Film looks to save Jamaica Bay

By Merle Exit

About five years ago, filmmaker Dan Hendrick was jammed into Broad Channel’s American Legion Hall with hundreds of residents, and could not believe what he was hearing.

At that meeting Hendrick, who is married to City Councilman Jimmy Van Brammer (D-Sunnyside), listened to community leaders discuss a proposal to add more runways to JFK Airport by expanding into Jamaica Bay.

“The residents were furious,” Hendrick said. “Who in their right mind would expand an airport into a wildlife refuge? Why are we always the last to know? Why can’t they just leave the bay alone?”

So Hendrick, armed with indignation and a small crew of filmmakers set out to tell Jamaica Bay’s story.

On March 17, “Saving Jamaica Bay” will have its premiere as part of the sixth annual Queens World Film Festival. The screening will take place at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

“I suppose this film means to stand up for Jamaica Bay,” Hendrick said. “Jamaica Bay has no place in the pantheon of great national parks. It has been dumped on, filled in, exploited and benignly neglected for decades. The bay is cleaner than it has been in generations, but there is so much more to do.”

Roughly the size of Manhattan, 18,000 acres, Jamaica Bay includes islands, meadowlands and even two freshwater ponds. Protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the Rockaway Peninsula, Jamaica Bay is home to more than 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies and 100 species of finfish.

Not long after that meeting in Broad Channel, Hendrick and director David Sigal began working on the film.

“We began filming in 2011 and finished all post-production in January 2016 — so about five years,” Hendrick said. “I keep joking with everyone that finishing this film was like getting a college degree. It took as long and it cost as much.”

Back when Hendrick worked as a newspaper reporter covering the area, he fell in love with Jamaica Bay and the people living on the water.

He was so enamored of the place that in 2006 he published “Jamaica Bay,” an Images of America book, detailing the history and people of the area.

“So many people stepped up and helped us make this film – they contributed their time, their money, their family photos and videos and their opinions,” Hendrick said. “The reason we had such a helpful network of people is because of all the roots I put down as a reporter. And doing a book on the bay helped understand how it has changed dramatically over time. That was the first local history book devoted to the bay, just as ‘Saving Jamaica Bay’ is the first full-length documentary about this very special place.”

Narrated by Susan Sarandon, the opening trailer of the movie begins “Jamaica Bay. It’s a place you’ve probably never heard of. For more than a century it’s where New Yorkers put the things they didn’t want. But make no mistake, Jamaica Bay is alive.”

Hendrick, Sigal and members of the crew will be on hand for a post-screening discussion at the Museum of the Moving Image.

There Hendrick hopes to continue his mission to save Jamaica Bay.

“It’d say it comes down to two words — educate and inspire. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in recent years who never heard of Jamaica Bay. And not only people living far away … people right here in New York City,” Hendrick said. “We want to show people what the bay is, who the people are and what challenges are ahead. And second, we want to inspire. Jamaica Bay faces so many challenges, especially after Hurricane Sandy. The more people who care about the bay, and are inspired by what they see, the better off the bay will be.”

For Sigal, the future of the bay comes down to one question.

“Can the bay be saved?” Sigal asked. “It’s going to take a massive effort.”

Tickets for the Queens World Film Festival can be purchased at www.queensworldfilmfestival.com.