ABOUT THE FILM
Exploring the roots of American inequity, greed and pollution, CONSCIENCE POINT contrasts the values of those for whom beautiful places are a commodity - who regard land as raw material to be developed for profit and pleasure - and those locals for whom land means community, belonging, heritage and home. CONSCIENCE POINT metaphorically and thematically goes beyond the Hamptons to tell a universal story of fighting the elite 1% at a time when so many across America are also struggling to remain in gentrifying parts of cities under development for luxury homes and lifestyles.
Unchecked, unjust development pushes out locals and destroys local environment. Many ordinary local people feel they lack a voice to stop developers from building luxury mansions and beachfront homes that eat into the safety margin of the peninsula’s environmental equilibrium. They witness the destruction and demise of local fishing and oyster bed cultivation, as well as to water and air quality issues.
Long time Shinnecock activist Becky Hill-Genia, the film's heroine, cut her activist teeth during the American Indian Movement. During this time she was steeped in empowering philosophies and political ideas that she applies today to the present day situation - standing up to Southampton town government, as well as in her own back yard, as she seeks to empower her people to speak out against domestic violence, and to curb tribal corruption on the reservation.
Becky's story brings to light evidence of a great imbalance of power in the Hamptons that consistently points to land use decisions favoring the wealthiest residents in the Hamptons, often at the expense of the environment and desecrating ancient burial sites. Her struggle reveals a community under immense stress. Local people, working in service to the wealthy, are unable to remain on the peninsula. The Shinnecock, who have suffered from the repeated colonization of their land and way of life since1640 continue to see their ancient burial grounds plowed up unceremoniously and desecration of a place that is sacred to them. Becky and her family love the land, and seek to preserve it in its unspoiled state. For them land use is a moral issue, and greed is the enemy of the environment. The survival of wild land that is part of their culture forms a central part of a high stakes story that is ultimately as much about environmental sustainability as abuse of power.
A long simmering tension between the wealthiest Americans and the Shinnecock will come to a head in the summer of 2018, when the world will be watching the U.S. Open golf tournament unfolding at the ultra-exclusive Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Few will have any idea that the pristine course was literally carved out of a Shinnecock burial site. CONSCIENCE POINT will expose the true story of the wealthiest zip code in America, as Becky takes a courageous stand to secure the Shinnecock’s future, against the odds.
My journey with this film starts in childhood. Some of my earliest memories stem from the Summer of 1980 when my family rented a house in an area called Hampton Waters. My family wasn’t wealthy (my artist parents squatted in a Manhattan loft long before the extreme gentrification of New York City, and taught art in public schools); we didn’t play golf, or shop at luxury boutiques, or eat at fancy restaurants. We swam in the bay, dug for clams in the mud, rescued turtles from the road, and breathed in this beautiful, wild place, as part of an older wave of artist visitors seeking a seaside escape from the City. Of course, as a child, I knew nothing of the turmoil underlying the Hamptons. It was only much later, when I met Becky Hill-Genia, my film’s hero, that I learned of her decades of struggle to preserve the land I also, as a visitor, cherished.
Becky and her family share this same sense of the land’s non material value. As do many others in the film who want the right to continue working and living in this place and seek to halt the over-development before it’s too late. Its beauty is a curse because, without preservation of the rights of those already living there, it attracts the wealthiest who simply want to build mansions with views, in a spot conveniently close to New York City.
In 2014, when I first visited the Shinnecock Reservation and met Becky — a few years before the #metoo movement and Trump “resistance” — I was struck by her tenacity and her fearless ability to stand up to abusers. We spoke as she lit a community fire pit she created as a meeting place for survivors of domestic violence, a safe space she called WAVE — Women Against Violence Everyday. During our initial conversation Becky connected the historical oppression of the Shinnecock people to present-day tribal corruption, substance abuse and domestic violence, calling out her own tribe for perpetuating problems that of course stemmed from centuries of abuse and injustice from the town. “It’s all the same oppression” she said. She spoke of the over-development, the graves desecration and the social and economic marginalization. I was immediately struck by the contrast Becky’s experience of place had with the hundreds of thousands who visit the Hamptons and think of it as a place to go to the beach and rub shoulders with celebrities. This reality check was immense for me and it was because of this first encounter that I suddenly realized, not only did I want to make a film about Becky but that the Hamptons was a hot bed of critical issues we all should be more conscious of.
Unpacking these issues has been humbling and enlightening to say the least. Over the last few years I have followed Becky to town hall where she petitions the town board to preserve what little open land remains. Regardless of the myriad justified reasons to preserve land - watching a Native American stand up at a podium with an image of a colonial pilgrim on the shield, and ask
permission from an all white board is quite shocking. It’s impossible not to feel some outrage. I feel similarly when I have conversations with local fisherman who can no longer make a living due to the pollution in the water cause by over-development. It extends to the local labor force who are being forced to commute for hours in traffic because the elitist Hamptons home owners don’t want low income homes near their estates. These are just a few examples of issues this environment contends with. We must hold up a mirror to this short-sighted greed running our world and no where else is it quite so saturated as it is in the Hamptons.
Becky’s endless efforts at town hall have been recorded over the last decade by my co-director, Charles Certain. A Shinnecock member himself, Charles lives on the reservation and works for town government - he straddles both worlds and has been an incredible asset to our team.
As a filmmaker I want to contribute a film that is empowering and thought provoking. As the environmental, economic and social stakes get higher in our country, civic participation becomes more important and challenging as developers’ tactics seem to grow ever more cunning and predatory. How do we see through these actions and put forth alternative powerful views that can shift and alter action for the better? I see this battle for desirable land as a war, a battle between colluding forces on the side of developers (often politicians and city officials have been coopted), and people, like Becky, who want their long presence and history in a particular place to be valued, their resources protected, and for their community to not only have the right to remain, but to be treated with respect.
Collaborating deeply with Becky and Charlie, I want this film to contribute to a larger wave of filmmaking questioning power dynamics and privilege, agency and oppression. Becky has experience and expertise that need to be shared - she is an inspiration to me and I believe she will be to others as well. I’m confident that some geographers, sociologists and historians will understand and appreciate what she and others are articulating and doing to try to resist top down control. But I also know that only a film can really move viewers’ emotions through its capacity to involve audiences in experiential struggle. That’s why I’m a filmmaker and that’s why making this film is so important, and why I can only make it through close collaboration with my co director, Charles Certain and with Becky and other subjects in the film whose deep sense of place lives and breathes through this film in ways that will reveal a never before seen idea of the Hamptons, a reversal of all we thought we already knew .