New Yorkers Fight the Power in the Heartening Enviro Doc ‘Saving Jamaica Bay’


Home to landfills and osprey, rotted cars and marvelous egrets, Jamaica Bay has never merely been the watery garbagescape New Yorkers pass over coming into and out of JFK.

In fact it’s a vital ecosystem making something of a comeback thanks to the advocacy of the residents profiled in David Sigal’s charming doc. Sigal focuses on citizens of Broad Channel, Queens, the Bay’s only inhabited island; families who grew up there were the first to notice, over the course of their lives, the accelerated shrinking of the region’s wetlands. Their campaign to document the devastation — and to move the powers that be to fight it — is the film’s spine.

But what Saving Jamaica Bay offers most and best is the chance to observe the water, the wildlife, and the local color, those dedicated agitators and nature-lovers fighting to preserve what is New York City’s largest open space. Sigal’s subjects dish fascinating tales of urban life edging against something wilder: Steel yourself for straight talk about how the airport handles waterfowl and for the destruction that Sandy visits upon fragile, tiny Broad Channel.

The photography has a matter-of-fact beauty to it, even when we’re watching a snapping turtle bring down a duck. Sigal lets his interviewees carry on sometimes, but that seems part of the program: The film presses us to slow down, listen, and savor, and it showcases a grand spot in which to do so. Susan Sarandon narrates.

Saving Jamaica Bay
Directed by David Sigal
Premieres March 17 at the Queens World Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image