of Sea Bright, the focus of a new documentary set for release on February 12.
"Bad Tidings" is the creation of Rutgers graduate Dan Natale, a documentarian who chose to focus on the Jersey Shore as a way to explain climate change issues to his audience in real terms.
The film looks at the effects that climate change induced sea level rise will have on Sea Bright, a relatively affluent barrier island that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Dina Long, Sea Bright’s current mayor, who was sworn in just before Superstorm Sandy, believes that both sea level rise and more dangerous coastal storms will pose additional problems for her community in the future.
“Future sea level rise projections show Sea Bright partially underwater and then entirely underwater,” Long is quoted as saying in the film.
"I hope people leave the film and begin looking at their environment differently," says Natale, who directed, produced, and edited the 49-minute film. "I want them to question things that might seem harmless that would normally be taken for granted. Sometimes something as simple as living along the shoreline can be dangerous."
The documentary, whose producers include Louis Cabrera, Dena Seidel, and Richard Ludescher, also examines public opinion in Sea Bright about superstorm Sandy and projected sea level rise.
Ominous predictions of towns like Sea Bright going underwater, perhaps within the next fifty years, has not discouraged Sea Bright residents.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many residents who saw their homes destroyed decided to employ techniques like raising their homes or reinforcing them rather than leaving.
Sandy’s effects persist in Sea Bright even today, where there are 75 families still displaced by the storm, around ten percent of the Sea Bright population, according to mayor Dina Long.
In spite of this, people are still not motivated to leave.
Natale, a lifelong Jersey Shore resident, believes the answer is simple.
“These people have invested so much of their time, money, and energy into their homes, so it's tough to expect them to leave.”
The efficacy of certain shore-protecting techniques and whether they are even worth it is a subject of vigorous debate that is explored in the documentary.
“New Jersey has undertaken beach nourishment projects to protect the shore. These projects involve unnaturally sustaining the shore by pumping sand onto beaches," reads the "Bad Tidings" documentary website. "They are extremely expensive, and only preserve the shore for 10 to 50 years.”
The Army Corps of Engineers too has begun replenishing Sea Bright’s shoreline using federal taxpayer money. Scientists and politicians have criticized this decision, and many people are angry that they are using this money to protect an area that scientists say is not safe.
The conversation happening in Sea Bright is something Natale wants to expand in the context of climate change.
“The main message I want to get across with "Bad Tidings," is that climate change shouldn't be a partisan issue,” explains Natale. "It's something that will affect everyone in some way, and it's important to find a solution that helps everyone."
“The film doesn't necessarily side with any individual character. It presents opinions from environmentalists, scientists, army corps engineers, politicians, and regular citizens all trying to solve the same problem,” Natale continued.
“Each party has their own opinion on what the right course of action is, and each one is valid in their own right. That's why and I wanted to leave it up to the viewer.”
"Bad Tidings" premieres at the NJ Film Festival at 7pm on Sunday, February 12, in Room 105 of Voorhees Hall (71 Hamilton Street) on the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick.
Tickets are between $9 and $12 and the event will include an introduction and question-and-answer session with the filmmaker.