SALTED EARTH, 20min., Canada
Directed by Ben Hemmings
"Salted Earth" plunges us into the heart of an invisible and creeping crisis that's transforming the Mid-Atlantic – the inexorable rise of sea levels. This hard-hitting, yet tenderly woven 20-minute documentary paints a vivid picture of an escalating environmental catastrophe, where the threat is not just the swelling sea, but the encroaching salt that kills forests and decimates arable land, but could also signal a return to the natural order of the Atlantic Coast.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
- I was approached by Delaware University to create a video highlighting the scientific work being done as part of the Coastal Critical Zone Network (CZN), a National Science Foundation funded project, monitoring important ecosystems across the USA. As soon as I started to learn more about the research and met with some of the lead scientists involved, I realized that this issue is much larger and potentially more significant than we're aware, as the general public. Over the next few months, the project morphed into a documentary, following the scientists and meeting with communities affected by sea level change in the mid-Atlantic.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
- The film took around 18 months to create, start-to-finish. From first hearing about the research project, we undertook around 9 months of pre-production and research. Production was mostly completed in a two-week period. Post-production took around 7 months.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
- Educational, forward-looking
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
- I like to build my films around compelling, character-led narratives. When approaching a topical documentary like this, I still think that it's the personal narrative which hooks viewers. Weighing that against the topical, educational content can be a bit of a balancing act.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
- It was most rewarding hearing people talk about the issue and understand the work being done to research, measure, and begin to formulate responses to the growing threat of climate change and sea-level rise. This isn't something that's just happening in far-away places like Bangladesh and Kiribati, sea-level rise is affecting coastal communities across North America and will continue to do so throughout our lifetimes. Beyond that hearing that the audience enjoyed the cinematography was particularly rewarding as one of my main goals is to bring stunning and intriguing visuals to impact storytelling.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
- When I was a kid I always wanted to be a camera operator for nature documentaries. David Attenborough was my idol and filming for months in a hut in the middle-of-nowhere, documenting wildlife was always what I said when people asked me "what do you want to do when you grow up?". That dream has morphed over time, and it's now the human stories which intrigue me a lot more, almost always on the themes of environment, culture, or social issues.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
- Oof, I have a few that come to mind right away: The Beach, Castaway, FIght Club... Probably one of those three! Or the Jungle Book!
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
- So much of making films is your network - access to funding, other creatives to collaborate with, having an audience to get feedback from - Helping filmmakers grow their network with people that can influence, support, and collaborate with is the greatest value film festivals can provide to filmmakers.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
- Great! FilmFreeway is an intuitive platform and very easy to use.
10. What is your favorite meal?
- Ribeye steak from my local butcher, and a big pile of blueberries! Very random, I know!
11. What is next for you? A new film?
- I am working on a collaborative project called Arrivals: What's left behind, what lies ahead. I'm creating film components, documenting stories of refugees, immigrants, Indigenous people, and other displaced groups. I am also going to Kenya later this year to explore a new project with the Masai. I am also in very early stages of development on a sister documentary to Salted Earth, but I can't reveal too much at this stage!