Wild guide: Films highlight city’s natural landscapes

Wild guide: Films highlight city’s natural landscapes
Nathan Kensinger

He’s a force of nature.

A Sunset Park filmmaker who has turned his camera on New York City’s wild spaces and hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods will screen his short flicks at two Brooklyn events his month, on Aug. 10 in Greenpoint and on Aug. 25 at Industry City. Nathan Kensinger said he first put his focus on the city’s landscapes and waterways when he moved to Gowanus in 2003 and noticed how quickly the waterfront was changing.

“I really became interested in the industrial waterfront and trying to capture the buildings that were still standing,” he said. “In the course of exploring the waterfront and taking all of these photographs, I started to see that they were really demolishing a lot of it.”

At a free outdoor event this week, Kensinger will screen three of his films that focus on New York’s natural landscape. In his “Reclaimed Ground,” Kensinger highlights Hunter’s Point, a wild forest that flourished on the Queens waterfront before construction workers bulldozed it in 2015 to make way for a new park. For “English Kills Voyage,” he used a remote-controlled boat decked out with waterproof cameras to explore the muck of Newtown Creek. And in “Covered Tracks,” Kensinger explores an abandoned train tunnel running through the Hudson River. The filmmaker will discuss his work before the showing.

Kensinger’s latest documentary, “Managed Retreat,” will screen as part of the closing night of the Rooftop Film Festival, at Industry City on Aug. 25. The movie spotlights three Staten Island neighborhoods abandoned after Hurricane Sandy, with the state buying and destroying the remaining homes. Kensinger went to photograph the neighborhoods in the days after the hurricane, and realized that he needed to film the transition.

“I thought that these neighborhoods were taking the most interesting approach [to recovery], and in the course of photographing it, I just realized it would be much better captured on film,” he said.

To get the footage, Kensinger visited the neighborhoods several times between 2015 and 2017, and was amazed at how quickly the wildlife returned, he said.

“I think how quickly nature returned was a real surprise — you’d walk down the street and see a deer peek out and investigate this newly open landscape,” he said.

Kensinger said that his two latest films make a sort of matched set.

“In ‘Managed Retreat,’ you’re seeing a community turn down and being turned into nature, and in ‘Reclaimed Ground,’ you’re seeing nature being torn down and turned into a community,” he said.

“The Films of Nathan Kensinger” at Java Street Community Garden (59 Java St. between West and Franklin streets in Greenpoint). Aug. 10 at 8:30 pm. Free.

“Managed Retreat” at “Rooftop Shots: Closing Night” at Industry City (274 36 Street between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, www.rooftopfilms.com). Aug. 25 at 8 pm. $16.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcsh[email protected]nglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Nature boy: Sunset Park filmmaker Nathan Kensinger highlights some of the city’s overlooked and abandoned landscapes in his documentaries.
Photo by Jason Speakman