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Sundance-Funded Filmmakers Shooting SCCF Research for ‘River of Grass’

June 3, 2020

A Sanibel native, Director Sasha Wortzel has been sheltering in place on the island with her Director of Photography Jessica Bennett, who is also a Florida native.

As recipients of the 2019 round of Sundance Institute Documentary Fund and Stories of Change Grantees, Wortzel and Bennett captured footage last fall from SCCF’s research vessel the Norma Campbell of Marine Lab research into the impacts of discharges from Lake Okeechobee on algal blooms.

Since they have been sequestered on the island, they are shooting SCCF’s sea turtle monitoring efforts and other wildlife encounters along the way as an example of a positive human relationship with the environment on our sanctuary island.

Normally based in New York City and Miami, the duo found Sanibel to be a welcome retreat from the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working on a film titled River of Grass that features a time-traveling narrator channeled by the land who recounts the Everglades’ violent past and warns of Florida’s precarious future. Told through Miami journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), the film explores how Florida’s vulnerability to climate change is historically rooted in the Everglades’ ongoing legacies of colonization.

“This has been a great project to get me back home and thinking about former histories and incarnations of this particular landscape,” says Wortzel. “I’m trying to wrap my head around why we are grappling with so many environmental issues in such precarity right now and I felt like looking back at the legacy of how we have understood this landscape and dredged and drained the Everglades answered a lot of my questions as to why we’re experiencing many of these issues.”

Shooting in five different locations impacted by alterations to the Everglades, she is amazed by Douglas’s visionary scope.

“What’s shocking to me is that it’s very uncanny the things that she is saying will happen if we don’t change our relationship with the environment are what’s happening now, nearly 75 years later.”

The film will premiere in 2022 to honor the iconic novel’s 75th anniversary.


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