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May 9th, 2008


by Lawrence Pfeil Jr

Photo courtesy First Coastal Corporation (c) 2008

The image of a house bobbing helplessly on the waves adrift in the ocean that opens “Incredible Journey – The Story Of West Hampton Dunes” is both surreal and symbolic. From the awesome power of nature, to an erosive sea of self-serving politics, to the steadfast will and determination to survive in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the image represents the influential forces that shaped, destroyed and ultimately rebuilt the barrier island protecting the Long Island coastline.

But this outstanding historical documentary is more than just a tribute to the tenacious men and women who saved their beach community. It stands as a cautionary tale hard learned from mistakes of the past, but also serves “unconsciously” as a lesson in the importance and fragility of our coastal ecosystem as we face rising tides caused by global warming in the questionable ecological future.

That’s a lot of material to cover in a 90+ minute documentary, not to mention some pretty dry academic subject matter, but “The Incredible Journey” succeeds by never losing sight of the human core of the story…the residents whose homes and memories were being washed away. The film puts a human face on that house washed out to sea by viewing it through the eyes of the everyday people who had been living in the West Hampton Dunes for decades.

Thirty years of inept planning, political in-fighting, and simple neglect eventually all took their toll in December of 1992 when a week-long nor’easter destroyed over 150 homes, breeched the barrier island, and left the Long Island mainland unprotected and vulnerable. For the West Hamptons Dune community this was rock bottom–would that they even had a rock at that point. Something had to be done or they would lose their community forever, so a small group of committed men and women banded together to fight not just City Hall, but Albany and Washington as well.

By weaving interviews with longtime residents, local officials and coastal experts together with amazing archival footage and stunning historical photographs, Producer/director Yale Nelson passionately tells the story of the life and rebirth of this beach community. Nelson lays out in a simple yet compelling manner the historical events and forces at work in the complex evolution of the West Hampton Dunes, from its earliest beginnings as a working class getaway to the destruction of the very land on which the community was built to its modern day incarnation of luxury homes, miles of new public beaches, and wildlife sanctuaries for several endangered species. Accompanying his epic tale is a score by composers Martin Bayless and Mark Unthanks whose music adds an unfailing sense of moment and emotion to the film.

The Incredible Journey is as engaging and inspirational as any documentary seen on the Discovery Channel. For more information and the summer 2008 screening schedule, click here.

Filed Under: Articles | Arts & Leisure | Community | News | the Hamptons





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