Superstorm Sandy: The Week After

Mountainfilm in Telluride festival director David Holbrooke splits his time between Telluride, Colorado and Brooklyn, New York. What follows is his post Sandy dispatch from Brooklyn.

It’s been a little more than a week since Superstorm Sandy walloped the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut tri-state area, and it’s now snowing outside as I write. Suffering from cabin fever, I headed out earlier this evening into our neighborhood. It feels like February and walking past still-closed subway stations, a mid-winter sensation of cold air hit my face, reminding me of ski season.

In some ways, this snowstorm — a Nor’easter — makes me more nervous than Sandy. It’s as if New York City was knocked to the ground by a vicious punch, and now the city is being kicked while already down. Halloween was only last week, so there are still a lot of leaves on the trees. While the snow packs perfectly for snowballs, it’s deadly for arboreal Brooklyn (and perhaps for some of the folks here: I watched a guy wipe out on the slick sidewalks earlier).

Amazingly, it wasn’t that long ago that my family and I hunkered down in our brownstone anxiously waiting for the arrival of the (latest) storm of the century to make landfall. We had plenty of food, water, headlamps and other emergency necessities, so we indulged in a movie marathon (Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Super-8 and Waiting for Guffman were among the choices) that we expected would be interrupted by a power outage. It was, as they say, the calm before the storm.

Then Sandy hit, and the storm surge literally re-shaped parts of New York City’s landscape. My family was fortunate: We live in Brooklyn Heights, which never lost power and only incurred minor damage, such as the missing section of our backyard fence in the above photo.

Some of our friends weren’t so lucky. In DUMBO, less than a mile north of our house, there were huge floods that wrecked homes, businesses and artist Jeff Scher’s studio (see photo). Jeff exhibited his art and screened his lovely short films, White Out and L’eauLife, at Mountainfilm 2008.

The destruction throughout the area was staggering and reminded me in some ways of the unforgettable scenes from Japan in the Mountainfilm 2012 standout documentary The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom by Lucy Walker (Wasteland 2010). There is a line from that film that has stayed with me: A young Japanese man, his hometown devastated by the Tsunami, says something like, “We can’t do anything about what happened. We can only try to make the best out of it.”

That’s certainly what Jeff is trying to do. My wife and I helped him salvage what was left of his studio. We were only able to pull a few tubes of paint out of the wreckage, but Jeff was doing his best to look at Sandy as a new beginning as his Facebook post below explains so eloquently:

Jeff Scher
November 4 via mobile

My studio was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. It was under 15 feet of water. Saved hard drives and some camera lenses and most of my film prints, but just about everything else was lost. Guess it is time to start over, and actually feeling a bit liberated from baggage of past. New white walls and chance to start fresh gleam at the end of the recovery process. Important thing, of course, is that family all okay and that climate change must enter national dialogue.

Well said, Jeff. I would only add that we need to do more than dialogue about climate change. We must act to stop it, or these freak storms are going to get a lot less freaky and become more familiar.

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