Sunnyside resident Dan Hendrick fell in love with Jamaica Bay 15 years ago, and he’s about to express that love in a new documentary set to debut later this year.
Growing up in Michigan, Hendrick spent a lot of time on his father’s boat, which cultivated his respect for and fascination with nature. After visiting Jamaica Bay, Hendrick went to a local library to learn more about it, but quickly realized that there were no books on the 18,000-acre wetland estuary. He decided to write the first one himself.
“I went around and I searched and searched and searched and low and behold no one had ever written a book about Jamaica Bay,” Hendrick said. “It’s just like this great place and the fact that in a city of millions of ambitious people living here, you think at this point, every angle has been covered and in some ways that just underscores how much Jamaica Bay was not celebrated.”
The book, “Jamaica Bay,” was released in 2006, and in April 2011, Hendrick set out to make a movie, titled “Jamaica Bay Lives.” Though his book is a great resource for facts about the bay, the environmentalist who works for a solar energy company wanted to tell a story about the relationship between the bay and the local community.
“The documentary has a different power than the book does,” Hendrick said. “We really wanted to reach a wider audience.”
Many of the main characters in the film are local civic leaders and residents who have dedicated their lives to preserving the bay. Don Riepe, a Broad Channel resident and head of Jamaica Bay Guardian, an environmental group that focuses on education, community engagement, advocacy and restoration, talks about the diverse wildlife that calls Jamaica Bay home.
“People will be amazed by the beauty of the marshes and diversity of wildlife right here at their back door,” Riepe said.
A crew of five captured around 400 hours of footage that was eventually condensed into a 75-minute documentary. Hendrick also called on the community to provide photographs and footage of the bay.
Much of the footage, Hendrick said, depicted damage from Hurricane Sandy including flooding and fires in the area. Though the hurricane delayed production, the superstorm made it clear how important places like Jamaica Bay are, he said.
“Urban nature is more important now than ever to protect because nature is a refuge for the city,” Hendrick said. “As we saw in Hurricane Sandy, nature plays a role in protecting our communities from storms, from more severe weather. It’s more important than ever.”
Once the film is finished, Hendrick hopes to take it beyond the big screen and television. Schools and community centers are a “critical” part of the film’s distribution plan because of the ability to educate locals about an important national park that is “right in their backyard,” Hendrick said.
The crew is in the process of putting the finishing touches on the film, including the addition of music, sound mixing and color adjustments. After watching the film, Hendrick hopes residents are encouraged to visit the bay and foster a relationship with it.
“All of our cities are urbanizing and you’ve got climate change upon us with big storms like this,” Hendrick said. “We need to reset our relationship [with nature] that we’ve abused over the years.”