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 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, to preserve Shinnecock sacred land and push forward legislation to protect ancestral grave sites.
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 the desecration of a place that is still 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.
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.
I also have a personal history with this land. 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; 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 that I learned of her decades of struggle to preserve the land I also, as a visitor, cherished.
Becky and her Shinnecock 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.
Lastly, 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.
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.