“Shored Up” delivers a sobering examination of the threat rising sea levels pose to coastal cities and the economic factors that encourage doubters to keep their heads firmly buried in fast-disappearing sand. Utilizing footage captured in the wake of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, the pic marks a sturdy feature-length debut for documentarian Ben Kalina, who eschews hysteria, preachiness and self-importance in favor of calm, persuasive scientific arguments. Accessible result lacks a flashy theatrical hook, but should connect with eco-conscious viewers in ancillary outlets and has already earned smallscreen exposure via DirecTV’s Something to Talk About docu series.
Inspired by John McPhee’s 1989 nonfiction book “The Control of Nature,” Kalina initially set out to make a film about the Army Corps of Engineers’ beach replenishment process (manual replacement of sand washed away by natural erosion). As he soon discovered, it’s only a temporary fix for a rapidly expanding problem. While shorelines naturally change over time, Americans have a hard time resisting the allure of beachfront property. Mix in a little climate change and subsequent increase in severe weather to exacerbate annual erosion, and it shouldn’t take a scientist to recognize you’ve got a recipe for disaster — though the film has plenty on hand to fill in the details, just in case.
Kalina gives the science context by focusing on two different communities grappling with the issue: Long Beach Island, where ongoing replenishment projects have sparked controversy, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where state legislators literally rewrote laws to cut scientists out of the conversation. Interviews with local politicians, residents, historians and those in favor of economic development illuminate various points of view, as the intent is clearly to be as evenhanded as possible without rejecting scientific consensus. Still, anyone lamenting the politicization of science will find more ammunition here.
Pic also acknowledges the disparity with which even the most temporary solutions are implemented. It’s a dispiriting reality that those in the richest areas are afforded greater protection (often for vacation residences) compared with those in lower-income neighborhoods. While the powers that be continue to bicker over science and economics, Kalina’s footage of a Long Island mother picking up the pieces after Sandy ripped away her home provides a reminder of the very personal stakes.
Highlights of an all-around professional tech package include Jen Schneider’s handsome camerawork and Marc D’Agostino’s concise cutting.