Philadelphia filmmaker Ben Kalina was walking to pick up his daughter from school on the Friday before Christmas, listening to music on his phone and quickly checking email, when he saw the message with the subject line: "Congratulations from the Sundance Institute."
“I started whooping in the street and sent it to my wife to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating,” Kalina recalled in an interview at his South Philly home last week.
The message was an invitation to Kalina to attend the Sundance Film Festival to accept an award for his documentary film, Shored Up, about rising sea levels’ impact on coastal cities.
Monday, Shored Up received the Hilton Worldwide LightStay Sustainability Fund & Award for a completed feature-length documentary film about environmental sustainability. Part of a three-year partnership between Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Hilton Worldwide hospitality company, the award includes a $25,000 grant for marketing and audience-building. The film will also be offered on Hilton Worldwide’s in-room channels and websites: 3,800 hotels in 88 countries, a potential audience of 250 million guests.
“When the wave of elation faded enough to think clearly, I realized how much potential this had for both getting the film more widely seen and bringing attention to the issue,” said Kalina.
Completed in May, 2013, Shored Up is the first feature-length film about rising sea levels in the U.S. (The Island President, a documentary on the same theme set in the Maldives, won the award in 2012.)
Shot over more than three years, before and after superstorm Sandy, Shored Up focuses on Long Beach Island, New Jersey and the Outer Banks of North Carolina as their residents struggle with coastal erosion and consider engineering projects like beach replenishment. The theoretical arguments become sharply defined when the film returns to LBI after Sandy to explore the devastating impact of the hurricane on the Jersey shore.
Through interviews with scientists, politicians, surfers, environmental advocacy groups, seaside businesses, and residents, Shored Up explores the complexity of climate change impact and sends an urgent call to action.
The film has screened around the U.S. at more than 100 community events and film festivals to date, including the Lighthouse International Film Festival in the historic Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, on LBI, last June. It’s also been shown at professional meetings like the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo last year in Philadelphia.
Partnerships with NGOs and other organizations have been key to audience engagement. Local officials often attend community screenings, and at least one town paired the film with a forum on sea-level rise. Other professional events have included a screening at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, attended by congressional staff.
“People are really using it as a way to generate dialogue and conversation,” said Kalina, “That’s amazing. That’s what I wanted to do when I set out.”
Kalina, a graduate of Temple University’s film program, had worked on two previous documentaries about the environment, Two Square Miles and A Sea Change. Shored Up is available on Direct TV and through an educational distributor, Outcast Films.
Shored Up: A film by Ben Kalina.
Photo: Ben Kalina in Long Beach Island after Hurricane Irene; Dave Maialetti, Daily News